Why You’re Feeling Overwhelmed at Work (& What To Do About It)
It hits you when you least expect it. There you are, excited about a project, with big plans on the horizon, preparing for that new role you’ve just taken on.
And then… something else creeps up.
Feeling overwhelmed at work is no simple thing. It can bring a lot of shame, fear and anxiety, as you feel the pressure to succeed at the task you’re paid to do. And so you stay silent, sitting in that feeling of guilt and letting the overwhelm take over.
Well, it’s time to change that. Here’s why you’re feeling overwhelmed at work (and what to do about it).
How to spot the early signs of overwhelm
As an employee
If you know the symptoms, you can catch your overwhelm before it grows too big. Making it a whole lot easier to overcome.
Your early signs of overwhelm at work might look like:
- Poor decision-making
- Lack of patience with yourself
- Lack of patience with other people
- Low motivation
- Loss of confidence
- Work trickling over into your home life
- Reacting with anger or frustration
In the long term, you might notice that you’re taking more sick days. Getting up for work each day feels that much harder, and your “downtime” is filled with thoughts of work. So much so that you barely get any rest.
As an employer
As an employer, you need to know your employees. When you know what’s “normal” for each individual, you’re going to be able to spot the signs of overwhelm that much more easily.
The team lead that’s typically confident and on the ball, starts to question their decision. The office manager that’s always so full of energy, begins to take sick day after sick day. The programme coordinator that’s usually ultra-positive, starts to lash out at team members and bring negative energy into work.
Those are all signs of overwhelm. You just need to spot the patterns.
This is why you’re feeling overwhelmed at work
Your workload doesn’t match your capacity
Your deadlines are too short. Your team’s expectations are unrealistic. Your task list is too long.
When you’ve got too much work and not enough time, overwhelm will always be the natural reaction. This is your body signalling to you that this workload simply isn’t sustainable.
You’re overthinking it
Overwhelm is a result of pressure. And we can put that pressure onto ourselves.
If you gravitate towards perfectionist tendencies, overwhelm will likely be a common experience for you.
In a way, you’re increasing your own workload. Because you’re expecting so much more out of yourself than others expect from you. By telling yourself that everything has to be perfect, you’re doubling the amount of energy that’ll be required for each task.
You’ve found yourself in a role you don’t feel equipped for
This happens all too often. When staff numbers are reduced, someone has to pick up their workload. Usually, that means one person taking on more responsibility than they signed up for.
Perhaps you’re operating at a more senior level than you feel comfortable at. Maybe you’re taking on tasks that aren’t within your remit. Either way, the boundaries of your comfort zone are being pushed. And it feels like a lot.
You’re not taking regular breaks
You can be in the job you love, with the perfect manager, perfect skill set, perfect tasklist and still feel overwhelmed if you don’t take time off.
Whether it’s closing your laptop at the end of each day, logging off from emails at the weekend, taking regular pauses throughout your work days or booking proper vacation time, it’s all important.
This is a problem that’s all too common in Brunei, where International Labour Organization (ILO) statistics have shown that workers average 47 working hours each week, among the highest in the region.
Your mind can’t be active all the time. Just like your body, it needs time to recharge and recuperate.
You don’t know where to begin
This type of overwhelm happens when you know what needs to be done but don’t have a clear way in which to achieve it.
Often a result of a lack of priorities, the root cause here is the lack of a plan. You find yourself frozen, frustrated and frequently procrastinating. Because you don’t know where to begin (and it’s making you panic).
Your home-life is eating into your work energy
We all like to set life-work boundaries. But sometimes that’s not so realistic.
You’ve only got one pot of energy to keep you going throughout the week. If that energy pot’s being used up at home with stressors in your personal life, you’re not going to have much energy left to take into the workplace.
Typically “easy” tasks become more difficult. And the overwhelm sets in.
Add these 10 (realistic) self-care practices into your routine
How to cure overwhelm at work
As an employee
When you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, you’re going to need to have a conversation about it. Either with HR or through a one-to-one with your manager. I know that sounds scary! But there are things you can do to prepare yourself for it:
- Be specific – is something specific triggering your overwhelm, such as a change in workload? Try to describe your experience in detail so that your employers are able to understand your experience from your perspective.
- Take evidence – it helps to take some proof points with you to help bring your experience to life. This might mean using a time tracker, like Toggl, to show where your time is going and why you’re unable to increase your capacity right now. Or you could keep a work diary to show the areas that are causing you the most stress.
- Ask for what you need – if you know what will help, make a clear request for it. Ideally, this will be something specific like an Executive Coach, an additional team member, the ability to delegate more, project management training, automation systems and so on. But if not, try to give an example of the outcome you’re looking for to help guide your employer’s suggestions.
As an employer
Supporting your employees through overwhelm starts with one thing. Your company culture.
You need to have developed a culture of understanding, promoting life-work balance and transparency. Without this, your employees aren’t going to feel comfortable enough to raise their concerns.
Show your employees that you’re there to support them. With regular check-ins, readily available coaching support and tailored training opportunities.
This starts at the top. If your c-suite leaders aren’t seen taking regular breaks, managing their workload effectively or prioritising their mental health, your employees won’t feel comfortable to do so either. You’re effectively telling them that that kind of behaviour won’t get them promoted.
A practical exercise to overcome overwhelm at work
This is a practical exercise that I guide my coaching clients through when they’re experiencing overwhelm.
It starts with this: there is only so much you can do. There’s only so much that’s under your control. The rest? You need to release it.
Is it in your control? Or do you need to release it?
- Make a list of everything that’s making you feel overwhelmed right now
- Place a checkmark next to the things that you’re able to control
- Turn those checked tasks into a manageable action plan
- Cross everything else off the list
- Release the things that you’re not able to control, there is nothing you can do to change their outcome
How to make a sustainable change to beat the overwhelm
Once you’ve beat your overwhelm, the last thing you want is for it to come back again.
Use your experience as a learning tool and take note of your personal symptoms. As you strengthen your self-awareness, you’ll become better at recognising when you’re overwhelmed (or getting close to it). That way, you can address it before it becomes a bigger issue.
And above all, make rest a ritual. Your future self will thank you for it.