How to Cope With Feeling Overwhelmed at Work


Are you sitting comfortably? Welcome to my series of podcasts that will help you to navigate those inevitable difficult events at work that are part of being a manager.  

Today I want to talk about how to cope with feeling overwhelmed at work. I’m sure most of us have felt overwhelmed at work at some point, whether it was because of too much responsibility, an unmanageable workload, or because you were working for a company’s whose culture was at odds with your own.  

Feeling overwhelmed is actually a stress response. Constantly feeling under pressure can trigger the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in the body.  

The most important thing you can do when you feel overwhelmed is to identify what has caused you to feel that way. Once you understand that, then you can start building strategies to help you overcome whatever it is that is causing you stress.  

So how can you fight back against feelings of overwhelm at work? 

The first thing is, when work seems stressful and tough, that you will resent what your job is taking away from you, in terms of emotional strength, or even in terms of the extra time you have to spend away from your family because of it.

In these circumstances, even though it’s hard, try and remember what attracted you to your job in the first place. Identify what has changed since then and identify the reasons you’re still in your job. What can you do to regain your enthusiasm? 

Secondly, stop trying to be perfect. It’s one thing being put upon by a demanding boss, but it’s something different when you are the one being hard on yourself. Perfection is not attainable, and you’re allowed to make mistakes.

Mistakes can be learned from. Realising this hugely reduces the pressure you put on yourself.  

The next thing is, when we feel overwhelmed, we always look externally for ways to cope. An extra big glass of wine at the end of the day, or a sugary treat-you get the idea. But what you really need is an easy way to check-in with yourself at any time of the day to reduce feelings of overwhelm.

It can be as simple as paying attention to your breath for a few moments, which gives you a much-needed pause and helps to ease tension.  

What’s also important is that you don’t suffer alone with feelings of overwhelm.

Talk to your manager if your workload is unmanageable. During the conversation, explain which aspect of your work is problematic and why you find this challenging. Don’t just vent though, work together to come up with practical solutions.

Talk about how you want to perform well at work and focus on how you want to maintain quality in all that you do. The chances are, your manager may not realise exactly how much you have on your plate.  

Realising the importance of the word ‘no’ would be my next tip.

If you constantly say yes to requests out of a desire to please people or because of a belief that you’re lucky to have your job, you’ll soon become overwhelmed.

Be honest and only say yes when you have the capacity to take on extra work. Being able to say no is a way of reclaiming some balance for yourself.  

Another way of staying in control is to make sure that you leave your work at work.

In these days of smartphones and instant messages, we’re all constantly reachable. Make a rule that you won’t answer work communications when you’re at home, or at least that you won’t reply to them after a certain time in the evening.

When you’re at home, that’s your time to spend with your family or on doing things you enjoy. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s more important than ever that you take care of yourself, so make time for exercise, eating well, and getting some quality sleep.  

And take this attitude into work with you. Take regular breaks through the day to relax and destress. Even though this can feel counterintuitive when you’re so busy, stress kills creativity, motivation, and our ability to process things, so taking time out really helps.  

If overwhelm has reached breaking point for you, and you feel like you’ve tried everything possible to feel better about your job, it may be time that you looked for a new role. Because we spend so much time at work, if we spend that time in a state of stress, we can become ill and lose confidence in our abilities, which prevents us from looking for new opportunities.  

I hope that you got some good tips from today’s podcast, and I’ll see you next time for the next one in the series which looks at how to get your work mojo back when you’re feeling jaded.  

This is The People Mentor, signing off. 

Here is a quick video giving you 3 tips on coping with overwhelm.

Want to dig deeper, then why not sign up for the online modules on resilience and mindset.

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