If You Feel Overwhelmed at Work, Here’s What to Do


by Robin Madell

It’s become cliché to have too much to do in too little time. When this happens on the job, you can feel anxious, demoralized, and burned out before the day even begins. As your mood tanks, you might “check out” emotionally, disengaging from your tasks, colleagues, and job. Once this happens, your productivity plummets, which can ultimately put your career at risk. Fortunately, you can take proactive steps to keep this grim progression from becoming a reality. While you can’t necessarily control how much work lands on your desk, you can push back that overwhelmed feeling by targeting your efforts toward a few key areas that you can control:

Avoid distractions and plug time drains

Massive competition for your headspace can lead you to feel overwhelmed. Yet much of what vies for your attention each workday isn’t critical to getting your job done—it’s merely distraction. When you get that sense of pressured thinking from trying to absorb too much information, think about whether you’re letting in some of this noise yourself.

Are you spending the day interrupting yourself with constant smartphone checking and social media scrolling? To avoid the data overload that can lead to stress and overwhelm, recognize your own bad habits. Set strong limits on how often you allow such interruptions during work hours. Plug any time drains from your digital “vice of choice” to save more energy for what you have to get done in the office today.

Stop snowballing

Part of maintaining your equilibrium in the face of constant workplace pressures is about managing your thought process. It can be helpful to become aware of whether you’re making matters worse with a negative thinking style. For example, if you’re working on a project when your boss comes over and adds two more to your list, it’s easy to “snowball” your initial concerns about the first task into a larger worry about juggling the trio of jobs. The next thing you know, you have gotten so caught up in catastrophizing that you’ve stopped working on anything at all.

Consume Decision Making GIF by Lobster Studio - Find & Share on GIPHY


Instead, take action to manage how you’re seeing things. An alternate approach to collapsing under an avalanche of anxious thinking is to tell yourself that you’re capable of actively addressing your workload. Once you’ve done this, you’re prepared to take charge—for example, by talking with your supervisor. If nothing can be delegated, you might explore options for extending deadlines. Taking a positive strategic approach to dealing with your workload. This is better than letting negative stressful feelings compound and throw you off track.

Listen to your mood

Another way to combat getting overwhelmed? Use your mood as a barometer. By monitoring your moods throughout the day and noticing mood-related symptoms of stress, you can take action to reverse trends that might otherwise lead to burn out. In addition to a feeling of overwhelm, the Mayo Clinic has identified these common moods that you might feel when you’re stressed:

  • Anxious
  • Restless
  • Lack of focus/motivation
  • Irritable
  • Angry
  • Depressed/sad

If you notice thoughts signaling that your mood is heading off in a negative direction, you’re entering a danger zone. Heed your mood’s warning to push back on an unreasonable number of to-do items. The fact is that you play a role in whether feelings of overwhelm knock you off course, or alert you to needed behavior shifts. By understanding your own poor habits—and responding proactively to early signs of stress—you can avoid being derailed.