Life has been turned upside down over the past year or two. The frequency and magnitude of changes we’ve experienced can make us feel overwhelmed and incapable of handling the new situation. This applies to the world of work too, which has become a source of additional stress in recent months due to Zoom fatigue, new working environments and changing rules.
Enduring high stress levels for a period of time can lead to burnout, so we need to understand why this happens and what can be done to stop feeling overwhelmed at work.
There are many factors that can make working life stressful. Do you recognize any of the following?
If you’re back to your usual workplace, dealing with difficult colleagues or with new rules can become extremely burdensome. This can eat away at your enthusiasm and energy very quickly. Moreover, some companies have reduced their staff numbers and the remaining employees may feel overworked or without sufficient support. The heavier the workload and responsibilities, the more support you should get. But unfortunately, not all employers understand this.
When home becomes the workplace, the lack of boundaries can make it look like you’re always at work. A home office has its pros, but it can also make it harder to disconnect from your job and create the feeling that you’re never getting a break. Not only that, you may feel you have to juggle multiple responsibilities in a limited physical space (work, home life, family, etc.).
Home office can make work overwhelming
Not understanding what you’re supposed to do can easily lead to burnout. This is common among employees who’ve recently switched to remote work, since this arrangement can lead to ambiguity or conflicting roles. As we discussed in a previous article, feeling purposeless is one of the reasons why people are unhappy at work.
Sometimes you have everything you need to do your job, but too much of your time is spent in unproductive meetings. Collaboration is great, but it’s possible to overdo it, which leaves you feeling depleted.
We all deal with these situations every now and then. Sometimes we’re better at handling the stressors onnected to them, but it’s also possible to reach a point where you feel you just can’t do it anymore. In other words: it’s important to differentiate occasional stress from burnout. You can take our stress at work questionnaire here.
If you're struggling to cope with your work and this is affecting your motivation or well-being, there are certain steps you can take to improve the situation:
Take some time to think about what exactly is making you feel overwhelmed at work. Is it colleagues, the job itself, other commitments, or lack of organisation? Understanding what triggers the feeling can set you off in the right direction when looking for solutions. Keeping a journal can help with this.
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The very thought of having too much to do can be paralysing. Sometimes, writing down all your tasks and rearranging their priority level can help bring some relief and clarity so you don’t put all your energy into every single task. Having a written list can also help you stay away from the temptation to multi-task, since the list is a visual reminder that you can only do one thing at a time.
We don’t operate at 100 per cent every single hour of the day. Forcing ourselves to work on demanding tasks when we’re not at our most productive can easily make us feel overwhelmed at work.
“Take some time to think about what exactly is making you feel overwhelmed at work. Is it colleagues, the job itself, other commitments, or lack of organisation?”
Over the years and as I keep adding or removing tasks to my daily routine, I’ve had to rearrange my schedule based on the importance of tasks and my peak productivity hours. For example, I’m most active between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., so I get my workouts and most challenging work done in that time frame. Although everyone is different, some studies agree that the majority of people do best in intellectual tasks in the mornings.
Constant distractions and not taking breaks are two of the main reasons why people feel overwhelmed at work. According to research, it takes more than 23 minutes to get back on track after getting distracted. Suddenly, the end of the work day is there and you realise you haven’t got much done. If this happens often, burnout is guaranteed.
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The same applies to the other extreme: not taking breaks. The length and frequency of breaks vary from person to person, but you can experiment with the Pomodoro technique, taking micro breaks, or trying intermittent resting. Take small breaks and practise mindfulness at work to disconnect and recharge –
Learning to delegate is difficult, but failing to do it can create that burdensome feeling of being overwhelmed at work. If you struggle with delegating, it can be helpful to challenge some common assumptions about it. For example, delegating work is not a sign of weakness and it doesn’t reflect poorly on your abilities. It doesn’t mean you avoid accountability or are trying to get away from doing something.
Learning to delegate can relieve work stress shutterstock/ G-Stock Studio
It’s also important to understand that delegating goes hand-in-hand with mentoring the person you’re delegating to. This can give you peace of mind, especially if you avoid delegating because you don’t think others can do the job to your standard.
… is learning to say “no”. No time management technique will alleviate the feeling of being overwhelmed at work if you keep piling things on your plate. If you say “yes” to everything, you’ll never have enough hours in the day.
RELATED: How to show compassion at work
This requires being honest about your workload and recognising your limitations, but don’t look at it as a defeat. Learning to say “no” is actually a statement of courage that shows you’re committed to your well-being. If you feel overwhelmed at work at want more free time, “no” is the way to freedom! I found this infographic very useful when deciding whether “no” is the best answer.
Saying “no” is a way of setting boundaries. But sometimes, you need to set physical boundaries too. This is easier if you work remotely. I’ve been working online since 2012, and I learnt quite early in the process that working from home has to be treated the same as working from an office. For me, that means having a definite space to work from and not working from the sofa or in bed.
When my workload is higher than usual and I start feeling restless and overwhelmed at work, I retreat to my “cozy corner” for a 15-minute break. This is a small area in a landing where I’ve set up some cushions and a curtain of string lights. I got the idea from a book called The Little Book of Hygge, which talks about the importance of having places that make us feel comforted and secure.
“Learning to say 'no' is a statement of courage that shows you’re committed to your well-being. If you feel overwhelmed at work at want more free time, 'no' is the way to freedom.”
This can help counter the feeling of being overwhelmed at work, especially if you use the space to do breathing exercises or a short meditation session.
It might be time to look for a new job. If you’ve done all you could and still feel overwhelmed at work, staying put will likely make the feeling worse. One of our blog posts talks about the importance of showing compassion at work, but remember that compassion can also be extended to yourself.
What would you recommend to a friend who’s exhausted all their options and still feels burnt out? Chances are you would encourage them to explore other ideas and prioritise their well-being. So, why not be kind and compassionate to yourself too?
Feeling overwhelmed at work is normal when there are changes to the work environment, to your role, or you’re juggling too many responsibilities at the same time. However, carrying this burden for too long can have a negative impact on your well-being. Don’t let that happen – you have tools to manage that feeling and become more comfortable with your work routine. And if you try all of the suggestions mentioned here and still feel something is wrong… it may be time to start looking for a new job! •
Main image: shutterstock/FamVeld
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A social sciences graduate with a keen interest in languages, communication, and personal development strategies. Dee loves exercising, being out in nature, and discovering warm and sunny places where she can escape the winter.
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