What To Do When Feeling Overwhelmed At Work
Ria Mittal
feeling overwhelmed at work

What does it mean to be overwhelmed? 

Feeling overwhelmed, makes one feel as if they are “overflowing” with an emotion—whether that be joy, sadness, stress. Being overwhelmed can evoke an intense physical or emotional reaction in an individual. 

And this feeling of “overwhelm” can build over time, through multiple events and situations, and one event can be a “tipping point” or “breaking point” even though it may seem small. 

Feeling overwhelmed at work has a negative connotation, as it means that an employee is stressed about the amount of work they have to complete. It can create a negative physical and emotional reaction that is detrimental to both the company and the individual. 

What are some signs of overwhelm?

There are various signs of overwhelm that one can encounter. Anyone can experience a variety of these emotional and physical cues on a scale of severity. 

  1. Emotional changes: irritability, crying spells, withdrawal, moodiness
  2. Racing heart, anxiety, trouble breathing 
  3. Aches, pains, dizziness 

Potential causes of overwhelm

There can be many “triggers” as to why one feels overwhelmed at work. These can be both related and unrelated to the workplace, as both personal and work-related problems can contribute to overwhelm. 

1. Personal Issues

Issues at home can inhibit one’s productivity and ability to do their job. Dealing with personal issues along with work demands can make one feel burdened and overwhelmed with no escape. It is important that employees have access to resources to help them navigate personal challenges, so it does not impact their work.  

2. Setting Unrealistic Expectations 

This can especially be a problem if one is a “people pleaser” or a “yes person,” as they do not want to let anyone down. This can cause an individual to create expectations they cannot healthily fulfill. One may feel the need to put in additional hours, sacrificing their mental and physical health.
Individuals can also create unfeasible expectations for themselves. People who are overachievers may believe they can complete an unrealistic amount of work, once again leading them to sacrifice their overall well-being. 

3. Lack of Healthy Boundaries

Nowadays we are constantly bombarded with notifications and requests, whether that be social media, Slack messages, or phone calls. This can make it difficult to focus on working, as our minds are constantly thinking about the next task, request, etc. Additionally, some employees may feel the burden of having to say “yes” to every single ask from a manager or co-worker. This can create an unhealthy workload, stemming from a lack of healthy boundaries and the inability to say “no.” 

4. Burnout

Feeling unmotivated, lacking energy, and having trouble concentrating, are all symptoms of burnout. This can lead to one feeling overwhelmed, since they may not have the capacity to finish all the tasks they typically complete. 

So, what should we do when we’re feeling overwhelmed at work? 

Tips to deal with overwhelm

Prioritize self-care

Make sure to prioritize self-care. It is important to put one’s mental and physical well-being above work, especially when it is starting to become overwhelming. Take some time to engage in self-care activities, which can range from exercise to a spa day. Just take some time to reset and take care of yourself, as overworking can lead to lower levels of productivity, burnout, and an overall lower well-being. 

Effective time management 

Finding an effective time management method can help with feelings of overwhelm. Oftentimes one is overloaded with tasks because they feel as if there is not enough time. However, with a time management method, one can make their endless to-do list seem doable. One popular time management method is the pomodoro technique—one works for 25 minutes and then takes a 5 minute break. Along with managing time, set manageable goals. It is always good to have high-achieving goals, however, it is also important to have more realistically manageable goals in order to create a sense of completion. Additionally, when it seems as if there is a lot on one’s plate, they should not be afraid to delegate tasks to other team members. This can ease your own burdening workload. 

Seek support 

One should not be afraid to talk to a trusted colleague or a manager/supervisor. Seeking out professional assistance, such as therapy or an employee assistance program, is valuable as well. It is important to feel supported and encouraged throughout one’s career, as it can eliminate feelings of loneliness. A workplace should be a place where one feels like they are supported throughout their job. 

Utilize Stress-Relief Techniques

Stress relief in the workplace is extremely important. If one is feeling overwhelmed, taking a few minutes to be mindful can reduce levels of stress. Breathing and meditation are both great ways to relieve stress. Taking the time to practice mindfulness can help ease the feelings of overwhelm, as it serves as a reminder that the workload can be manageable. 

Take Breaks and Disconnecting

Taking time away from work periodically throughout the day boosts performance and productivity. Staring at the screen for hours on end can make one feeling sluggish and unproductive. Try taking more frequent breaks away from a screen, such as walks, to reduce overwhelm. 

Engaging in Physical Activity

Physical activity is also a great way to reduce feelings of stress and overwhelm, and it can be incorporated into the office. Taking walking breaks, replacing the office chair with a standing desk or yoga ball, or doing stretches can all be easily done in the office. 

Creating a Supportive Work Environment

Managers, supervisors, and other leaders in the workplace can create a safe and supportive work environment. This way, employees can be transparent with their supervisors when they are feeling overwhelmed and burdened by work. Employees can also be supported through flexible work arrangements and employee recognition programs. Additionally, employees can help each other by listening to a coworker in need or lending a helping hand where needed. Creating a workplace environment that encourages and lifts each other up will reduce feelings of stress, as employees will be comfortable asking for assistance when needed. This can improve employee retention as well.


Overall, it is important for one to obtain a good work-life balance, as this will allow for a better mental well-being. Promoting and encouraging good mental health around the workplace will make employees feel supported and grateful for their employers. It is essential that both employees and managers work to create a positive environment where employees know what to do when they are feeling overwhelmed at work. 

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