A Guide to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed at Work

Macgill Davis

As the pace of life accelerates, many professionals often feel overwhelmed at work. Fast-moving companies and their leadership teams frequently switch priorities and push new goals and initiatives to keep up with both innovation and customer needs. This leads to an endless rollercoaster of urgent and important tasks that demand employee time and attention, even after work hours.

If you don’t set boundaries at work, you may soon find yourself struggling to maintain a positive work-life balance while keeping up with your work responsibilities. Feeling overwhelmed leads to burnout and mental fatigue, which makes you feel even more overwhelmed. It’s a continuous, negative cycle. 

This article aims to help you get out of that vicious loop and manage work stress better. We’ll discuss reasons you may feel overwhelmed and tips you can implement to regain mental clarity and control.

Is It Normal to Feel Overwhelmed at Work All the Time?

While it is increasingly common across many professions, it’s not normal to constantly feel overwhelmed at work. If you notice you’re always overwhelmed and feeling close to burnout, it’s a sign that you need to take control of your work affairs, evaluate what’s important, and mindfully allocate your time and energy to only essential tasks.

It’s OK to feel overwhelmed for a limited time in response to an upcoming event or a big project — for example, when preparing for a product launch or trying to meet a tight deadline. These events bring on a flurry of high-engagement and high-expectation tasks, which can make you feel overwhelmed. If it’s a short-term situation, you can manage your time, energy, and perspective because there’s a clear end date when the situation at work will return to a manageable pace. 

However, if you frequently feel overwhelmed at work, then it’s time for you to take intentional steps to manage your work stress so your health doesn’t decline, and you can hopefully prevent feelings of anxiety, dissociation, and depression. 

The emergence of mental exhaustion symptoms should act as an alert that you need to adjust your workload and work hours. If you notice signs such as increasing negative feelings about work or difficulty completing tasks, take immediate action to salvage and restore your productivity and mental health. Only by doing this will you be able to keep producing your best work.

Reasons You May Be Feeling Overwhelmed at Work

When you feel overwhelmed, it may be difficult to know the reason. If this is the case for you, take some time to pause and reflect. It’s important to figure out the reason so you can fix the cause and regain your mental clarity, enthusiasm, and motivation to work.

Below are three reasons you may be feeling overwhelmed.

1. Mental Fatigue

Working for long hours without adequate rest or breaks is a sure way to become mentally exhausted, which leads to feeling overwhelmed and a reduced ability to manage simple tasks. Stress causes mental fatigue, and mental fatigue leads to more stress.

For many people, the typical response to pressure at work is to work harder and put in longer hours. But when you’re overwhelmed, it’s better to step back and find the major stressors in your work and personal life and either eliminate or minimize them.

2. Too Many Goals and Priorities

Having too many goals, priorities, and demands on our time for long periods makes us feel overwhelmed. It’s also common to be prone to distractions and have trouble making good decisions. 

Incorporating time management techniques and tools can help manage your workdays and workload and reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed. In these situations, it is beneficial to remember that "Done is better than perfect" to overcome perfectionism, procrastination, or the fear of not being good enough.

3. A Lack of Control and Clarity 

Lack of control over your work and daily tasks can be a significant source of workplace stress. Prioritizing and managing your workload is essential to having a sense of progress and control over your work.

A micromanaging boss can be just as bad as a hands-off manager who doesn't set clear goals or allow enough time to execute tasks. Studies show that employees don't always know what's expected of them, apart from a job description. This may cause mistakes when prioritizing tasks, leading to feelings of confusion and being overwhelmed at work. 

5 Tips to Get Back on Track When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed at Work

Overwhelmed at work: woman taking down notes while in a virtual meeting

Now it's time for some actionable tips to get you back on track when you feel overwhelmed. We’ve compiled a list of five tips to get you back to top productivity without adding to your feeling of being overwhelmed.

1. Separate Essential From Nonessential Tasks

When you feel overwhelmed, start by separating your critical tasks from your nonessential tasks to reduce your cognitive load and maximize mental energy.

Look through your work and personal tasks, and remove or postpone the nonessentials. These may be smaller tasks that you'd like to do but which do not add significant value to your goals at the moment. One example of this can include scrolling through and engaging on social media.

While you recuperate from feeling overwhelmed, focus only on crucial tasks and projects. And be sure to work on only one thing at a time to save mental energy and improve your cognitive function.

2. Pinpoint the Source of Overwhelm

Once you have created a little mental room and know what's essential for you to do, it's time to attempt to uncover the source of your stress. Look at each task or responsibility on your plate to try to pinpoint where your stress may be coming from: 

  • Are you overwhelmed because you still have so much to do?
  • Is there a big event, project, or task coming up that’s causing feelings of anxiety?
  • What significant tasks, if completed, would alleviate most of your stress?

These questions can help you discover the main causes of your stress. While you may still have to work with the cause of your stress, you can become better prepared to deal with it so you can return to a state of balance more quickly.

3. Make Time to Plan and Prioritize

Overwhelmed at work: notebook and a pen

As your work responsibilities and task list grow, your ability to allocate time, attention, and resources may decline. Focusing on a few priorities — say, one to three — makes you less likely to feel overwhelmed. 

Break down big tasks or projects into smaller, more manageable bits. Be sure to ask for help from team members or, if it’s possible, get an extension on a tight deadline if that's what you need. 

Use the Eisenhower matrix to put your urgent and important tasks in order. Tackle your most important work during your peak hours — that is, whenever you have the greatest ability to focus. Also take steps to manage your energy to make the most of your work hours and to maintain the quality of your work. 

4. Take a Break

Breaks are important to help you maintain your mental health and sense of well-being. Although it may seem counterintuitive to take breaks and rest when you have a lot of work to do, it is better for your productivity and work performance in the long run.

Schedule short breaks during your workday to recharge, rest, and gain inner strength. You can close your eyes and take deep breaths, go for a short walk, or listen to soothing music. Consider these short breaks to be free time and push all thoughts of work from your brain.

These activities help clear your head and release “happy hormones” like dopamine and serotonin, which provide mental relief and encourage positive thoughts — motivating you to achieve more when you're back at work.

5. Take Care of Your Mental Health

To truly regain your strength and mental agility, you must ensure your mind is healthy. Take time to reflect, review, and renew your thoughts. You may discover you have some assumptions keeping you stuck in an unproductive mind frame. By identifying them, you can work on eliminating them.

Reflecting on how you got to where you are and practicing mindful self-care by asking yourself what you need — and following through on the answer — will put you in a better mood, reduce your stress, and improve your sense of control.

Use Rize to Regain Mental Clarity and Control

Focusing your time, energy, and attention on the most critical tasks helps you move forward, even when you are overwhelmed. When you identify your stressors, you can reorder your workday to complete the tasks that are causing you stress and to get them off your plate as quickly as possible. 

Tracking your productivity throughout the workday can help you discover what tasks and responsibilities take the most amount of time and cause you stress. Noticing what you procrastinate on can help you discover your most challenging work tasks. 

Rize, a time-tracking app, helps you automatically track work hours and productivity, sharing detailed weekly reports that help you understand how you spend your time and the areas where you’ve struggled. Are you ready to regain mental clarity and your sense of control and overcome feeling overwhelmed at work? Sign up for a free trial of Rize.