Stress and overwhelm in the workforce are common and, for most people, unavoidable.
In 2019, an astounding 94 percent of Americans experienced stress at work. And this has only gotten worse in the past couple of years—health, societal, technological, and economic factors have all played a role in our rising stress levels. Let's face it. Stress is inevitable. So instead of trying to get rid of it altogether, your time is better spent learning how to skillfully manage it.
In this article, we’ll explore six things you can do to manage stress and tension when you feel overwhelmed by your workload.
Common Causes of Overwhelm at Work
There are many different factors that can contribute to a feeling of being overwhelmed at work. Here are a few of the most common causes:
- Tight deadlines
- Unrealistic expectations
- Lack of control or clarity
- Lack of support or resources
- Demanding bosses or colleagues
- Big changes in your job or company
- A heavy and overwhelming workload
- Neglecting a healthy work-life balance
One of these issues on its own might not feel too stressful. But when you have several of them going on at the same time–for instance, overwhelming workloads and a lack of clarity—it can quickly lead to feeling bogged down and stressed out.
What To Do When You Feel Overwhelmed
As a busy professional, the chances that you’ll never feel overwhelmed by your workload are pretty slim. So what can you do when it happens?
Learn tools and strategies to help you cope with feeling stressed in the moment so you can get back to being productive.
Here are 6 things you can do when you start to feel overwhelmed, and minimize its negative impact in the future.
1. Identify Triggers
Different people are overwhelmed by different things.
To better manage your stress, it’s important to take some time to understand what triggers your feelings of overwhelm.
- Does working with certain people or in certain environments make you feel stressed?
- Do you tend to feel overwhelmed when you have a lot of tasks to complete?
- Do you start to feel anxious when you think about upcoming deadlines?
- When you’re interrupted frequently or face too many distractions?
- When you’re unclear about what’s expected of you?
- When you procrastinate or don’t have a solid plan?
- When you work long hours without a break?
Once you know what your triggers are, you can start to develop a plan for managing workplace stress.
2. Set Boundaries
A big part of managing your workload is learning how to set boundaries—both with yourself and with others.
Clear boundaries make it easier for you to focus on the task at hand and avoid taking on more than you can handle.
The following are some examples of boundaries you might need to establish:
- Only answering emails or texts at certain times of the day.
- Scheduling meetings for specific days of the week.
- Not responding to work messages in the evening.
Keep in mind that setting boundaries can help you improve the quality of your work. Boundaries typically allow you to renew yourself. This can give your body and mind the rest they need to perform optimally.
When you have a lot to do, it’s easy to fall into the trap of experiencing choice overload. This happens when you have so many tasks on your to-do list that you don’t know where to start. And as a result, you become overwhelmed, inefficient, or don’t start at all.
Let's be real. Multitasking doesn't work—at least, not with challenging tasks that require your focused attention. When you try to do too many things at once, your attention is scattered, and you're more likely to make mistakes.
That's why it's important to learn how to prioritize your tasks. By identifying what's most important, you can focus on one thing at a time and get more done.
If you’re not sure where to start, try using a tool like the Eisenhower Matrix to help you prioritize your to-do list and identify your most important tasks. This will help you narrow down your options and figure out which tasks will yield the greatest results.
Trying to do everything on your own is a recipe for disaster.
Not only will you become overwhelmed, but you'll also make unnecessary mistakes.
Instead of trying to do everything, delegate tasks to others—for the sake of your own sanity. This will help you lighten your load and free up your time to focus on more important tasks.
In addition to delegating, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you're stuck trying to solve problems. This can be difficult for some people, but remember that you’re not in this alone. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
5. Resist Perfectionism
In addition to resisting the urge to do it all, resist perfectionism. This can help you manage feelings of overwhelm and combat work-related stress.
Should you strive to do your best? Of course! But you don’t need to beat yourself up if your best isn’t perfect.
Keep in mind that perfectionism is often driven by unrealistic standards. If you find yourself constantly falling short, ask yourself if your standards are realistic.
Are you expecting too much of yourself?
6. Take Breaks
Even if you have a lot to do, you’re still allowed to take breaks and take care of yourself.
Stepping away for a few minutes is a great way to clear your head, refresh, and manage feelings of stress and overwhelm. Take a deep breath. Get some fresh air. Walk around. Drink some water. Do whatever recharges you.
Who knows, you might even stumble upon an innovative idea or solution to a problem.
When you step away, make sure you’re truly taking a break. This means not reading emails or catching up on the company Slack chat.
Give your brain a genuine rest so you can refocus and go back to work with a clear head.
You’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed with workload. By understanding your triggers and taking steps to manage them, you can start to feel more in control.
Remember to set boundaries, prioritize, delegate, and take breaks when needed. These simple tips can help you stay on top of your workload and manage feelings of overwhelm.
For more help managing your time and preventing overwhelm, check out Undock. It's a tool that allows you to take control of your schedule by suggesting meeting times based on your preferences and availability.
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