Young woman holding her head in her hands clearly overwhelmed at work.

How To Stop Feeling Overwhelmed At Work

Haven’t we all experienced moments where we feel overwhelmed at work? Indeed, our work lives have increasingly become more complex and demanding. And there’s nothing worse than waking up feeling drained and starting the workday with dread.

But if that is where you find yourself every day, it can be hard to get out of that state of mind. But neither is it sustainable. Eventually, it will lead to worse things such as burnout. So, before you let the feelings of overwhelm get to that point, you first have to recognize the signs of overwhelm.


When Sarah was hired as property manager of a real estate investment firm, she was thrilled. And for a while, the busy workload made her feel invigorated and important. But after about two years, the demanding residents, unreasonable board members, and a barely under control work schedule turned her dream job into a job she had become to dread. And just like a rubber band that’s pulled too tightly, she snapped.

She realizes now that there had been signs all along indicating that she was becoming overwhelmed at work. For instance, trouble sleeping, pounding headaches, and unhealthy eating habits she had developed—all clear signs of her inability to understand and reduce the stress in her life.

When individuals don’t have the appropriate coping skills for their everyday stress, or the pressure they are under daily becomes too much to bear for their usual coping mechanisms, they are at risk of becoming overloaded. But all is not lost— because the good news is, it doesn’t have to be like that.

How to stop feeling overwhelmed at work

1. Learn to recognize your triggers

Effective stress management begins by identifying the source of your stress and developing strategies to manage them. Ways to do this are:

  • Make a list of the circumstances, issues, or challenges that trigger your stress response.
  • Write down some of the top difficulties you are now having to cope with.
  • Consider how these stressors affect you (how your body responds).

By identifying and understanding the source of your stress, you’ll be on your way to learning how to manage it better. And I did say manage, not to eliminate it—because stress is a fact of life that we all have to deal with. That’s why it’s imperative to learn ways to handle it.

2. Prioritize and only do what has to get done today

For sure, when looking at a mountain of responsibilities and tasks before you, it can be paralyzing. Instead of feeling inspired to work through them, you’re more apt to feel overwhelmed and stymied on which job to tackle. Because most tasks don’t carry equal importance, you need to prioritize your list and then choose which one to complete. 

Here’s an excellent article to read regarding making a successful to-do list. And as you work through your list, don’t forget to check off the tasks as you complete them. It might seem insignificant, but it will surprisingly give you the confidence that you are making progress and will motivate you to keep going.

3. Set clearly defined boundaries

Being available 24/7, including weekends, and agreeing to everything your boss, clients, or co-workers ask of you is a setup for overwhelm and burnout.

The secret to staying sane and successful at work is to set firm, self-respecting boundaries that assist you in making healthy decisions regarding your time and energy. Possible steps to take to define your boundaries are:

  • Evaluate your workload and time.
  • Set a specific start and end time for the day.
  • Identify your limits and determine what needs to be changed.
  • Communicate your boundaries clearly.
  • Say no to the tasks and projects that push you beyond your comfort zone (quite possibly ones you identified as triggers).
  • Prepare for pushback.

Building boundaries will take time, practice, and patience. Don’t be surprised when they get crossed—they will. Instead of reacting negatively when this happens, regard it as an opportunity to gain insight and improve your boundary setting. And remember, sometimes boundaries may require some negotiation.

4. Be more flexible

Talking about negotiation. There’s a saying by an unknown author that states, “A sign of strength is standing firm but being able to bend gently.” Case in point, when you think of an I-beam (a shape of structural steel used in buildings for solid and supportive structure), you would think that they would be immovable, but in fact, they are designed to bend rather than buckle when under a heavy load.

In like manner, it’s just as crucial for you to be adaptable when you feel overwhelmed by a heavy load, whether it’s a demanding boss, brutal deadlines, or a mountain of paperwork. Everything can’t be perfect and always go according to plan. Make it easier on yourself and learn to build tolerances into your timeline. For example, if you believe it will take a whole day to finish a project, give yourself a day and a half.

This will give you a greater degree of comfort, knowing you have a little breathing room if complications arise. And rather than becoming overwhelmed at work, you will find yourself staying calmer and more focused.

5. Pause and take a breather

And finally, when you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, hit the pause button. Being anxious and overwhelmed is not exactly conducive to productivity anyway. It also makes it tough to think clearly and make wise decisions. So pause for a moment and focus on a pleasant thought. At the same time, use a breathing exercise such as this one:

  • Breathe in through your nose to a count of five.
  • Hold it for a count of five.
  • And then slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of five.

Repeat this five times or until you feel calmer and in control. By going through this process, you will lower the tension you feel by redirecting your attention off the stressful situation and helping you to focus on something more positive.  

Feeling overwhelmed at work does not have to be a life sentence.

When you feel overwhelmed at work, understanding the sources of overwhelm can help you put strategies in place to overcome them. And by having these five tools in hand, you should be on your way to relieving some of the pressures you are dealing with at work. However, if you feel an excessive amount of overwhelm and would like some extra assistance, working with an  anxiety coach through breakthrough coaching is another great way to gain insight into learning more strategies to manage stress and get back on track. 

Hi, I’m Kris Henderson, LPC. I want you to know that I am here to help. The easiest way to start taking control of your anxiety is to take the FREE 5-Day Anxiety Detox Challenge. If you would like more personalized support, I invite you to contact me or make an appointment onlineTogether, we can work on more strategies to reduce stress so you can feel more capable and competent to perform at your best.

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