Personal Development

7 Things to do When You Feel Overwhelmed at Work

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Is your job starting to feel like a nightmare that never ends? Work is piling up and it feels you will never get out from under.   You live in constant dread of more assignments coming your way and missed deadlines.   There have been numerous studies showing that workplace stress is the largest form of stress for American adults and this stress has increased in the last few decades.   While technology has held the promise of more leisure time and freedom, being always on and wired has increased feelings of not being able to cope.

Instead of sitting back and feeling like we are helpless in the face of increased workload pressures, there are a number of things we can do.

Avoid Being a Martyr or Hero

There is no upside to being a hero or martyr and letting yourself burn out.   You don't have to go around whining about how much you have to do but firmly let those you are involved with know you have reached your limit and are unable to take on any more.   Ultimately it is you who has to take responsibility for looking after yourself. There is a limit on how much you can do and you need to know when you have reached that limit and let others know

Let go of the Feeling You Need to Control Everything

Some people who take on too much are perfectionists or believe that no one else can do the work as well as they can.   Lack of delegation and the need to micromanage are both paths to increased stress and burnout.   Work on learning to trust others and giving them the leeway to fail and learn from their failures.   Focus your thinking on situations where others were in control and everything turned out fine.

Ask for Help

Some people see asking for help as a sign of weakness and will do anything to avoid being seen as sub-standard.   Like many behaviors that we have learned, this one does not serve us well.   Spreading out the work also spreads the pressure so that it does not all fall upon us. Seldom will the people we ask for help view us as weak and will be willing to help.   We can overcome this by practicing asking even though we will be outside of our comfort zone initially.   If difficult, ask for a small amount of help and work up to larger issues.

Take Time Out to Think, Meditate, Go for a Walk to Refresh and Regenerate

The natural urge when feeling you are being inundated is to push harder.   While it seems counterintuitive, after a certain time we are unable to focus effectively. At that point the most productive thing we can do is take a break, a time out, to take us away from what we are doing to recharge and regenerate. One of Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is that they take time to sharpen their saw.   Take time to sharpen your mind when you are beginning to get dull and ineffective.  This will allow us to think clearly and consider whether there are easier, faster and more efficient ways that we can accomplish the same things.

Reach Out to Your Support System

One of the things that we are tempted to do when we feel our to do's are out of control, is to ignore our friends and families in an attempt to get caught up. While it seems counterproductive, this is the time that we need them the most.   Not only do they provide us with a backup in case things don't work out, they can provide us with moral and emotional support at a time we badly need it. They may even come up with solutions and ideas that we were unable to because of our being so close to the situation and stressed out by it.

Look Beyond This Time to a Better Tomorrow

Think ahead and when this time has passed, you will be looking back on it.   Imagine how life will be when you are no longer stressed and working steadily towards your goals and dreams.   Ask yourself what you are gaining from your present experience that will serve you well in the future. Perhaps you are learning to be more assertive, to say no when you need to, find out who you can count on when you need help.

Look After Your Physical/Emotional Health and Relationships

It is important that we don't push ourselves so hard that we begin to neglect our physical/emotional health and important relationships. Carve out time every day to exercise, meditate, get enough sleep and connect with those important in your life.   Guard that time and resist the temptation to let these things slide. Remind yourself that your health, emotional well-being and loved ones are more important than anything else and must be looked after before anything else.

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About the author

Harvey Deutschendorf

Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, internationally published author and speaker. To take the EI Quiz go to His book THE OTHER KIND OF SMART, Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success has been published in 4 languages. Harvey writes for FAST COMPANY and has a monthly column with HRPROFESSIONALS MAGAZINE. You can follow him on Twitter @theeiguy