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Stress At Work - Feeling Overwhelmed

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

The feeling of being overwhelmed is the feeling of being overcome with a certain emotion which can be due to bot a positive or negative influence, for example, someone could be overwhelmed with joy or contrastingly overwhelmed by stress. It can also lead to feelings of having no control over your life due to these emotions being “too much to handle” or the cause being too difficult to resolve. Some claim it is normal to feel overwhelmed at work for short periods of time since 74% of employees felt overwhelmed within the past year. Even when it is considered a normal emotion to feel in the workplace due to the high-stress levels it should not be normalised when it is happening for long periods of time or happening often. Ignoring feelings of being overwhelmed will have multiple negative effects since it feeds our natural negative bias. People experiencing being overwhelmed by stress may begin to lose confidence as they sink into an “I can't do it” attitude, if they feel inadequate for their job then they likely won't be able to perform at their very best since they are busy worrying about solely completing the workload, not the standard. Feelings of overwhelm can also lead an employee to lack confidence in their teams' support strategy since they aren’t benefitting from it, questioning the organisation can then bring the outcome of sick days and/or resignation causing the loss of a formerly very valuable employee. There are many stressful work experiences happening every day that affect our mental, social and physical stress that can lead to feeling overwhelmed such as

  • Meeting short deadlines

  • Tension between employees

  • Receiving too few resources to properly handle your responsibilities

  • Accepting too many tasks from other employees

  • Having several tasks to complete at once

  • Falling behind on work

  • Understanding very little about a certain assignment

  • Heavy workload

  • Feeling unsure about your work performance

  • High standard goals set by yourself or managers

Without a healthy balance between normal amounts of overwhelming feelings and calmness at work, you may begin to lose focus and engagement in the workplace, putting yourself in a stress cycle controlled by the main thought of not being able to accomplish anything. Employees in this cycle tend to have strong feelings of helplessness due to the lack of control, this may also cause workplace stress to affect personal life as it will likely dominate every thought even when out of the workplace. Continuing this cycle then comes the difficulty to fall asleep easily or at all, the anxiety of the overwhelming stress and possible dread of the next working day will keep employees up at night with negative thoughts, eventually leading to exhaustion. This cycle, if left unnoticed, only becomes more vicious as it begins to cause sickness alongside bad self-care habits, it is important to solve overwhelming feelings early on to avoid these drastic amounts of negativity. Feeling overwhelmed is normal, sometimes our workloads can be daunting or new tasks seem extremely difficult, but these feelings should be very short-lived, anything more than temporary is cause for concern. Some possible solutions you may want to consider are Discovering the cause Specific things will trigger these feelings and when you begin experiencing them you should ask yourself why? It may be helpful to note them down as a list or mindmap for a better understanding of your current emotions, When you start to understand your different triggers, you can then create coping strategies for when they occur in the future. Confide in your team members No one is going to understand your stress better than the people who share a workplace with you, they may even be experiencing the same feelings of overwhelm as you. With external help, you may be able to help each other with work or share strategies the other has not yet tried. Alternatively, if it is discovered that many employees are having negative emotional experiences, it may be time to bring it up to a leader to discuss the workload and its difficulty. Be aware of Parkinson's law Parkinson's law is an aphorism stating that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." This means that if you are given a task over the course of a week that should only take a few hours, you will make it extend to take up that entire week. We can all fall victim to procrastination, and this is a very common reason for feeling overwhelmed. Take the time to learn how to deal with procrastination which may then have a knock-on effect of helping with overwhelming feelings.

Build and follow a schedule

If we are left in charge of managing our workload and time management it’s easy to simply do things on the day as they come, maybe even doing all of your favourite tasks and then being left with the more difficult or less interesting ones by the end of the week. This can become quite an unorganised way of working which may lead to performance issues and gaps within your work that then causes you to feel overwhelmed. If this is true, start by sorting your workload by deadline and importance so you know what needs to be done first and what can wait. Then create a rough estimate of how much time every task should take and lastly plan the week ahead carefully, assign certain tasks to certain days with good time management, ensure there is space for breaks but also space for if some tasks run over time. The goal should be to get back on track with good structure so that the workload can seem less stressful when cut down into specific days and a time estimate.


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