Are You Feeling Overwhelmed at Work? Here’s What You Can Do When Everything Gets Too Much

2 Mar ‘23
3 min
Stress and anxiety
Lisanne van Marrewijk
Reviewed by psychologist Clara Isabell Slawik
illustratie van persoon die overweldigd is door allerlei taken op werk

Let’s start with the most important point: everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes. Whether it’s because of a comment someone made, a sleepless night, an overflowing to-do list or the fact that you’re struggling to get back into the swing of things after your holiday (or all of the above). Feelings like this come and go. It’s just a part of life. 


But the question is: what can you do when it all gets a bit too much? 


9 top tips for when you’re feeling overwhelmed


The news, perfectionism, changes in your life, trouble sleeping: all of these things contribute to how you’re feeling. But whether there’s an obvious reason or not, sometimes you’ll find yourself feeling overwhelmed. And when that happens, you’ll want to do something about it. 


1. Take a step back from the situation


When you’re feeling overwhelmed, you often get so lost in your thoughts that you can’t be objective about the situation. Taking a step back will help you to return later with a softer and gentler outlook. 


Give yourself space to breathe by stepping back and observing the situation from a distance. For example, try to look at the situation from a different perspective or through the lens of a person who is completely detached from what’s going on.


It also helps to focus on another task (or to do something completely different, like going for a walk outside). 


Although it can be difficult to walk away from the situation (we often find it hard to relinquish control), in 99 per cent of cases, this is the best way forward. 


Give it a try. See it as an experiment. You’ll notice that the world still keeps turning, even when you’re not paying attention. 


2. Write it down


Writing is a powerful way to let out your emotions and organise your thoughts. It helps you to cope when you’re feeling overwhelmed by alleviating stress, getting your thoughts in order and giving you some perspective. 


It doesn’t matter whether you work in bullet points, write half a novel’s worth, or churn out some illegible drivel. All that matters is the action: putting what you’re going through into words.


Start by writing down whatever comes up. It’s all good, even if it feels irrational or irrelevant. Follow your intuition.


3. Talk about it


Talking helps you to break down your thoughts into smaller chunks, which makes you feel less overwhelmed, experts say. In addition, it alleviates worries and feelings of stress, as well as helps you to feel understood and less alone.


Talk about it to a friend, a colleague you trust, your manager or a psychologist.


4. Get your to-do list under control


When we’re overwhelmed, we often stop being able to see what’s important and what’s not. Or we confuse important with urgent. Our brains simply can’t figure out how to get things under control.


It helps to write down all your tasks and then divide them into new lists.


The first step is to write down your tasks, prioritise them (yep, even the teeny tasks that are bouncing around in the back of your brain) and maybe even divide them into lists. This way, you’ll introduce some structure and come up with a plan, which will soon make you feel less overwhelmed.


The Eisenhower Matrix is a good tool that you can use to divide up your tasks. Or divide them using this list by Liz & Mollie:


  • Tasks that I have to do
  • Tasks that I want to do
  • Tasks that other people want me to do


Also, consider what actually falls within your circle of influence and what doesn’t. This might sound obvious, but we often worry about things that we can’t change (like how a colleague behaves).


Tip: divide your tasks into small steps that you can easily check off your to-do list. Completing a task will give you a little boost and that, in turn, will motivate you to tackle the rest.


5. Take a break


When we’re feeling overwhelmed or have too much to do, the first thing we do is skip our breaks. Despite the fact that taking breaks is very important. 


When we’re overwhelmed, our bodies and minds are working overtime. In these moments, we need to rest in order to recharge our batteries, reset and get a clear view of the situation again.


6. Move


Movement – whether it’s taking a walk, dancing around the room or running a half marathon – gets you out of your head and into your body. It helps you to release your feelings, so you don’t get so swept up in them. 


7. Practice mindfulness


Mindfulness is a practical way to manage your emotions better. It makes you more resilient, helps you to focus on the here and now and teaches you to distance yourself from your thoughts. 


It doesn’t provide instant relief, but people who regularly practice mindfulness are more adaptable to change and better at managing fluctuating emotions. That’s exactly what you need.


Tip: Practice mindfulness with us every week 


8. Don’t expect too much from yourself


Nobody is perfect and that includes you. It’s okay! Try to lower the expectations you set for yourself. That might be nerve-wracking at first, but you’ll soon realise that nobody notices. 


Learn to be satisfied with being good enough. Because that’s exactly what it is: enough.


9. Say no more often


No is a clear and powerful answer. And clear is kind. Despite this, we don’t say no a lot, especially at work. We want to please other people and we think that we need to say yes in order to do that. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.


Even if saying “no” feels scary and uncomfortable at first, by saying it you’ll discover that the world doesn’t end if you decide not to do something or not to be somewhere. 


Do you need some help with this? 👉 How To Say “No” (and Why We Find It So Hard)


And remember: feeling overwhelmed is part of life


It might be challenging and annoying, but you just feel this way sometimes. Don’t forget that it’s a normal part of life and we all have to go through it from time to time.


See it as a sign from your body that it’s time to slow down; that you should re-evaluate what is important to you and what really matters. This, in turn, will help you to combat the overwhelm.


👉 Here’s how to live your values (and learn more about yourself in the process)