How to deal with feeling overwhelmed at work

It's normal to feel overwhelmed at work from time to time, but if your health and happiness are suffering due to being overloaded, there are some steps you can take to get things back on track.

Tips on how to stop feeling overwhelmed at work

First and foremost, don't panic, and try not to let stress snowball. Things can and will get better: you just need to take back some control over your circumstances.

Here are nine top tips to deal with being overloaded at work, so you can stop feeling stressed and make sure that your productivity, mental health, and overall career path don't suffer any more than necessary.

1. Take your time

 One of the main reasons why people feel overwhelmed at work is a lack of time to get everything done. When this happens, it's crucial to step back and reassess your situation.
Time management is key. Prioritise the things you need to do immediately and make a long-term plan to ensure you don't get overwhelmed again. The remaining tips on this list can help you to do that. 

2. Ask for help 

If you have a supportive line manager, ask for a quiet word in private and let them know you're struggling to get everything done - they might be too distracted by their own deadlines to have even noticed. 
Even if you don't feel comfortable talking to your manager about your workload, think about who the right person might be to confide in. You could speak to a colleague who knows what you're facing, or even to friends and family who can help you work things out in your own head. 

3. Look after yourself

Heavy workloads and tight deadlines can quickly turn into late nights and early mornings - and that's assuming you can fall asleep when you do make it into bed. Rest is essential for a healthy mind and clear thinking, which will help you get through your to-do list.

Make sure you set a bedtime for yourself and stick to it - try to keep your work within set hours too. You might still choose to put in some overtime or work slightly longer hours to ensure you get everything done, but you'll be more productive if you keep your sleep under control.

Food and hydration are both important too, so avoid missing mealtimes. The single best thing you can do is drink some water - hydration will help you to stay alert during stressful times and should even stave off your hunger until you find time for a snack.

Avoid too much caffeine, which can disrupt your sleep, give you headaches and ironically might make you feel even more thirsty. Plain water or diluted fruit juice is a good way to hydrate without disrupting your mental flow. 

4. Take a break 

Breaks - even during the working day - are an important opportunity for your brain to recharge and can give you a chance to reset your thinking on a problematic task. Whether that's a short coffee break or going outside for some fresh air and exercise on your lunch break.

Making time in your day to leave your laptop behind, even if it’s for a short break, will help if you're feeling anxious about any challenging tasks you might have looming.

Make sure you do something that is not work-related during that time. Take the time to focus on your personal life and give your mind the reset it needs to stay focused. Listen to a podcast, play a game on your phone, or just sit quietly with a (preferably low caffeine) drink for five minutes, then go back to your workload feeling refreshed. 

5. Keep control 

The relatively simple steps above are all about keeping control over your workload and your working day. This can feel difficult when you're overwhelmed at work, but maintaining control over your actions is essential to get everything done quickly and to an acceptable standard.

If you find yourself feeling frustrated or angry at work, or your relationships at home are suffering because you are overloaded and stressed out, try to take a step back and clear those negative thoughts and emotions. Book some annual leave if possible - even if you can't take it until after you meet your deadlines, it will give you something to look forward to.

6. Do not disturb

Excessive demands on your time can interrupt your workflow and reduce your productivity. If you have jobs you absolutely need to get done, then designate some 'Do Not Disturb' time.
This means closing your emails, setting your phone to emergency calls only, and even working from a side office if you find that colleagues and subordinates interrupt you in person. You can catch up on correspondences once you've cleared some of your to-do list and have things back in focus.

7. Set milestones

Large projects can feel overwhelming, so try to break them down into more manageable chunks. These will be easier to think about and schedule, while giving you measurable progress towards completion.
If you're really struggling, you might even find you can call in some extra help from a co-worker who can complete one or two of the smaller portions of your project, leaving you free to tackle the rest. Work out exactly what you need to get these important tasks done, then prioritise making it happen.

8. Write it down 

Many people find a troubled mind is soothed by writing down the things that are bothering them – if you're feeling overloaded at work, it could be worth trying this. It can take just a few minutes to fill a page or two with 'stream of consciousness' writing.

You don't have to make sense - this is not an organised to-do list or career plan. It’s just a place to dump what's filling your brain, clearing some cognitive space to think about the tasks you need to complete. 

9. Don't panic 

It's worth saying again: don't panic. Whatever situation is making you feel overwhelmed at work, it's temporary, even if you decide to leave your job and move into a less stressful career elsewhere.

The main thing is to get through the short-term workload, tackle the priorities, and spread out what's left. This will give you the breathing room you need to make those long-term decisions for your own health, wealth, and happiness.

Moving forward

By implementing the tips listed here, you can clear your mind of distractions and put a clear plan in place to get everything done in order of priority. Then you will be able to, look ahead to a brighter future with a less hectic to-do list to confront.

What's next?

If you're still feeling overwhelmed or burned out, it might be a sign that it's time to move on from your current job to find something that will make you happier. 

At Michael Page, we have over 10,000 live jobs currently on our site. Start your search today and take the first step toward landing your dream job

Want to speak to a specialist? Submit your CV and one of our dedicated recruitment specialists will be in touch.

Submit your CV

Are you earning what you're truly worth?

Download our salary guide to find how much you could be earning.

Download our salary guide

Are you happy at work?

Take our quick and easy quiz to find out your next career move.

Take our quiz: Steer your career

Looking for a new role?

Check out similar roles in your sector to see what else is on offer.

View our live roles