How can I manage overwhelm in the workplace?

The way we work today has changed dramatically over the past few years. Things may not have felt great in the workplace before the pandemic. And now things may feel even worse.


The stress and pressure of a fast-paced workplace can be completely overwhelming. Let’s take a look at how things have changed.

How has the workplace changed since the pandemic?

The people

The opposite of the messages of building community and helping your neighbour when Covid kept us locked down; today you may be feeling like it’s “everyone for themselves”. The average person you meet each day may seem to have become more inward-focused, thinking about themselves. Some think that people are becoming more entitled – “me me me”.

During the pandemic, we just focused on survival. So now, lots of people are exhausted. Some of us haven’t processed our feelings – we just concentrated on getting through it.

The workload

The amount of work we must do has boomed. Companies are growing fast but you may be finding that there aren’t enough hands to do the work, where hiring is lagging behind and you can’t keep up with the increasing demands.

Workplaces sometimes don’t replace employees when they leave voluntarily. They may say, “Let’s see how we get on without them”. This can end up putting more pressure on everyone else as their workload inevitably increases.

The culture

In some workplaces, there is an expectation that employees start early, finish late, and work through their lunch break…  

When you feel overwhelmed by the amount of work you’re expected to complete, you may go to more and more drastic measures to get it done, which only cements the expectation that you can complete that amount of work!  

The boundaries between work life and home life start to blur when you’re spending most of your week at work. Employees may feel they need to keep up appearances. You may want to be seen by your managers as the perfect employee: all-singing, all-dancing, saying yes to everything, taking all opportunities offered, constantly progressing, and going above and beyond. It’s unsustainable.

It appears to have become a societal pattern to have low compassion for ourselves, but we still cheer on colleagues and friends. We blame ourselves for all sorts of things that aren’t our fault, but we can’t do everything! You may be seeing “wellbeing-washing” – workplaces trying to show they care about mental health, but their actions say otherwise. Not allowing staff to take holidays, criticising them for going to medical appointments or having to leave because their child is ill, grilling them about why they were off sick, and making them feel guilty for putting themselves first.

The image

You may be told that representing your workplace on LinkedIn or other social media is now part of your day job. You might feel that you are becoming an influencer whether you like it or not – striving to be 'seen'.

The internet can make or break a company. If someone criticises a company online, it can destroy them.  

The working from home

Many of us are working solely from home, or part-time in the office. Some people have little to no way of distinguishing their day from work to home life. Perhaps you don’t have the option of going into an office, and you feel forgotten about. Often, workplace activities are focused on those local to the office.

You may be missing human interaction – unable to offload like you used to, having catch-ups at someone’s desk as you pass, or chinwags in the kitchen. Many are starting to realise how much the “How was your weekend?” or “I’m swamped” conversations meant to us.

Working alone can perpetuate loneliness. It’s the opposite of community, rapport, or camaraderie. We can become focused on ourselves, over-analysing the smallest detail or interaction.

The isolation is real!  You may be feeling increasingly alone. Some people work at home all day, spend the evening with their family, then the next day it’s the same again. The work all blurs into one, feeling oppressive and trapping, as though it’ll never end. Perhaps you feel as though you’re living for the weekend, not able to be in the moment, just trying to get through the work week. With no outlet, stress and depression can set in.

The video meetings

You might find that online meetings are stifling your brainstorming sessions. Creativity can be difficult in such an environment. You may feel that it wouldn’t be like that in person – sharing imaginative ideas would be more dynamic and free-flowing.

Many people are getting ‘Zoom fatigue’, dissociating and feeling that their attention spans are shot. You may notice colleagues working or looking at other things during the meeting, and it’s obvious!  

Some are experiencing disinhibition, like leaving your microphone on while you take a personal call or leaving your camera on while you take a shower. We forget where we are and who can see or hear us.  

How can I reduce stress at work?

So… what can we do about it?

  • Mindfulness. Practise being in the moment and not judging yourself – your thoughts, your feelings, your need to fidget. It helps foster a sense of self-compassion and encourages a state of peace and calm that gets easier to slip into the more you do it. Try a video or use an app to guide you on how to be more mindful in your day.
  • Be realistic about what you can achieve. Beating yourself up about what you “should” be able to achieve in a workday helps no one. Speak to your manager if your workload isn’t doable. Ask people what the deadline is for a piece of work instead of dropping everything to do it now. Prioritise your tasks, do your best in the time you have, and the rest will have to be finished tomorrow. Remember – your employers are responsible for hiring enough employees to complete the work.
  • Set boundaries. Start slowly and build up. Start by taking a short lunch break, working up to take the full lunch break you’re allowed. Instead of glueing your eyes to your screen for hours, stand up and get a drink or step outside for a breath of fresh air. Start and finish work at the times you’re contracted to work, reserving longer hours for genuine emergencies. Put away your work messages and emails at the end of the day and don’t check them until you’re next at work.
  • Make a clear distinction between work time and home/family time. If you can, physically work in a different place to where you live the rest of your life. Put your computer and paperwork out of sight once you’re done for the day or put a cover over them. Take a walk to create a separation between work and home – arriving back at your front door to enter the next phase of your day.
  • Practice saying “no”. Assertiveness isn’t 'mean'; it keeps us safe. Whether you’re asked to do something that’s outside your role or you just don’t have time to take on yet another task, you need to be able to say “no”.  Soften it with a compromise if you like: “OK, but I have to leave by 6 pm”.  “I can finish it by Friday”.  “I’d like to help you, but I need to check what else I have on – let me come back to you”.  “I promised myself I would rest this evening, so I can’t help this time.”
  • Speak to your workplace about flexible working so you have less stress about things like who’s going to pick up the kids from school or how you’re going to take a relative to an appointment.
  • Foster your support system. As well as confiding in friends and family, speak to your colleagues who are often going through the same thing and understand where you’re coming from. You could join a support group to meet people in a similar position or enlist the help of a counsellor.
  • Identify your triggers for stress and anxiety. Write down what seems to cause your change in mood and notice patterns over time.  
  • Exercise. Whatever form of exercise you’re able to do and like to do – move your body. You could take a turn around the block during the day to break up your work. See some nature if you can!
  • Look after yourself. Get enough sleep (look up sleep hygiene), eat healthily when you can, be kind to your body by taking frequent breaks, and make time to do things you enjoy and look forward to

Seek help from a counsellor

Speak to a counsellor to help you manage your feelings and empower you to make the decisions that are best for you. Support for anxiety, depression and other issues can help you feel better at work and home.  

While a lot about our work lives today is challenging, there are ways of lowering the stress we feel about the job we do. It’s a gradual process – don’t expect an overnight change. Have patience with yourself and start the process by taking one step today.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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