What To Do When You’re Overwhelmed at Work


We have all been there. When the deadlines are drawing near, the responsibilities are ever increasing, and your daily and weekly to do list seems to never end, it can start to weigh on you heavily.  And as much as we would like to think that work and personal lives can operate independently of each other, they almost always overlap. A sick child that makes you late for work reduces the amount of work hours or extends your work day just to ensure that you get the same amount done. Worry and stress about a sick parent impacts your focus and the amount of effort you can give to your job.  If you combine personal challenges with the challenges at work, it can certainly exacerbate the problem.

That dread can start to creep in little by little until it builds to a breaking point, or that point can smack you in the face all at once when you open the 18th email from your demanding boss while your phone rings for the third time and the ping from IM is giving you a migraine. And in that moment, throwing up your hands, screaming, a dramatic walk out, or a sprint to the nearest ladies room for a pity cry seems like the only path forward.

Take a breath. You can do this. 

Both in our personal and professional lives, people look to the one they deem the most competent as their go-to resource. There is a strong correlation between those who have the most responsibilities and those who are most capable of holding, achieving and exceeding all of those responsibilities. Complimentary, right? Let’s be truthful, that compliment means about as much as a box of paperclips when you would rather rip your hair out and torch your office building from stress. 

When the feeling of burden kicks in it’s very easy to let it settle, take over your thoughts and actions and impact your productivity. What’s unfortunate is that the workday doesn’t stop because you are on the brink of melt down. Meetings will still continue, and there will always be something else asked of you. But you have to remember you can only do what you can do. Everything can not be first. Something has to be last in the priority list...so setting priorities is the best way to keep it together. If you take the high level view, it’s overwhelming to look at everything all at once. Break it down into bite sized chunks. If your tasks and responsibilities are delegated by your management, enlist their help and ask them directly what has to go first, second and third. It is their job to set the priorities and decide what should demand the most of your time and energy.


For the tasks that fall outside of the top three in the priority list, enlist the help of others. You don’t have to be the hero. It’s not a weakness to delegate and ask for help.  This is one I tend to struggle with immensely. I run down the rabbit hole of evaluating efficiency on whether or not I can do it faster/better/easier than someone else. But that thought process is useless because my only priorities are those tasks in my hot list.  Because feeling overwhelmed often is a direct result of having too much to do, offloading items from your to do list is a sure-fire way to reduce that feeling. 

After your priorities are set, give them time allotments. Block it out on your calendar and write it down if you have to. You will be much more productive if you know how long items are going to take. If it’s a task you have never done before, give yourself an extra hour to complete it. The key to this one is not to rush yourself into completion of a task. If you know reconciling a spreadsheet has historically taken you 2.5 hours total, refrain from giving yourself only 1.5 hours because you have other items to check off the list. Because when the 2 hour mark hits, it will predictably cause further stress and anxiety because you feel as though you have fallen behind.

And finally one of the least used but most effective strategies when feeling overwhelmed. TAKE A BREAK. I know, this is probably the most anxiety-inducing suggestion to make when you already feel as though you do not have enough time in the day. But the reality is…you don’t have enough time. You simply do not. So what harm is there in taking 35 minutes to step away from your desk/computer/phone to take care of your mental sanity to be better equipped to handle your to-do list. When I worked in the lab, one of my go-to mechanisms to deal with stress was to go sit in my car with my shoes off. Because taking your shoes off is only something you can do in a comfortable environment and what I crave in moments of chaos is comfort.

The rungs of the career ladder are full of difficult and stressful situations. They are inevitable and should be expected. But it’s about how you manage and recover from those situations that can make or break your success. Figuring out what works for you can take a lot of trial and error, but when you find your recipe, there is no limit to what you can endure.

Be diligent and power through. You can do this.


Work Loudly. Love Loudly. Live Loudly.