Feeling Overwhelmed with Work? You Weren’t Taught This Solution

Meet Gregory, a writer and the brains behind Face Dragons. He's the go-to guy for getting things done. Gregory's been living the digital nomad life in Asia for as long as anyone can remember, helping clients smash their goals. He writes on topics like software, personal knowledge management (PKM), and personal development. When he's not writing, you'll catch him at the local MMA gym, nose buried in a book, or just chilling with the family.

You’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed, thinking you can’t continue being productive, whether at work or home. Even the thought of tackling that project sends you into an anxiety panic. You spend the day worrying about how far behind you are and feel guilty that you’re doing nothing but trying to cope with the stressful situation. This article holds the key to getting over feeling overwhelmed.

Scroll to the bottom of this post if you want the best solution for destroying overwhelm and dealing with stress without using “mindfulness,” “deep-breathing,” or some meditation technique that won’t actually help you get stuff done.

Or, if you want to go more in-depth into your stressors and the coping strategies available to you, let’s go.

Is Overwhelm the Same as Stress and Anxiety?

Overwhelm, stress, and anxiety are interrelated, so when you have one, you likely have levels all three. But there are subtle differences between these three negative mindsets, which each have different causes and require different solutions.

  • According to the Mayo Clinic, “anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror.”
  • The WHO describes stress as: “Stress can be defined as a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation. Stress is a natural human response that prompts us to address challenges and threats in our lives.”
  • The Cambridge Dictionary defines overwhelm as: “If something overwhelms someone or something, it is too much, or almost too much, for them to manage.”

Overwhelm at work, then, most often stems from taking on too many responsibilities or having too much on your plate in the short term.

To deal with the negative thoughts and sense of overwhelm, you must find the sources of stress in your life. Knowing your personality type will make this easier.

Typical causes of stress and overwhelm include:

  • A lack of control over what you do (a boss who overmanages you)
  • Pressure from others to complete tasks in a shortened timeframe (family, colleagues, or a boss)
  • Tasks that have a significant impact on your life (medical issues, moving house, getting married, etc.)

After identifying the causes of stress at work or at home, use a solution below that directly remedies that cause. And try the best solution for feeling overwhelmed at the bottom of the post.

Talk to Someone

Everyone experiences feelings of stress and overwhelm at some point in their lives; it’s a natural part of being human. But when you’re in the middle of it, it can feel like no one around you understands. Talking to the people closest to you about what you’re going through will reassure you that others have dealt with similar feelings and gotten through it.

If you’re an omnivert or ambivert, this won’t be easy. Start by talking with a family member or friend; just ask them to listen to what you’re going through; you don’t necessarily need advice.

If work is the cause of your overwhelm, there may be a time to talk to your boss.

  • If the work stresses causing you to be overwhelmed are unnecessary or unrealistic.
  • If you have a solution for the overwhelm, that would be a win-win for the company.
  • If it’s affecting the quality of your work.

Take a Break

I know it seems counterproductive, but a break is usually what you need when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Your work will still be there when you come back, but it’s not the work that’s the problem; it’s how you feel about it.

If you’re an alpha male or sigma male type that is go-go-go, taking time off to relax will help you see the work differently. You may discover solutions you never thought of or realize that something causing you so much trouble doesn’t actually matter at all and can be scraped. It can be impossible to make these kinds of connections when you’re in the middle of a hurricane of incomplete stuff.

Get Some Help. No, Not That Kind of Help

Sometimes you need professional health, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

When you have too much to get done, there’s an option that every ultra-productive person, every CEO, and every world leader uses to move forward on hundreds of tasks simultaneously. They get someone else to do it.

“But I’m not a company and I don’t have any employees.” True, but you can still hire people to help you get tasks done.

Before you scroll down to the next point because this one is “not for me,” hear me out. Freelancers now make up half of the American workforce. This means there’s someone out there who can do exactly what you need (and probably do it better than you.)

  • Do you need a writer to write product descriptions for you? Check Upwork.
  • Need someone to create a design to your client’s specifications? Look on Fiverr.
  • Need someone to assemble your furniture or pick up some prescriptions for you in person? Look at TaskRabbit.

By delegating your tasks to freelancers, you can focus on whatever is most important and still get everything done. What’s more, you don’t need to employ these people; you just pay them for the task they’re doing.

Cost is the number one reason most people don’t utilize freelancers in their workflow. Sure, you might not be able to always use freelancers to get your work done, but when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, hiring a freelancer is a good use of your limited funds. It’s cheaper than going to a spa to ‘de-stress.’

Learn to Say “No”

If you’re already overwhelmed and swamped with your workload, don’t accept any more projects, tasks, or responsibilities.

People hate to say no, and if you’re an introverted extrovert, it is especially hard, but it’s the most powerful word you have to avoid burnout.

You’re not going to yell “No!” at your boss or co-worker, but you could explain that you’ve already got too much on your plate and that taking on more will only mean delay and reduced quality of your work.

If someone told me that, I’d first think, “I’d better find someone else.” That’s most likely what they’ll say to you too. Holding back the next wave of tasks like this will give you the room to get your footing and not get bowled over (or drown.)

Get Out of Your Head

I get it. You have tons to do and just want to get everything done, but overwhelm isn’t simply about having too much to do. It’s much more about the way you feel about what you have to do.

There are people who have decades of work in front of them and don’t feel overwhelmed; why? Because even though they have more work than they can ever complete, they know what the work is. Their task is clear to them.

If you have 30 things to do today, there’s no way you can remember them all. Without a list of tasks, you’re going to feel overwhelmed. Not because the workload is too heavy, you’re just worried something will slip through the cracks.

It’s how you feel about the work, not the work itself, that causes feelings of overwhelm.

What’s the solution?

Get everything out of your head. Do a brain dump.

Take a piece of paper and start writing down any thought, idea, task, project, or goal you might want to do at some point in your life. This means you’ll write down things like, “buy new sunglasses,” “move the sofa,” “rewrite proposal,” and “retire in Florida.”

Just keep writing until your head goes blank.

You now have a list of things you want to do with your life.

Save it somewhere and add to it when you think of new things you want to get done.

Next, you need a list for today. Take out your “life list,” Look through it, and find the things you want to get done today.

Make a Plan to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed

There are two different games you’re playing. One is the overwhelm you feel right now and how to stop yourself from being buried by it. The other is the next load that will be dumped on you when you get out of this hole.

Make no mistake. Life will keep dumping more on you, so you need a plan or system to help you stay on top of life. But right now, you need a plan to regain control.

If you did the brain dump exercise above, you already have everything you need for both.

Here’s a visual roadmap to get you there.

  1. Take a piece of paper and, on the right side, list the outcomes you need to complete to feel normal again.
  2. Draw a road from where you are now (on the left side) to the outcome
  3. Along the road, add all the tasks you must do to achieve the outcome.
  4. Cross off the tasks as you complete them and highlight the road covered.

Why does this work?

First, it helps you keep track of everything you need to get done, but making this roadmap will help more than simply making a list.
Why? Because you can visually see how close you are to getting everything done. Knowing that there is light at the end of the tunnel will be valuable for those times when you’re feeling like the sense of overwhelm will never end.

You’ll Get Through This

It feels like it’ll never end when you’re in the middle of burnout and feeling overwhelmed, but you will come out the other end. Use the plan above to track the steps you need to take to get yourself out of the tunnel, and as you get closer, you’ll feel the dark clouds starting to lift.