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Overwhelmed at Work? Strategies on how we can beat workplace stress

Posted on 22nd August 2019 by Haylee Burley

Overwhelmed At Work

When you are feeling overwhelmed at work, it is important to find out why you feel that way. Do you have too many responsibilities, or feel there are too few hours in the day? Is your boss piling on the pressure? Or is the company culture getting you down?

Understanding the Triggers

Feeling overwhelmed is a stress response when we feel the demand for us outweighs our resources. Feeling out of control and under pressure is a form of emotional overloading and can also trigger the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.

Some early signs of being overwhelmed at work to look out for include: 

  • High levels of stress or anxiety
  • Lack of engagement
  • Increased cynicism
  • Distracted eating (eating in front of computer, TV or while on the go)
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Low energy and exhaustion
  • Never enough time
  • Excessive worrying or high level of self-criticism
  • Physical illness
Recognising the signs or keeping a journal of your thoughts, feelings and actions. Can help you identify what causes these stress reactions. Having an understanding of what triggers stress. Can help you understand why you are stressed and can lead to assisting in lowering the stress levels.

Speak Out!

If your workload is unmanageable, it’s a good idea to speak to your manager. This can be a daunting prospect but planning before your discussion will help, try revisiting your job description before the meeting so your roles and responsibilities are fresh in your mind.

Explain to your manager the tasks you are involved in, how long they take, the resources they require, why you find them challenging, and practical suggestions for a solution.

Focus on concerns about quality to demonstrate you are still committed to doing a good job.  It is not a sign of weakness, asking for help, and your manager may not realise how much work you have on.

If your boss is professional, you should get a positive reaction when raising the issue. The situation may be because of a temporary factor you are unaware of, and they may be able to help.  This is an ideal scenario, but unfortunately, not always the case.

If your manager is putting extra work on you and not taking on your feedback of an unmanageable workload, then that’s a more difficult situation.  In these circumstances, it is worth speaking to HR, your Contractor Care Manager, or investigate, the company’s grievance procedure.

It’s ok to say no

Often people who say yes to everything have this instilled in them in childhood because they think if they do not obey rules, they will be rejected. In a working environment, people might think they are lucky to have a job, so it is best to keep their head down and not fuss.  Challenging this type of work programming can take some time, but it can be done.

Pushing back can be particularly hard for contractors who often take on more than they can handle due to financial uncertainty.  The temptation to say yes to new projects might be strong, but if it gets to a point where your existing projects or clients are suffering, then it’s time to take stock.

Possibly buddying up with another contractor or colleague that you trust to help with the workload could be a good strategy, or saying no shows your busy already, which can be a good message to give out.

Breathe! and put things into perspective

Changing the way you think about your work situation could help alleviate some of the pressure.  Remember the important things in life and do not let yourself get carried away with stresses. 

Trying cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness techniques are important. They cannot resolve the work situation but instead, are aimed at helping you manage how you think about it and how you cope from a personal perspective. *

At times of intense work, it’s more important than ever to look after your physical and emotional self.

When you are feeling stressed at work, you should really try to leave this emotional baggage in the office. It’s easier said than done - but try not to take it home with you, switch off email and phone alerts when you’re at home and plan some fun stuff outside work. 

Take time out and relax

Feeling overwhelmed at work can send you into fight or flight mode, which becomes counterproductive. Stress closes off the more creative parts of our cognitive processes and distorts our perception of time. 

While it may seem counterintuitive, taking time out to relax during the working day will help lighten a heavy workload.  The temptation is to work without breaks. The reality is that it depletes our resources, and we process things more slowly and make more mistakes. Our brains need breaks!!

It is also necessary to look after yourself outside of work.  A lot of people, when they get very stressed during busy times at work, start eating junk food and abandoning their exercise regimes. The result is they sleep poorly and feel even worse.

Don’t be afraid to move on

If you have exhausted all of your options, and you are still struggling, then it might be worth looking for a new position.  If you are continually stressed in your job, this can result in making you unwell, or it can erode your confidence in your own abilities, which then makes it harder to leave and find another job.

When looking for a new role, it is worth researching a company’s work culture, so you do not find yourself in the same situation.  

Written By: Haylee Burley – Contractor Care Manager, Whizdom Recruitment

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* See Whizdom Health and Wellbeing blogs for further mindfulness techniques:

Mindfulness, what are the basics, and how can we benefit from it?

How do we find work-life balance these days...?


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