Meeting requests keep piling up, push notifications constantly flash across your screen and despite the extra hours you’ve been putting in—it feels like you’re not making a dent in your projects. If this sounds familiar, it’s no wonder you’re feeling overwhelmed at work.
Rest assured, you’re not alone. COVID-19 has sent the world reeling, and many workers are struggling to keep up with the onslaught of changes and challenges it brought with it.
Below, we’ll discuss work overwhelm, job burnout and tips for decreasing the stress at work.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to overwhelm is to “give too much of something to.” When you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, you might notice the following behaviors:
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work and fail to address it, it could lead to something more serious: job burnout. The Mayo Clinic defines this term as: “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”
The World Health Organization includes burnout in its International Classification of Diseases, but stops short of calling it a medical condition, opting instead to label it as an "occupational phenomenon."
Though burnout is not considered to be a medical diagnosis, it still can harm your physical and mental health and should be taken seriously.
Much of the world made a sudden shift to remote work at the start of the pandemic. And with that came a whole slew of stressors, such as navigating a changing world both personally and professionally, acclimating to several new apps you’re supposed to use now and struggling to find a quiet place in your home to make a work call.
These new challenges have led to documented remote work burnout. According to a July 2020 survey by Monster.com, 69% of workers are feeling burnout symptoms while working from home—up by nearly 35% since May 2020.
Now that we’re more virtually connected than ever before, it’s hard to separate work and personal life. Between smartphones, laptops, Zoom meetings with colleagues and Skype game nights with friends and family—everything blends together. On top of that, our homes are now our offices too. Striking the right remote work-life balance is a constant struggle for many workers during this pandemic.
You might feel overwhelmed simply because you’re taking on too much right now. It’s important to assess your true capacity and what you’d like to see changed. You’ll also need to communicate this with your boss, which we’ll talk about in detail below.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, pay close attention to when you feel that way. Is there a particular task that overwhelms you? If so, can someone else do that task? Even better, can it be eliminated altogether?
For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed every time you open your inbox, and you realize that you’re checking your email twice every hour—how about cutting that out entirely? Set specific times of day that you’ll check your inbox. Try limiting it to once in the morning and once in the afternoon and see if that makes a difference.
Taking breaks can help you get more work done and feel better about it too.
Staring at a computer with your hands propped up on a keyboard is not a natural state of being (even if it’s our default these days). Our bodies need to move. Plus, it benefits our work. A Spanish study published in BMC Public Health found that higher levels of physical activity were linked to better well-being and improved productivity.
In our motivation research, we found that those who are motivated toward depth—a tendency to focus on details rather than the big picture—have a harder time prioritizing and delegating. This can lead to overwhelm, as you might feel like you have to do all the things.
To combat this, write down (and track) your short-, mid-, and long-term goals. Tasks only make sense and have meaning when you can tie them to an overarching goal. Otherwise, it’s easy to feel like you’re just doing busywork. Keep a running document outlining your goals for today, this week, this month, this year and even the next five years.
Also, keep track of progress and the milestones you reach on your way toward those goals. This can ease that nagging feeling of “I’m working all the time but never getting anywhere.” When you start feeling that way, you can glance at your progress for proof that you are moving toward your goals.
Are you always misplacing your notebook? Can’t find that important document file? Constantly forgetting when a project was due? You might be feeling overwhelmed because you lack organization. Without a clear idea of what task you should be working on at any point in time, it’s easy to feel like there’s too much to do.
If disorganization plagues you, here are some helpful tips for combating it:
Speaking of minimizing decisions, there’s yet another thing you need to cut out of your life if you want to reduce stress: distractions. They’re everywhere. If your inbox is brimming, push notifications are cluttering your screen every few minutes and your cell phone is ringing nonstop—of course you’re going to feel overwhelmed.
Remember, if you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, it likely could be because you’re taking on more than you can handle right now. Be transparent with your boss about your capacity.
Here are some tips to help that conversation go smoothly:
Given that many people are being forced to work from home while a virus continues to wreak havoc globally, it’s completely understandable to feel overwhelmed. If the extra stress is getting to you, you may be able to find relief by trying the seven tips we discussed above.
Talk to your boss about your workload and your needs to ensure you have someone in your corner to brainstorm solutions. Of course, if you think you may be experiencing anxiety, depression or another mental health concern, talk to a medical professional to get the support you deserve.
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