How to cope when feeling overwhelmed at work

We’ve all been there (and many of you will be experiencing this right now); back to work after Christmas to an overflowing in-box, meetings that need to happen, projects requiring attention and deadlines looming large on the horizon. It can all seem incredibly daunting to the point of being overwhelming.

If you find yourself in this position (and let’s face it you’re not alone) there are a number of tactics you can employ to help ease the situation, depending upon how ‘overwhelmed’ you are feeling, of course.

If you are spinning in circles, unable to concentrate or feel incapable of doing anything productively, don’t try to tackle the whole to-do list at once. Instead, concentrate on the immediate things that need to happen today, tomorrow or next week (or even the next 5 mins if you feel particularly fraught).

‘A journey of a thousand leagues begins with a single step’  Lao-Tzu

Prioritize your concerns in order of importance, identifying what you have control over and what you cannot influence. If you have no influence over an outcome, let it go or at least distance yourself from it.

Take regular breaks of around 45 mins (our brains start switching off after this). If you’re working on something and you feel your heart beating faster, or your adrenaline spiking, then step away. Go and make a cup of tea or get some fresh air, change your scene then, when you’ve calmed down, return to what you were doing (even without feeling stressed we should take 15 minutes out, every hour and a half, to retain our equilibrium).

Turn off your email, and notifications on your phone, and do the work. If people try to interrupt, tell them you would love to help them in an hour or so (or whenever is convenient for you) when you’re not so busy. Once your concentration is broken it takes around 20 minutes to settle back into a task again, so don’t allow it to happen.

Create a list of your top 3 things to focus on: Must Do; Like to do; Amazing to do and tick them off as you do them. Our brains love to achieve, so setting manageable goals you can tick off will give you a good feeling and help you to feel in control.


Say ‘no’ to anything not on your agenda, unless it’s part of your vision for 2020 or it’s especially career enhancing. Don’t allow other people’s ‘wants’, ‘needs’ and ‘priorities’ to become yours!

Create the right environment for YOU to work in. If you’re more productive with music playing, grab your headphones. If you need quiet then find a quiet space to work in, block out the time in your diary and tell people you’re unavailable while you do the work.

Manage your thought process – if you think ‘I’m never going to get through all of this and then I’m going to get fired’, you’re going to have a very different experience to the person who thinks ‘OK, where can I start, which is most urgent?’

In essence we need to compartmentalize the overwhelming feelings we are experiencing; Is the world going to end? No. Can you do this? Of course you can. All it takes is to think differently, to change your emotional state and to keep your attention focused in the moment

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