Feeling Overwhelmed at Work – Symptoms & How to Tackle Overwhelm

Our daily job can sometimes grind us down. Whether it is the commuting, the workload, the hours, or the environment itself, everyone can end up feeling overwhelmed at work. Stress isn’t uncommon in the workplace and some jobs are more stressful than others.

However, it is important to recognise when this stress evolves into an unhealthy amount. Feeling overwhelmed at work is no fun at all. It negatively impacts you, your productivity and those around you.

Our article tackles how to deal with feeling overwhelmed at work. It is essential to understand the symptoms of overwhelm and understand how to tackle your feelings.

Stress is a key reason for being signed off work so it is apparent there is a need for change in uk workplace culture.

 What Does Overwhelmed Mean?

Often, feeling overwhelm comes as a result of a period of stress. Overwhelmed people workers often become so after an intense bout of emotions or stressful events.

Sometimes, being overwhelmed is a negative feeling but it can be a happy experience too. It usually happens when whatever emotion is being felt tips the balance.

In this guide, we are focusing on feeling overwhelmed at work and how this manifests itself. It is an emotion with strong links to stress and can result in employees becoming quite unwell. This can lead to an increase in absences and perhaps being signed off work for a time.

An HSE study covering 2021 / 22 recorded stress as being responsible for 51% of all work related ill health.

Signs & Symptoms of Feeling Overwhelmed at Work

The signs and symptoms of overwhelm at work will vary from person to person. It is important to note that everyone has a different level of tolerance when it comes to stress.

That means some may feel overwhelmed quickly and make this obvious. Others might battle on for longer, not really recognising there is a problem, or understanding the root cause of their feelings.

For this reason, we’ve created a broad list of all the symptoms associated with feeling overwhelmed. This means employees, employers and colleagues might be able to identify when someone is struggling. This can often help the situation from escalating further.

Below are the signs and symptoms of being overwhelmed at work including the physical, emotional and behavioural tell tale signs.

Physical Signs of Overwhelm

Stress can affect your body with physical symptoms. Some physical signs of being stressed will be obvious, but you may not realise others are a result of overwhelm.

  • Panic attacks – Characterised by intense fear. This fight or flight response generates physical symptoms such as palpitations, shaking, and sweating.
  • Stomach ache – Problems with tummy pain can be the body’s physical response to experiencing stress. Muscles in the digestive system can contract, causing pain to those feeling overwhelmed.
  • Upset stomach – Diarrhea or constipation can be caused by the body responding to intense stress .
  • Feeling nauseous – Feeling unwell due to excessive worry is a common symptom of an overwhelmed worker. This can be particularly true of workers feeling anxious about workload.
  • Blurred vision – if excessive workload has you all hunched up in your chair, it can cause blurred vision. Muscle tension in the neck and shoulders can also affect the muscles which control eye movement.
  • Problems sleeping – Worries about work can prevent you from getting a good nights sleep. That means you’ll be tackling work related worry, and sleep deprivation.
  • Feeling very tired – Even if you aren’t aware of poor sleep, constant worry burns a lot of energy. This can leave overwhelmed workers feeling intensely fatigued and frazzled.
  • Headaches or migraines – tension headaches or migranes are a common physical response to work related overwhelm. Inadvertently tensing neck and shoulder muscles can cause this unwelcome symptom.
  • Clenching of the jaw – this can be a common response to intense workload or worry. It can cause muscular pain in the face, and even cause dental pain.
  • Grinding teeth – this can lead to tooth damage and pain in the jaw area. Some people will grind teeth in their sleep during very stressful periods.

This is not an exhaustive list, but its clear the the physical consequences for overwhelmed workers can be unpleasant, and counter productive.

Emotional Signs of Overwhelm

Feeling overwhelmed at work can expose you to a range of emotional symptoms which affect productivity and mental health.

The emotional changes caused by overwhelm at work can include:-

  • Low mood.
  • Feeling tearful.
  • Unable to be happy.
  • Lack of proper concentration.
  • Low self esteem.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Feeling angry for no reason.
  • A personality change.
  • Feeling worthless.

These emotional symptoms have a massive impact on an employee’s ability to work effectively, and can cause higher than average sick days in a workplace.

Behavioural Signs of Overwhelm

If an employee is not achieving their work goals in the same way as usual, it may not be down to a problem with attitude.

Here are some of the consequences of staff feeling overwhelmed at work:-

  • Not being able to meet deadlines that previously were not an issue.
  • Increased absences
  • Timid or quiet during work hours.
  • Fidgety behaviour.
  • Lack of decision making skills.
  • Being short or snappy with colleagues.
  • Constant clock watching.

5 Causes of Overwhelm & Burnout in the Workplace

The symptoms and effects of employees feeling overwhelmed at work are avoidable in many cases. But what are the causes, and what can be done?

Let’s explore 5 of the more common reasons for feeling overwhelmed at work.

1. Juggling Work and Home Life

Trying to balance work and home life is a whole chore on its own. For many parents of young children, the grind is intense.

Juggling a growing family with keeping down a job at the same time can lead to some very stressful periods. Often, individuals will feel like they are being pulled into two very different directions. 

As much as you may love your job, there is also the guilt that you are neglecting your home life.

Excessive Workload

Some employees experience burnout when they have impossible deadlines or excessive workloads. Both of these contribute to feelings of overwhelm and stress.

Unrealistic work targets negatively impact all areas of an employee’s life. Sometimes, employees may need to come in earlier or stay later to make these deadlines.

They may even need to take work home which then cuts into precious family time.

Daily Commute

Often, it isn’t the job itself per se, but the actual journey to and from work that becomes too much. Employees don’t get paid for commuting time and in areas such as London, the commute can be intense.

Some people rely on public transport for their daily commute which can be stressful at times. This is more so the case during peak times of the day when everywhere is unbelievably busy.

The same goes for those who have a lengthy drive on either side of their work day. Sometimes the journey itself is exhausting both physically and mentally.

Lack of Communication

Ineffective communication in the workplace is a common reason for employees becoming stressed and overwhelmed.

This could result in deadlines not being known about, meetings cropping up without warning or an important client coming in.

Anything like this that throws the working day into chaos can result in staff feeling overwrought.  Effective communication is essential for the wellbeing of staff but also for staff productivity and professionalism.

Financial Problems

Money is a huge factor in feeling stressed or overwhelmed in life. Sometimes people are working long hours for barely anything once all the bills have been paid.

Some individuals may be in debt which increases stress levels. Commuting can be expensive too which can lead to feelings of resentment.

Employees might feel down if they have recently been denied a pay rise.

Coping Strategies

Once you realise you are not physically or mentally in a great place with work, it is essential to take steps to rectify this.

Again. different techniques might be needed depending on the cause of the feelings and the individuals themselves. The most important thing here is realising the status quo cannot continue.

Below are some coping strategies for dealing with feeling overwhelmed at work:-

  • Speak to your employer about how you are feeling and come up with a plan.
  • Use up your accrued holiday for some much needed respite.
  • Take some time off sick, you can self certify for the first 7 days.
  • Go to your GP and they may provide you with a sick note after the 7 days are up.
  • Think about reducing your hours or enquire about flexible working.
  • Prioritise jobs by determining the most important one and handling that first.
  • Look at sharing the workload with colleagues.
  • Participate in some training around time management.

Work is a high priority in life but our health and well being must come out on top. When we become unwell due to stress, this impacts all areas of life.

Recognising and tackling feelings of overwhelm before they escalate can help people adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Employers should also be proactive and have programmes in place to support staff wellbeing at work.

Getting Support for Stress & Mental Health at Work

Ideally, your first port of call should be your manager if you need to get support for stress at work. They have a duty of care towards their employees, particularly when the stress is work related.

That means if you’re feeling overwhelmed, they should be made aware as soon as possible. Having a chat with them could be the solution. The outcome might be taking some annual leave, switching to flexible working in the interim or reducing your workload.

Also, try to identify some strategies that will work for you to reduce your overwhelm. Sometimes something simple as writing a list each day with some manageable expectations can help when feeling overwhelmed.

A list with a few tasks can seem less daunting once written down and they can be ticked off one by one.

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