How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed at Work (According to Science)
Work: sometimes it’s all a bit too much, isn’t it? The digital age bombards workers with new tasks from all directions, while the backlog of things that need doing builds and builds.
Unfortunately, that feeling of being overwhelmed by emails, colleague interactions and an infinite to-do list only makes it more difficult to make any progress towards a sense of calm. Stress and anxiety cause damage to the neural connections in your brain, making it harder to concentrate and potentially contributing to depression. You literally forget how to calm down. Things just get worse and worse.
So how can you break the cycle? Thankfully, there are lots of ways. The important thing is to be aware of when you are slipping into that sense of lostness. Then try one of a few scientifically-verified ‘mind reboots’ and keep a note of the fixes that work for you.
Moving your body is a good start, according to a study from the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Georgia. ‘Sedentary adults’ who complained of persistent fatigue but went undiagnosed for any specific condition were reenergized by regular low-intensity exercise – intense enough to shake things up without tiring them out! A few simple stretches can drag you out of your head for a minute or two and get the blood pumping back to your brain. Try it in the kitchen while you make yourself a drink, so you don’t worry about wasting time, or stretch at your desk for an instant kick-start.
Stress solutions like this are super-helpful in the moment. But if you’re consistently feeling overwhelmed at work, combine quick fixes with a broader overhaul of how you do things. Pay attention to getting more than seven hours sleep at night, as lack of sleep increases anxiety. Read a book before bed instead of your phone, and adjust the décor and temperature of your room to make it an oasis of rest.
And try to stay objective. Measure the hours that you actually put in at work. We tend to overestimate how long we work, but using a tool like Toggl can bring you back down to Earth. If it turns out you really are working over-long days and weeks, it could be time for a change.
We’ve identified a suite of calming solutions to keep at hand when work is making you feel overwhelmed. Our new visual guide features eight tips to help if you’re feeling overwhelmed right now, and eight tips to help you stay in control in the future.
With a proactive approach to self-care, going from ‘overwhelmed’ to ‘just perfectly whelmed’ can be easy as pie.
- Steber, C. (2018). 11 Ways Your Brain Changes When You Don’t Treat Your Anxiety. bustle.com
- Boyes, A. (2018). 5 Things to Do When You Feel Overwhelmed by Your Workload. hbr.org
- Good, D J. Lyddy, C J. Glomb, T M. Bono, J E. Brown, K W. Duffy, M K. Baer, R A. Brewer, J A. Lazar, S W. (2015). Contemplating Mindfulness at Work: An Integrative Review. journals.sagepub.com
- Smith, S. (2018). 5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique for Anxiety. urmc.rochester.edu
- Sander, L. (2019). The Case for Finally Cleaning Your Desk. hbr.org
- Wagner, A D. Uncapher, M R. (2018). Minds and brains of media multitaskers: Current findings and future directions. pnas.org
- Klemm, W R. (2016). The Perils of Multitasking. psychologytoday.com
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