• Uncontrolled excess workload triggers stress response
  • Prolonged stress response leads to feelings of overwhelm
  • Meditating, prioritizing and asking for help is the quick solution
Life can be difficult sometimes. One minute you’re handling everything seemingly well, the next minute, you’re about to lose your shit and feel like bailing on everyone and everything around you.

You’ve always been ahead of deadlines, up to date with emails, work calls, yadda yadda yadda. That was until urgent requests, favors and calls for help started rolling in.

They all seem to happen at the worst possible times. It’s when you’ve got multiple overlapping deadlines on a day filled with back-to-back premeetings and calls.

And because you’ve got the reputation of almost always saying yes, everything gets dumped on you. It’s bullshit.

On really bad days, you don’t even have the time to go to the toilet.

Gradually, you become disoriented, there’s not enough time in the day anymore, you get home more tired than you had been the day before until then it finally hits you.

You can barely keep your head above water.

It’s simply overwhelming.

You need to find a better way to survive at work on days like this.

How Work Can Make You Feel Overwhelmed

Believe us when we say that you’re not the only one who has ever felt overwhelmed by their work. In fact, recent studies have shown that nearly 70% of office workers have at least one day during the week where work just becomes too much and you feel like quitting.

Between all the emails, calls, meetings, and deadlines, it's easy to feel like you're constantly swimming against the current. And if you're not careful, that feeling can start to fuck up your mental health.

The reason why work can be so mentally crushing and overwhelming is simply due to the fact that you’re being asked to do more than what you can handle.

When you’ve got too much on your plate, when something is way too difficult to do or when you’re in an uncontrollable situation, your brain releases the stress hormone cortisol.

Cortisol does have a legit reason and purpose. It serves as a way for your brain to prime your body for action. It’s the fight or flight response thing. And for truly life-threatening situations, it can save your ass.

Back in the caveman days, this stress response was how humans were able to survive. When a saber-toothed tiger was about to attack, cortisol is what helped our ancestors survive.

Today, humans don’t have to worry about that and there aren’t any life-threatening situations in the office.

However, our minds are preprogrammed to a default setting where it automatically sees many aspects of work life as being a life or death thing when it’s really not.

All of that heavy workload and office chaos is the modern day equivalent of a saber-toothed tiger that’s got your cornered in the jungle. It triggers the same stress response and feeling of being surrounded and trapped.

This is why and how work can make you feel helpless and you feel like you’re barely staying alive.

3 Steps To Keep Your Head Above Water

With the current situation you’re in, what you need to do is get some immediate relief. This isn’t about developing a long-term solution or applying some complex process to the problem.

This is purely a “right now” solution to help you get some sense of control and sanity back in your work life.

It’s not going to solve all your problems - no way. But, it will give you the mental space and breathing room you need so that you can get through rough days like this.

This is all about survival and just getting through the mess.

Step #1: Take A Breather & Meditate 

Our minds and bodies were not meant to be running at 100% all of the time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s simply not possible.

Overworking at a constant and unrelenting pace can actually kill you, no joke.

In Japan, this has been documented all the way back in 1991 with this academic study that showed a direct link between work stress and cardiovascular issues. This shit’s for real.

It’s called “Karoshi” which is literally translated as “overwork death”. The most common cause of karoshi is heart attacks or strokes due to work stress.

This overworking phenomenon isn’t limited to Japan. It’s everywhere and many corporate cultures glorify overwork like a badge of honor. It’s probably at your workplace too.

You can put a stop to this by taking breaks throughout the day. One of the best ways to manage work stress is to give yourself some downtime during the day.

Meditating at work is a great way to cut down on all of the built-up stress and allow yourself to decompress for a bit. It doesn’t even need to be a long session. You can actually sneak in one-minute meditations between emails, calls and meetings.

Got a minute now?

Try this simple 60 second breathing meditation and it’ll lower your heart rate for sure.

VIDEO: 1-Minute Meditation
LENGTH: 00:59
What meditation does is that it gives your mind a chance to dial back the pace, press pause on life and relax for a bit, at least for just enough time to get your sensibilities back.

This is a critical step in this process. You have to give yourself a mental breather every so often during your work sprints.

Ideally, you should also set aside some time during lunch to step away from your desk and just go for a walk outside to decompress and refresh yourself.

Step #2: Focus Only On Top Priorities & Ditch The Rest

We know how hard it is to say “no” to all of the requests, tasks and favors that are asked of you. After all, you want to keep up your personal brand at work and continue to be the superstar you are.

But the fact of the matter is that you can’t be all things to all people. You can’t be everywhere all the time. And most importantly, everything can’t be #1 in terms of priority.

Until you can clone yourself, you’ll have to prioritize everything that is being asked of you and cut back or drop all of the bullshit that doesn’t matter.

Ever heard of the Eisenhower Method?

It’s a prioritization method that was used by President Eisenhower as a way for him to focus only on the most critical issues at hand. You can use this same simple method at work.

There are four categories or quadrants which can be seen here:
IMPORTANT AND URGENT: The stuff in the green quadrant is those things that are part of your core job responsibilities and that are urgent and critical. In many cases, it’s the fires you have to put out at work that are part of the projects you’re leading.

These are the things that you have to focus on. They warrant and require your attention.

LESS IMPORTANT BUT URGENT: When other urgent things come up that aren’t important or part of your core responsibilities they usually fall into the orange quadrant. Oftentimes, it’s someone else’s critical request that isn’t core to your work. And it’s these kinds of things that easily get mistaken for green quadrant tasks.

Do these only when you have the time and capacity. Otherwise, delegate or delay them.

IMPORTANT BUT LESS URGENT: These are tasks that have a significant and meaningful purpose but typically don’t have hard and fast deadlines attached to them. It’s like getting trained on new software or career management planning.

For stuff like this, you want to schedule it and commit to doing it at a later date. The only time these can get pushed back is when an important and urgent task needs to get done.

LESS IMPORTANT AND LESS URGENT: This is the shallow bullshit work that can eat up a lot of time but doesn’t really move the needle on core projects. Or worse, it’s the cyberloafing that happens when you go down the rabbit hole.

You gotta drop these hands down.

Here’s a quick 2.5 minute video about the Eisenhower method. Check it out. It summarizes this whole concept really well.

VIDEO: The Eisenhower Matrix
YOUTUBE: Eisenhower
LENGTH: 2:24
Summary points:
  • Focus only on the important and urgent items
  • Schedule and do the important but less urgent things
  • Delegate or drop everything else
What you need to focus on are only those things that are important and urgent for your core job responsibilities. Everything else should take a back seat until these get done.

You need to be able to say no and set boundaries so that you can have the time and capacity to get the top priorities done.

This will go a long way in helping you stay afloat.

Step #3: Ask Others For Help Now

As much as you’d like to think that you can do it all, you can’t. You have limitations in your mental focus, time and abilities.

You know yourself best and how much you can handle before things start tipping over into the overwork stress side of things.

It’s all about getting in the zone with work and finding that perfect balance of workload and productivity joy. Too much workload leads to burnout and stress. Too little leads to boredom.

You need to get to that Goldilocks point where you have enough to keep you busy on the key projects and you’ll be able to make big progress on them.

In order to get to that point during times of overwork, you need to be able to delegate non-critical or non-core tasks to make room for the shit that matters most.

Too often, you’re afraid to ask for help. It might make you look weak or ineffective. But, in reality, it doesn’t. It conveys to others that you’re dedicated to focusing on only the most important things and executing them to the best of your abilities. You want to kick ass.

In this case, it’s a good idea to sit down with your manager and do a quick assessment of where you need support and how to get it. Or more specifically, identify and agree on the tasks and/or projects that can be delegated to another person or group.

Great bosses will help you become successful. They’ll push for you, escalate key issues, remove roadblocks and clear the way for you to get shit done.

Alternatively, maybe one of your team members or your work BFF has the time and capacity to help you out on one of your top priorities. So, don’t be afraid to ask them for help.

However, remember that this is a two-way street and when things get tough for them, you should reciprocate and give them a helping hand too when you know that they’re getting slammed with work.

This is the way you form positive kick-ass alliances at work.

Remember, you can’t do it all. Nobody expects you to. This is all about knowing what you can do on your own and getting help and support when and where you need it to be successful.

You Can Get Through This!

We've all been there. That feeling of being absolutely overwhelmed at work. It can be tough to manage, and often leaves us wishing we could just hide under our desks until it passes.

But if you're struggling with feeling overwhelmed at work, know that you're not alone. It happens to all of us every week. There isn’t a week that goes by without moments of feeling like everything’s caving in on you.

Days like this won’t disappear. The corporate world is all about cost efficiencies in the endless pursuit of profitability and/or shareholder return. And the resulting consequence is that we’re all asked to do more with less.

The stresses of overwork will always be there - that won’t ever change. However, your approach to handling these kinds of situations can change.

No more getting dumped on with excess work and bullshit tasks.

No more stupid meetings that take you away from urgent and important priorities.

No more boring conference calls that waste your valuable time.

No more overwhelm.

You’ve got a little trick up your sleeve now.

This simple three step process is the life jacket that will keep you afloat, even on the stormiest of days at work.

So buckle up the straps and know that you can get through this and survive another day.

Feel Better,

more on cubicle life