When Stress and Overwhelm Take Control

Stressed and Overwhelmed Professional

When we are experiencing stress and overwhelm about our workloads, we tend to automatically think “if only I had better time management skills I could manage this workload”. At least that’s what people say to me when they come for mentoring, help me manage my time better.

There’s one good thing about that. They are taking responsibility for what is happening for them, rather than blaming it on their manager for loading them up with too much work.

What is causing their stress, however, is not their time management but rather that they are not good at setting priorities. They see everything that comes across their desk as vitally important. They believe they can’t stop doing any of it. And every day another lot of vitally important things appear on their desk! No wonder they are stressed and becoming overwhelmed. When they come to me and want me to help them manage their time better, they are wanting some miracle strategy that will see them able to continue to confidently manage an ever expanding list of vitally important tasks.

I want to share this photo with you that headed an article on Overload that I recently read. You might think it is funny, I did, but in the minds of some of the people I coach and mentor, that is how they present. I remember sending someone away after the first session of coaching to write a list of their current priorities. They came back the next week with two and a half pages of dot point priorities. Who can manage that much vitally important work? Who can even juggle it from day to day?

Overload Screenshot


The first thing people need to do when they become stressed and overwhelmed is to STOP, STEP BACK and REFLECT on what is happening for them. Of course, they haven’t time to do that. What will happen to all those vitally important tasks if they do that? But the irony is that if they don’t, their body and/or mind will send them a very powerful message in the form of a physical or mental breakdown, and they will be forced to stop and step back. The stress will cause an organic eruption in their body in the form of a serious physical illness which may well be life threatening or become chronic. It may instead, or as well as, see their mental health deteriorate, or even worse see them develop a serious mental illness. Both these outcomes mean that being well enough to begin reflecting on what they need to do next takes much longer and is a more difficult and challenging process.


  • This allows you to make space to bring some objectivity to what is happening, to come out from under the heavy emotional weight of what you are carrying.
  • You begin to stop working IN your job and start reflecting on how you can work ON it to make it more sustainable and purposeful.
  • It gives you time to tune back into your professional and personal life goals and values and what you need to do to be true to them.
  • It will then see you needing to check if those professional and personal goals and values are aligned with those of the organisation in which you are working or whether they are at odds.
  • Hopefully, it sees you looking at yourself, developing some self-awareness about what is motivating you to keep working like this, why you find it so difficult to assess what is important and not so important, what the negotiables and non-negotiables are in your work life.


Your first decision is whether you are prepared to do this reflection, whether you are willing to make the changes you need to make. It calls for SELF-AWARENESS, how what is happening is impacting you, those around you and the other important people in your life. It calls for EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE because it is your emotions that are directing you to work this way, even if you cannot identify them at this stage. It calls for RESILIENCE, having the psychological strength to make these hard decisions and the mental toughness to sustain them. Most importantly it calls for PROACTIVITY to act now to change what is happening for you because if you don’t you will find yourself in that space of having to reactively respond to the negative consequences of your non-action.

The consequences of you stopping, stepping back and reflecting will be significant.

  • You will either stay in your existing role working smarter, not longer.
  • Your values and goals will be aligned with those of your organisation, meaning its success is your success.
  • You will be able to set priorities daily and have the clarity of mind to be able to shift them throughout the day and feel confident about doing so.
  • You will have worked out what you need to keep doing, what you need to start doing, and what you need to stop doing so that you are less stressed and more productive.
  • In short, you will experience less stress and bring more energy to what you do.

On the other hand:

  • Your reflection may bring you to the realisation that this role is not one you want to maintain.
  • You may realise that you actually miss the coalface of practice and want to return to it, that you don’t want the responsibility of leadership and management.
  • You may decide to stay in your organisation and go sideways into another role.
  • You may leave the organisation altogether because your reflection has helped you clarify your goals and values and what’s important to you, even while not knowing where you are going to go next.
  • It may be that you leave and make that career transition that you have wanted for sometime but not had the courage to act on.


If this is you I have been talking about, I encourage you to be proactive and do what you need to do to look after yourself. You are the only thing stopping you from being the best version of yourself.

In the next few blogs I’m going to share some ideas on how you can engage in this Stop, Step Back and Reflect process.

If you can’t do it by yourself, however, get a coach or mentor to work with you.

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