Red Flags That You Have Too Much Stress at Work

More than ever, employees and managers alike are overwhelmed by their workloads and feeling stressed out. But are you someone who doesn’t set boundaries and limits on what’s handed to you — or what you agree to take on — resulting in you doing too much at work and feeling pressured almost constantly? When does a busy period with long hours morph into burnout and excessive workplace stress? It’s important to know how to recognize the telltale signs of having too much stress at work.

Fortunately, predictable red flags appear that signal when you’ve either been assigned — or you’ve agreed to absorb — more than you can reasonably handle. Here are six ways to tell that you have too much stress at work, and what you can do about it:

[Read: How to Change Careers.]

1. You’re saying “yes” to everything.

You’ve been assigned something to do, so you have to do it — right? Not necessarily. If you’re receiving too many assignments or are becoming your team’s go-to person for catchall projects, you’re unlikely to be able to do any of them justice without becoming stressed.

Push back on overload by letting your supervisor know that you’re too swamped to take on everything. “Learning to say no and advocating for your own time is an important lesson in the workforce,” says Kristy Willis, chief sales and operations officer at PeopleReady.

Michael Provitera, an executive leadership trainer, points out that many employees’ respect for authority figures makes it difficult to push back on assignments. Yet when being a “yes person” results in stress-inducing situations like conflicting projects and day-to-day tasks, it’s time to learn to say “no” to some requests. “Let the bosses know that you have a certain amount of priorities that you are working on,” Provitera says. “Then ask which priority is more important, and go to work on that one first.”

2. You’re feeling overwhelmed.

If you’ve found yourself spiraling into a panic as you review a to-do list that’s virtually impossible to corral, then you’re familiar with overwhelm. It’s hard to stay focused on the task at hand with a backdrop of hundreds items on your to-do list and a mounting crush of unopened emails. Feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to start are harbingers of burnout.

To bring order to the chaos, Jacqueline Twillie, founder of training and development firm, suggests taking the time to think through each step of a project before just diving in. “This will save you time in the form of eliminating duplication of activities and just sitting around for 30 minutes trying to decide what to do,” Twillie says. She adds that productivity apps, such as Trello and Evernote, can help you wrap your arms around an extensive to-do list, which can help quench the stress response.

3. You’re procrastinating.

On a related note, if you’re spending too much time scrolling through Instagram as your deadlines creep closer, this is another red flag that stress is around the corner. “It’s a procrastination crutch when folks are on overload and can’t decide which of the millions of things to do next,” says productivity consultant Helene Segura. This may feel fine and even fun while you’re doing it, but giving in to the web surfing urge in the morning, for example, can quickly lead to a stress-filled afternoon as you backpedal to try to make up for lost time.

[See: Best Jobs for Work-Life Balance.]

4. You’re waking up in the middle of the night with work on the brain.

When your mind won’t let go of your workday to the extent that it’s interfering with your nighttime recovery efforts, it means that your stress level is too high. Constant late night work sessions, even when done from home, are also a red flag of too much stress at work.

5. You’re making too many mistakes.

Diminished work quality and making rookie errors are signs that you’re in the grip of stress. “When an employee with a track record of on-time, high-quality delivery suddenly starts missing deadlines or submitting error-ridden work, it’s a red flag,” says Leigh Steere, co-founder of Managing Better People.

Willis agrees and suggests speaking to your supervisor if your stressful excessive workload is causing you to drop balls. “Addressing the issue in terms of not being able to produce high-quality work can help them understand that it’s in the best interest for everyone if your load is lessened,” Willis says.

[Read: How to Ask to Work Remotely Full Time]

6. You’re working every weekend.

Weekends are supposed to help you refresh and refuel before starting another workweek. So if your recovery time on Saturday and Sunday always disappears into work duties, it’s no wonder you’re feeling stressed out. Constant weekend work is another red flag that you could be nearing the breaking point.

Executive coach Elene Cafasso recommends first accepting that it’s physically impossible to get everything done if you’ve been overloaded to this extent. Next, prioritize what really matters.

“What are the three to four priorities that will drive your business and create the results you’ll be held accountable for?” Cafasso says. “Do those things first. Communicate freely and often about those things so you’ll be seen as a person getting results for the business and strategically in tune enough to know what’s important.”

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