Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 15th to 21st May this year (2023) in the UK, and the theme is ‘Anxiety’.

Anxiety is a word that is commonly used when people feel overwhelmed. Most people have feelings of overwhelm every day in the workplace. If you think about your worries at work, in an IP firm, you will understand when you feel overwhelmed. This is due to busy workloads which may include deadlines, presentations, client meetings, and a long to-do list, to name just a few pressures.

We need to be careful when we are feeling overwhelmed because it may cause us to have a negative mindset, which can mean we don’t function to the best of our ability and therefore reduce our productivity and cognitive function.

How do we define ‘overwhelm’?

Overwhelm is the mental or emotional state of being overloaded with information, stimuli, or responsibilities. It occurs when there are more demands on our time, energy, or attention than we feel able to handle, and we feel unable to cope.

It may cause a feeling of unease or worry about future events or outcomes. When we are overwhelmed, we may experience feelings of stress, anxiety, or inability to focus, which can hinder our ability to function effectively in our daily lives.

Overwhelm can manifest in many different ways and also creep up on us.

The early signs are:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating.

Multiple factors, such as work pressures, financial stress, relationship issues, health concerns, and major life changes, can trigger the feeling of being overwhelmed.

We do not want our everyday overwhelm to lead to anxiety and then anxiety disorders. Anxiety is defined as persistent worry that interferes with relationships, functioning at work, and decision-making. Anxiety disorders can include panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and specific phobias. If you are experiencing persistent or severe anxiety, it is important to seek professional help from a mental health provider.

However, it’s important to remember that we are able to train our brains to be more positive and relaxed in overwhelming situations at work.

You could start by doing the exercises below to help yourself be more productive and better manage stressful situations. 

Here are 5 effective ways you can cope when feeling overwhelmed in the workplace:

1.    Stop and breathe
It may sound strange to say "Stop and breathe" but when we are anxious, we often do not breathe properly.

Deep breathing slows the heart rate, relaxes the muscles, and aids in relaxation. Fenella Hemus guides us through a breathing exercise for anxiety in the ‘Mental Health Chats’ series on anxiety, available on YouTube and Podcast. This is my favourite breathing exercise, and I perform it daily, even when I am not feeling overwhelmed. It helps me remain focused and grounded throughout the day. 

2.    Focus on the solution, not the problem
When we are overwhelmed, we tend to become fixated on the problem. Grant and O'Connor, psychologists from the University of Sydney, looked into the difference in outcomes between focusing on the problem versus the solution. By focusing on the problem, we can become immobilised and unable to see a way out, thereby increasing our anxiety.

By adopting a solution-focused mentality, we are more likely to obtain positive results more quickly and effectively.

3.    Take a break and change the scene
When we are in a state of overwhelm, it can be helpful to take a break and change the scene to give your mind a rest. This may help us re-evaluate our thoughts and perceptions of the situation, allowing us to view it in a more positive light.

A break doesn’t mean you have to go for a long walk. Simply, get up from your chair, and go for a walk around the office. I find that if I do stretching exercises when I get a drink, I feel more refreshed.

4.    Stop and focus exercise
Exercises to refocus are highly effective at reducing feelings of overwhelm by calming the body and refocusing the mind for clearer thought. In times of anxiety, you may wish to utilise my 21-Day High-Intensity Neural Training (HINT) Programme.

5.    Engage in positive self-talk

A negative mindset may contribute to worry and concern. Instead of thinking of the negatives, you may like to try using positive phrases to reduce stress and increase your confidence. You may repeat to yourself expressions like, “I will finish this on time and accurately” or “I can cope with this client and will find a solution for them”.

Regardless of what strategies you use to ease your overwhelm, it is essential that you bring emotional fitness into your life every day, as a routine. My book, ‘Emotional Fitness: A to Z for Positive Mental Health’, is an activity book, which outlines simple exercises for incorporating emotional fitness into daily life.

Having Mental Health First Aiders in place will contribute significantly to your IP firm. They are trained to recognise the signs of mental health concerns, open up conversations to help those in need, and implement preventative measures for emotional fitness.

You should have a team of MHFAiders who work proactively to provide assistance to every person where needed. They should also be working proactively to bring positive mental health into your IP firm. Find out more about how you can be trained as MHFAiders here.


Clare spoke at the FICPI World Congress in September 2022 with Rob Katz and Simon Rees on the topic of ‘Managing mental health issues in an IP firm in 2022 and beyond’. Clare is the CEO and Founder of Nova Associates and is a management and mental health trainer, coach, author, and facilitator who works with individuals and organisations to help them use their focus to bring out untapped potential in the workplace. Clare shows through real-world examples how the valuable skills that each person brings to your IP firm can help your mission.

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