• Anita Chastain

9 Ways to Avoid a Complete Meltdown When You’re Stressed Out at Work

Updated: Oct 25

When was the last time you had a heart pounding, teeth grinding, stressed out day at work? Here are 9 ways to avoid a meltdown.

When was the last time you had a heart-pounding, teeth grinding, “how am I going to do all this” kind of work day?

One of those days where you’re close to a complete meltdown and planning a trip to the bathroom where no one will see you come unglued?

I’ve had those days. I bet you’ve had one at some point too.

When you’re feeling that stressed out at work, getting through the day can feel like an endurance trial. A triathlon you didn’t train for.

Because walking off the job isn’t an option for most people, you need real world, get the day under control tactics that work.

Because walking off the job isn’t an option for most people, you need real world, get the day under control tactics that work.

This article will help you do that.

But first, let’s look at the problem of stress in the workplace. And, yes, it’s a real problem and a big one too.

Surprising Statistics About Workplace Stress

It’s not just you and me who’ve dealt with overwhelming stress at work, a lot of people feel stressed out at work.

We're not talking about a little stress either.

Today's workplaces are creating serious, life-impacting work stress.

So how bad is it? It’s bad – really bad – for a lot of people.

These five statistics from recent surveys on workers and workplace stress show that nearly everyone experiences stress and it’s causing problems at work and at home:

It’s unfortunate, but I think, for many people, feeling stressed out at work is their new normal.

What Stressed Out Looks Like at Work

You know stress when you're experiencing it, but what causes it?

There are a lot of factors that create stress at work, from poorly functioning processes to ineffective management and a whole lot of things in between.

In terms of actual day-to-day work, it's often 'too many' that creates a problem:

  • Too many emails

  • Too many requests from your manager and others you can’t ignore

  • Too many tasks competing for your time and attention

  • Too many people not doing what they need to do when it needs to be done

When I have this many things going on (or going wrong), I go into survival mode.

I feel overwhelmed by the situation around me. My heart races, my chest feels tight, my stress level creeps up.

And, if I don't get things back in check, I'll head into meltdown mode, i.e., completely, utterly overwhelmed.

When this happens, I know I need to do two things. First, I need to get control of my emotions. Second, I need to get control of the work.

When this happens, I know I need to do two things. First, I need to get control of my emotions. Second, I need to get control of the work.

Now, let's look at how to do both.

Managing Stress: Get Control of Your Emotions

It’s not healthy to spend hour after hour working in max stress mode. The stress affects the physical processes in your body, your emotions and how you feel, and how you deal with people and situations while you're in this high-stress mode.

The first step in managing stress is getting control of your emotions.

Here are five strategies that help me get my emotions under control and lower my stress level:

  1. Take a few deep breaths. This triggers the body’s relaxation response. The relaxation response helps you feel calm again when you’re stressed out. Your muscles relax, your breathing returns to normal, and your heart rate slows down. As your body returns to a less stressed state, you begin to feel better. I’ve found that even taking a couple of deep breaths is enough to help me start calming down.

  2. Walk while you collect your thoughts. This is another way to trigger the relaxation response. Physical movement benefits your body and your mind. Movement, even a slow walk, helps lower stress and anxiety. As stress and anxiety drop, it becomes easier to deal with problems. I either go for a quick walk outside or just wander around inside for a few minutes while I collect my thoughts.

  3. Put the current situation in perspective. When things go wrong, we often focus on how bad everything is and ignore everything else. That’s a problem. If you focus solely on how bad things are, you ignore the good things that are going on. Your perspective becomes lopsided ̶ you see too much bad and too little good. This isn't helpful when you're trying to cope with the situation. I remind myself that the challenges I’m dealing with right now are just one piece of my life. They’re difficult, but they don’t define me.

  4. Focus on the present moment. When you get stressed, your thoughts jump around. You think about the situation you're in, and you worry about what else could go wrong in the future or what you could have done differently in the past. Thinking about the future or the past isn't helpful because it keeps you from focusing on dealing with the situation right now. It's important that you bring your thoughts back to the current moment. The only thing that matters in the present moment is the present moment.

  5. Remind yourself that you can handle the situation. There are always solutions to every problem. Don’t lose your self-confidence. Don’t let a terrible day cause you to question your abilities. You made it through every challenging day before this one. Don't expect it to be easy or pleasant, but know that you will get through this one too. I try to keep a positive “I can do this” outlook and focus on finding solutions, not problems.

The bottom line? We're better able to cope with difficult situations when we’re not overwhelmed by emotion.

Once you feel less stressed and are in a better place emotionally, you can start getting control of the work.

Once stress drops to a more manageable level, it’s time to deal with the work mess.

Managing Stress: Get Control of Your Work

Once your stress drops to a more manageable level, it’s time to deal with the work mess. Here are four strategies I use to get control of the work:

  1. Straighten the desktop. If the surface of my desk is a mess, I don’t feel calm or inspired. The mess reminds me of all the work I have to do. It also takes longer to find the papers I need. And it’s not just me. The average worker loses 4.3 hours of work time each week looking for information in or on their desk. The few minutes I spend organizing my desktop are worth it because they save time when I get back to work.

  2. Prioritize tasks by urgency and importance. When you have too much to do, it helps to create a prioritized to-do list for the day. Create a list and mark each task as Important (Yes or No) and Urgent (Yes or No). The priority tasks on your list are the ones that are urgent (must be done ASAP) and important (they must be done). I complete these tasks first. I strike the bottom tasks – not urgent, not important – off the list. (They may need to be done, but not today.) I complete the urgent, not important tasks next and the important, but not urgent tasks last. This helps me focus on the task that will make the biggest impact on my workload for the day.

  3. Single task your way through your to-do list. We all love the idea of multitasking, but it’s not as effective as we think it is, and we’re not as good at it as we think we are. Instead of multitasking, work through your to-do list one task at a time. Complete each task before you move on to the next one or until you complete as much as you can without information from someone else. While I wait for information from other people, I start on the next task. I find single-tasking less frustrating because I'm not shifting my attention from one thing to another. Plus, I see more immediate progress.

  4. Turn off email notifications and set your IM to busy. Notifications and IMs are distractions. They interrupt your concentration and break the flow of your work. They also add to the time it takes to complete whatever you’re working on. I try to keep a steady pace when I work, so I disable notifications. They help me stay focused on my work, which allows me to make progress more quickly.

Once you start controlling the workflow, your stress level falls. Work gets done. The panic subsides. You feel better, and you start to feel you’re regaining control of the day.


When everything is going wrong at work, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You can start to feel like you’re headed into meltdown mode. But don’t let your emotions and the difficult circumstances send you over the edge.

You’ve got this. Use the strategies above to get your emotions under control, then use the second set of strategies to get the work under control.

How do you deal with stress at work? Email me at anita (@) simplelife365.com and share what you do that makes stress at work easier to deal with.

NEXT: You might enjoy How to Keep Work Minimalist and Simple: 17 Strategies I Use.

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