How do You Know Whether You are Overworked or Overwhelmed (and What You Can do about it!)?

by: Helen Thamm, APRN, CPC

What is the difference between being truly overworked and a feeling of being overwhelmed?

Is is not uncommon with all the downsizing, which I understand is now called “right sizing”, you may in fact be asked to do more than is humanly possible at least without a lot of overtime to accomplish.  You may sometimes feel you have a choice between not completing a project on time if you choose to keep your work and home life in balance, and risking the boss’s disapproval, or doing a less than stellar job in order to get it done by the deadline.  Therefore, being overworked could be a real issue.

On the other hand, overwhelm is more of a feeling.  Sometimes people with really active minds for example, have a hard time concentrating on one project/task or have trouble prioritizing which project/task to do first.  Have you ever worked with someone who seems to be buzzing around like a bee, flitting from flower to flower, but never seems to complete one task?  Trying to multitask often resembles the busy bee, but most experts agree that completing one task/project before starting another helps a person to be more productive.   The focused person may appear a bit slower than the busy bee, but their more steady pace actually accomplishes more. In nursing, professionals also have to consider the impact on patients if a nurse appears rushed.  Sometimes patients even misinterpret rushing (usually accompanied by a serious expression) as being less warm, and receptive to them as people in need of their nurse’s care.

Here are some tips to recognize whether you might be experiencing overwork or overwhelm, and how you can deal with either one more effectively:

Differences between overwork and overwhelm include:



  1. Discuss delegating some “old” tasks to others with your boss when he/she adds a new one.
  2. Tactfully decline OT—judiciously.
  3. Request a decreased workload briefly when a report is due.
  1. Make a priority list of projects—work on the most important one first.
  2. Assess your day and document in between tasks as possible.
  3. Preplan/prework part of a big report when you have “down” time.

None of us can totally control our work environments or workload at times (emergencies do happen). Being aware whether we are feeling the effects of actually having too much on our plate (I then rename a platter full of work) or whether we are reacting more on the emotional level, can help empower us as female professionals to utilize the coping behaviors above to proactively deal with either issue.

Work wellness is important for overall health and balance helps female professionals, especially those in the health care field, keep your career passion alive!

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About the Author:  Helen Thamm, APRN, CPC is a licensed nurse therapist in Illinois and Wyoming as well as a Certified Professional Coach, who is a career and wellness specialist. You can obtain free tips on career success and wellness issues at and you can listen to her career success radio series on the Events Page.  Leadership challenges are creatively overcome in her new manager’s success toolkit book:  “How to Manage with a Magic Wand (No, Don’t Hit Your “Problem Employees” over the Head with it!)” and work/life re-balance in the bestseller “The Wellness Code” co-authored with Dr. John Ellis, et al which are available at  Helen can be reached for questions at:

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