Workload paralysis is a real struggle for many of us. Have you ever felt like you had so much to do that you couldn’t accomplish anything? “I’m too busy, but I can’t get anything done,” sounds like a serious contradiction, right? But you get so overloaded with all you need to do that you freeze up. So, you end up on social media, trimming your toenails, swatting flies, or just about anything else to avoid doing what you need to do most.

You can’t seem to get anything done. And the most frustrating thing is if ever there was a time you needed to accomplish something (anything!), now was that time. If you ruminate more about this struggle, that leads to increased anxiety too. Not surprisingly, that only makes your workload paralysis all the worse.

Where do these feelings come from, and what can you do when you find yourself saying “I can’t do anything?” Here are some thoughts on when you feel too busy to work.

What is Workload Paralysis?

Workload paralysis is most often a problem for those who are seemingly always busy and can’t see an end in sight. You have so much to do that you can’t seem to do anything. This is especially the case when you try to get started on a particular task.

The saying that goes, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” is true. But you’re so focused on the overwhelming thought of the upcoming thousand miles that you can’t seem to get one foot pointed in the right direction.

You could say that workload paralysis is a type of procrastination. But many people procrastinate who don’t feel such immense pressure. There are a lot of different reasons someone may procrastinate, including the desire to shirk responsibility. This generally isn’t the case for those experiencing workload paralysis. It’s actually the exact opposite. The weight of responsibility becomes so heavy that it gives you the feeling of being powerless to act. 

The desire to accept responsibility exists alongside a seeming inability to carry it out. Worse yet, feeling paralyzed by tasks for too long can lead to burnout. This long-term condition can be much more difficult to heal from. For that reason, it’s best to address these feelings of overwhelm as soon as you can. 

Remember Workload Paralysis Doesn’t Just Happen at Your Workplace

Being too busy at work and stressed at work too often go together. It’s sometimes easy to compartmentalize our lives and think that various areas don’t touch the others. In reality, your home life affects your work life and vice versa. Each part impacts the rest of your life for good or bad. 

So, workload paralysis involves more than your formal career. You know better than anyone that responsibility doesn’t stop once you leave your business or place of employment. The myriad tasks waiting for you at home pile up too. So, workplace paralysis results from the sum total of all your responsibilities weighing down on you. There’s a good chance that’s why you keep asking, “Why can’t I do anything?”

How Can You Handle Workload Paralysis Better?

There are several things you can do to handle workplace paralysis better. Since it can be a complicated riddle to solve, some tips from this list may be more effective at addressing this type of stress than others. 

Focus on the Small

Focusing on the big picture can completely overwhelm even the strongest person if they aren’t careful. Imagine if you thought about how many total hours you’d have to spend commuting to and from work within the next year, or writing emails, for example. Life would begin to feel heavy really quickly.

We’re only able to handle so much at a time. Yes, on the one hand, we should look ahead and plan for the future. Failing to do so would be unwise. But at the same time, we only have enough strength for today’s tasks. If we focus and fret too much about the big picture, we won’t have the energy to accomplish the daily and small, bite-sized tasks that lead to the more significant long-term results. 

Try completing just one task to start instead of having a handful going at the same time. This will grow your motivation to accomplish even more.

Simplify Your Life

If you feel overwhelmed by workload paralysis, look for tasks you can delegate to someone else or eliminate. Think of a ship at sea so overloaded with cargo that it risks sinking.

You are that ship and you know best what you’re able to handle and what is too much. Throw anything unnecessary “overboard” to lighten your load. And if you’re going through tough times (rough waters), you’ll probably have to eliminate even more tasks until your life stressors return to normal and healthy levels. 

Consider What Else Could Be Interfering

A variety of factors can make workload paralysis more likely. We already mentioned that unpredictable life challenges or traumas inevitably add to this struggle. You also may be stuck in a negativity or worrying loop that only makes your stress levels worse. And, of course, having too much on your plate for too long dramatically increases your likelihood of these difficulties. 

Besides that, a mental health condition involving anxiety, depression or both could also be interfering. 

Evaluate Your Perspective on Anxiety

When you face times where workload paralysis overwhelms you, it’s helpful to remember that anxiety and stress when you’re busy aren’t negative in and of themselves. In fact, when properly managed, they can be a powerful force to help you accomplish your goals.

In her “Psychology Today” article entitled, “11 Ways to Cope with Anxiety When You’re Busy,” Alicia H. Clark Psy.D. shares the following on the benefits of some anxiety.

“Anxiety in and of itself doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and in fact can be a help, especially when we are busy. A powerful source of information and energy, anxiety can walk a fine line between motivating and overwhelming depending on how we choose to view it.”

So, the goal isn’t to eradicate your anxiety. Instead, it’s to learn to manage it better so you get that stress working for you instead of against you.

Are You Struggling with Workload Paralysis? 

If so, counseling can often help if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your responsibilities and schedule. Over time, feeling busy for too long can lead to significant physical and mental health challenges. For that reason, it’s always a good idea to reach out for help before things get worse.

If you’d like to learn more about how the OC Relationship Center can help you, please get in touch with us. We offer individual, relationship, and marriage therapy in the Orange County, CA region and look forward to meeting you!