Undervalued or overwhelmed? 5 tips to tackle festive season stress

As we head into the festive season, many people are feeling overworked, overwhelmed or undervalued.  

If that resonates with you, Sabina Read, SEEK’s Resident Psychologist, says you're not alone. 

"At this time of year, it makes sense that many of us are working and living at an unsustainable pace. This can affect our patience, focus, relationships, and wellbeing, leaving us feeling overwhelmed, depleted and even resentful," she says. 

"We can feel overwhelmed due to a load that feels too heavy or because we feel like we lack the skills or resources to complete what's expected."  

Read offers the following strategies and tips for when we’re feeling overwhelmed at work. 

1. Self-reflect and set boundaries 

Take time to reflect on what's happening, and what's lacking, that’s contributing to you feeling underappreciated or burnt out. For example, do you feel recognised for your skills and contribution at work?  

Research for SEEK shows two in five workers receive recognition less than once a month, despite this being incredibly important in boosting morale and job satisfaction. 

After reflecting on what you need, take stock of whether you're setting boundaries that suit your needs. This includes saying 'no' when necessary. If you need to work overtime constantly to get by, let your boss know that your workload is unsustainable. If you find yourself putting others' needs ahead of yours and neglecting your own projects, it's time to set and safeguard your boundaries. 

2. Don't assume others know how you feel or what you need 

Read suggests you communicate unmet needs and possible solutions at work to start making positive change. 

“Identify what’s helped you feel valued in the past, and communicate these in a solution-oriented manner,” she says. “Written or spoken praise, regular feedback, opportunities to grow, financial rewards, or acknowledgement that you are making a difference can all dial up feeling valued. 

Once you know what you need, let your boss or colleagues know. You could say something like, 'I want to know I'm making a difference here and to thrive and bring my best to my role, I'd appreciate your support with XXX.'" 

If you're unsure what to ask for, Read suggests checking in with your boss.  

"Ask your boss what their priorities are and let them know you're feeling overwhelmed by the volume or nature of work. Then, suggest a range of solutions which shows you are an active problem solver with initiative." 

3. Break down tasks to make your day less daunting 

When your workload feels too great, separating and prioritising tasks is essential. Break down large tasks into smaller steps to make them more approachable and help you plan your day.  

Read has the following advice for when you're feeling overwhelmed: 

"Aim for the lowest hanging fruit in terms of what you can actually achieve. Doing this will help you build a sense of accomplishment, which creates momentum."  

You can also better set yourself up for success by tailoring your day around your work style and patterns.  

"Approach your most challenging tasks at the time of day that you are most energised," Read says, "That looks different for everyone, and could be right after your morning coffee or mid-afternoon when meetings have quietened down." 

4. Step back and take a breather 

If you can, take some time off – even a day or two – to mentally reset from work. If you can't take leave, schedule some mini breaks away from the computer. This could be taking a ten-minute walk, or having a quick phone call with a friend.  

No matter how you can fit in breathers, Read says that practising self-care during these periods is paramount. 

"Get honest with your wellbeing habits which can change the way you feel, even in the face of a heavy load or low levels of appreciation," says Read. "Prioritise whatever helps you fill your own mental and physical cup, to cope better at work."  

5. Ask for help 

No one can juggle life without a support system. Reach out to your manager – it’s part of their role to support you to do well in yours. And, if there's one available through your workplace, consider accessing an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). 

To ease the end-of-year pressure, Read suggests taking stock of what makes you feel empowered at work again.  

"Not everyone who is overwhelmed feels undervalued and not everyone who feels undervalued is overwhelmed," she says.  

"As a good starting point, it can help to separate these emotions to try and make sense of what you need more and less of. This creates a sense of agency and autonomy, even when the load is full, which can help alleviate some of your end-of-year stress." 

Source: Independent research conducted by Nature of behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4000 Kiwis annually. Published December 2023.