How Overwhelm is Impacting Your Brain and What To Do About It

Culturati Team
Culturati: Magazine
4 min readJan 19


By Rajkumari Neogy, founder at iRestart

Are you overwhelmed? Or maybe you know someone who is?

These last few years have been a lot for many of us, to say the least. Our brains are not designed to be constantly inundated with a steady stream of stress, and with no opportunity to recover, rest, or recuperate. Companies are acutely aware that their workforce is exhausted, fatigued and stressed. And the data still shows that employees are disengaged at incredibly high levels. With all the attention to mental health and well-being, why aren’t the numbers getting better. Why are our employees still struggling? And what can we do about it that will actually make a difference?

The first thing to understand is how our brains work under stress. When we find ourselves in VUCA states, our brains slow down significantly or starts to work in spurts. This is occurring because our brains see this as a moment where it is being asked to deal with something that is beyond the resources we currently possess to address it.

Overwhelm is a complicated state of being that results from the compounded effect of several key factors in one’s life, and is different for everyone. If we want to address overwhelm in the workplace, we need to start with understanding our employees, where they are struggling and offer solutions that explores the roots of their distress: trauma. “The conditions for overwhelm exist for everyone of us, where we were born into them, walk consciously into them, or they descend upon us”, writes Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, author of The Age of Overwhelm. The definition of trauma, according to Sarah Peyton, author of Your Resonant Self is “being too alone.”

Back in the spring of 2022, I had the honour of being on the virtual stage with Chris Hyams, the CEO of Indeed. During the Q&A segment, Chris answered a question with this, “As leaders, how are we developing whole humans?” I was just blown away by his humanity.

When working with overwhelm in the workplace, we need to understand the three key pillars:

Having to do things all on our own

When we find ourselves unsupported in an environment, the pain centers in our brain light up. Having the experience of being utterly alone, especially in times of stress, or during states of VUCA, can actually register this as physical injury for our brains.

- If you are working on project, find the courage to turn toward someone and ask them for support. Trying to get it done alone may actually prolong getting the project done.

- If you are leader, check with your team and ask them where they need added support. Discuss ways to meet those needs or at the very least, explain why meeting those needs aren’t possible at the present time. Being able to provide clarity helps avoid causing further distress.

Dealing with unresolved problems or issues

Sometimes, having to deal with certain issues or problems that don’t have a clear end in sight can lead to anxiety or even bring us to the edge of depression. When we experience stressful situations repeatedly over time that are beyond our control, we may start to experience something called ‘learned helpnessness’.

- Unlearning learned helplessness starts by first acknowledging the 5 symptoms in the above link. The next step is to find support, in whatever ways feel most appropriate to you. That might look like getting a coach, a therapist, or joining a support group. Understanding the root of the patterns that are negatively impacting you is essential.

- If you are a leader, encourage your employees to seek out support, take advantage of the resources the company offers and ensure that they are taking their PTO to recharge and recuperate.

Our own personal hardship, trauma or intrusive memories

Our formative experiences play a direct role in how we show up as adults. If a child grows up in a family where they were not allowed to express themselves, or were reprimanded if they were loud, then as an adult, they might not be inclined to share their thoughts, ideas or solutions in meetings.

- Offering trauma-informed courses to help employees unpack their limiting beliefs is critical to address overwhelm.

- If you are a leader, take time to learn about the neuroscience of leadership and how your team is motivated.

Overwhelm is a very complicated and ubiquitous symptom found within organizations. As leaders, it is our duty to address and ultimately, heal overwhelm by creating a culture that prioritizes community, connection and care.

Rajkumari Neogy is an epigenetic coach and executive consultant focused on the intersection of neurobiology, culture and empathy in today’s business world. She is also a Culturati scholar and will be appearing on Culturati: LIVE on Thursday, January 26th to discuss this topic. Register for free now.



Culturati Team
Culturati: Magazine

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