Featured image of the second part of the blogpost series about Self-Leadership called"Self-Leadership: Factors Leading to Overwhelm" showing a meditating person and a running one

Self-Leadership: Factors Leading to Overwhelm

Self-Leadership: Factors Leading to Overwhelm

Welcome to the three part series on Self-Leadership written and based on Julia Borger’s master thesis “Self-Leadership: Strategies to Avoid Overwhelm in Self-Organized Teams and Companies”.

In the first part, “Self-leadership: When Self-Organization Overwhelms” the groundwork to understanding overwhelm, how it is defined and what the challenges in self-organization are, was laid.

In this second part, “Self-Leadership: Factors Leading to Overwhelm”, we look at factors that lead to overwhelm in self-organized work contexts and how overwhelm manifests.

The third and last part, “Self-Leadership: Tips to Avoid Overwhelm”, is dedicated to tips for employees and of course for companies on how to avoid overwhelm.

What Factors Lead to Overwhelm in Self-Organized Work Contexts?

The data collection revealed that primarily the following five overwhelm factors lead to overwhelm in self-organized work contexts (in descending order):

Ability to say “no” and to decline responsibilities

Being productive with multiple demands (e.g. multi-tasking, multi-roles, multi-projects)

Expectations of own performance (e.g. perfectionism)

Lack of communication or communication channels

Consciously managing one’s own energy balance

With the exception of communication, which can be counted as both an internal and external factor, it is primarily internal, personal factors that received the most frequent mentions. This is consistent with the study of the Institute of Applied Psychology of the Zurich Universities of Applied Sciences (Gundrum et al., 2020), in which self-leadership is cited as a reason for being overwhelmed.

Within the top 14 factors, which received slightly more than half of all mentions, there are also three additional internal factors that have to do with individual performance, productivity and self-leadership:

Workload and speed

Switching between roles, tasks, projects and responsibilities

Emotional boundaries (holding space for the other person’s feelings without being taken in and influenced by them)

In addition to the internal factors, the following points also emerged from the study as the most relevant external factors:

Awareness of economic pressures

Unclear organization of individual areas and units

Interface management between organizational forms (hybrid / self-organized)

Unclear target definitions

Dealing with overcontrolling by management

Dealing with overstretched team colleagues / employees

How Does Overwhelm Manifest Itself?

Overwhelm is a condition that manifests itself very differently in many respects on an individual basis. For example, some people experience symptoms at all levels, while others perceive only individual changes. Overall, there are certain denominators that were mentioned more frequently and are summarized below.

On a physical level, overwhlem is most frequently described by the following characteristics:

Sleep problems, fatigue, exhaustion

Stomach ache, headache

Pressure in the head, tension

On the mental level, overwhelm is particularly noticeable in the following aspects:

You do not know where and how to start

Prioritization of tasks is difficult

Too many tasks, like in a hamster wheel

Difficulty concentrating, (thinking) blockade, spinning thoughts

Pressure to perform, proneness to errors

Lack of motivation

On an emotional level, the following paraphrases for overwhelm were chosen, among others:

Fear, panic, feeling powerless, helpless, paralyzed

Inner restlessness, nervousness

Constricting and oppressive feeling

Feeling worthless, inadequate

On a behavioral level, overwhelm was described in terms of the following behavioral traits, among others:

Irritability, bad mood, dissatisfaction

Aggressiveness, unrestraint

Paralyzed state, inability to act

Read the last part of this three-part series with tips on how to avoid overwhlem on 12 January 2023.

About the Author


Julia Borger is an expert for self-leadership and empowerment. In the summer of 2021, she successfully completed her master’s degree with a thesis on the topic of “Overwhelm in Self-Organization”. This is how she discovered the topic of “self-leadership” to be a matter close to her heart.

Overwhelm has accompanied her for a long time and therefore it was like an enlightenment for her to understand the mechanisms behind it. She would like to pass on this knowledge to create awareness and enable transformation. It is her great desire to enable individuals and teams to come into their strength and to unfold their potential.


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