We all have days where we feel tired, less motivated, or that the workday is simply dragging. 

While this is normal to happen on occasion, it becomes a problem when feeling stressed or anxious at work is an everyday occurrence. Not only can this impact your performance, but it can be detrimental to one’s mental health.

In fact, according to a study by FlexJobs, 76% of people say that workplace stress affects their mental health. When you’re under enough stress where it impacts your mental health, you’re likely experiencing a mental block.

What is a mental block?

A mental block prevents us from accessing our natural creative abilities, or creative juices if you will. When experiencing a mental block, you’ll often feel like the task ahead of you feels seemingly impossible to finish. Instead of feeling inspired or excited to roll up your sleeves and get started on a new project or the task at hand, you’ll feel like someone pulled the plug on your creative process, leaving you mentally exhausted.

Think of a mental block like the commonly used phrase “writer’s block”, except it can happen to anyone in any profession – not just writers. Anyone looking to complete an important task and achieve success can fall victim to a mental block.

How to identify a mental block at work 

Unsure if you just need to catch up on some sleep or experiencing a mental block? There are some signs that you can look out for.

For starters, employees who work in any marketing, creative, or professional services can experience these invisible barriers. Pay close attention to any recurring thoughts you may be having, as well as unusual behavior patterns. Are these thoughts or behaviors hindering you from feeling confident in yourself or your abilities to complete a task?

Additionally, suppose you’re exceptionally worried or stressed about the outcome of a specific assignment, feeling uncertain about the next steps in your career, or feeling less-than-confident about you or your team’s skills. In that case, you may be facing a mental block. These blocks can also occur if you’re being confronted with a brand new problem that you’ve never had to deal with before.

What are common causes of mental blocks? 

There are many causes of mental blocks, but some are more common than others. Some specific ones that you can (and should!) look out for include: 

  • Mental exhaustion: If there are too many tasks on your plate or items on your to-do list, you’ll become mentally exhausted, which can lead to mental blocks.
  • Lack of sleep: If you want to avoid mental blocks, it’s important to get enough sleep. Instead of reaching for that extra cup of coffee in the morning, try going to bed at night an hour or two earlier. 
  • Procrastination: When you leave essential decisions or tasks until the very last minute, it can not only lead to stress anxiety, but also a pretty big mental block, too. 
  • Cluttered work environment: Nothing causes a mental block quite like a cluttered desk or office. Doing so actually boosts cortisol levels, also referred to as the stress hormone.
  • Perfectionism: Feeling like you always have to be perfect at work can cause a mental block. 
  • Self-doubt: Suffering from self-doubt or “imposter syndrome” can lead to a mental block. This is when you’re constantly afraid that other employees, colleagues, or teammates will find out that you’re actually not good at your job and that they’ll expose you for being a fraud. 
  • Burnout: Feeling burned out at work is a specific type of work-related stress that can be in the form of physical, mental, or emotional stress and exhaustion. This reduced sense of accomplishment and self-worth can lead to a mental block. 

9 tips to overcome a mental block  

If the common causes above all feel like something you’re experiencing, follow these tips to work towards banishing mental blocks once and for all. 

1 Reevaluate priorities

Take a good, hard list at your to-do list. 

Consider reorganizing the projects, tasks, or assignments on this list by priority. When you know which ones are more important than others, you’ll better understand which needs more attention. And, maybe you’ll find out that the lowest items on this list can be reallocated to someone else on your team, moved to a further-out due date, or even deleted altogether. 

Pro tip

Use a task management tool like Fellow to plan and prioritize tasks for a better understanding of all your to-dos.

Action Items Feature Fellow

2 Take a break or time off

Sometimes a mental block can seem too hard to overcome. If this is the case, take a break or even consider some time off work.

This can look like a small half-hour break, like taking your dog for a walk, washing the dishes, or calling up a friend to say hello. Or, cash in on your company’s abundant time off plan to take some free days away from the office. Breaks, big and small, can help reset your mind, recenter your body, and help you to get back on track as you work through a mental block.  

3 Declutter your workspace

Whether it’s your office at work, your home office, a desk, or even a kitchen table, it’s time for some serious decluttering.

How many empty cups of coffee are on your desk? What about notebooks, pens, or even the plate you used for a quick afternoon snack. Make sure you’re taking the to clean your workspace. A cluttered physical space can lead to a cluttered mental space. How clean it is where you’re working can have a huge impact on not only your productivity levels but your mood, too.

4 Ask for help from your team

If you’re experiencing a mental block, it’s okay to ask for help from others on your team. Whether it’s asking how they overcome a mental block or seeing if maybe they can take a task off your plate, they are there to help.

Additionally, it’s common for mental blocks to happen because you’re stuck overthinking a task or an assignment. Turning to a colleague for additional insight or an outside-the-box idea can be the new perspective you need to overcome a block. 

If your team is coming up short, consider turning to a friend or even do some online research for help.

5 Start small

Another great way to overcome a mental block is to break down the task in front of you and start with the smallest aspect first. When you break down large projects into smaller individual activities they become less overwhelming and can keep a mental block at bay.

Staring down a large work project can feel like a looming task, causing you to feel overwhelmed by how much you still have to do. Consider easing into progress by crossing a small task off your to-do list first.

6 Know your limits

Do you find yourself always saying yes to new assignments or additional tasks? If so, the cause of your mental blocks could be because you’re overextending yourself. Everyone has a limit and you need to know to yours.

It’s never bad to be the person who goes above and beyond for others or the person on your team who everyone turns to when a project pops up out of nowhere. However, don’t bite off more than you can chew only to be stuck with a task you’re unable to finish. Overcommitting to work can lead to stress and cause burnout.

If your manager is assigning you more work than you can complete, bring this up to them as soon as possible. If a colleague tries to hand off some of their work to you, learn how to say no

7 Embrace self-care

Physical health is important, but don’t forget to take some time to embrace self-care, too.

In addition to eating right and setting some time aside to exercise, don’t forget to partake in some rest and relaxation, too. Putting your mental health on the back burner can increase your stress levels and make you feel anxious. 

Not sure what to do for self-care? Consider:

  • Avoiding taking your work home with you
  • Setting time aside to read a new book or magazine
  • Getting at least 7-9 hours of sleep
  • Ending the day with your favorite movie or TV show

8 Improve your skills

Feeling inadequate, experiencing imposter syndrome, and constantly doubting yourself are common reasons why you may be experiencing a mental block. If you feel like you’re unprepared to complete a new assignment, consider doing something to improve the skills you already have. Whether it’s researching a new topic, learning a complimenting skill, or practicing what you already know, you may find yourself performing better at work and having more confidence in yourself.

9 Embrace the fear

Alright, hear me out.

If you always feel afraid you’re going to fail, even before you start a new project or assignment, use that fear to motivate you. This can look like preparing for various things that can happen as you work through a project. Are there any roadblocks that you think could happen? Consider making a plan of action if they do.

This way, if things do go wrong, instead of it causing stress or anxiousness, you’re well equipped to handle it with ease.

Banish blocks, for good

When you better understand the signs of a mental block and how to overcome them, you’re better set up for success. No matter what this success looks like to you, it’s essential to keep your mental health in mind, while not overcommitting to too much work, and taking breaks when needed.

Doing this allows you to kick mental blocks to the curb.