Anxiety is uncomfortable no matter where you are, but it can feel even worse when you’re experiencing anxiety at work. Especially when you don’t want anyone to know you are feeling anxious.
Stress and anxiety are impacting Americans at an alarming rate. The Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA)2006 Stress & Anxiety Disorders Survey reported 72 percent of people who have daily stress and anxiety said it interferes with their lives at least moderately.
Those surveyed reported it has impacted their workplace performance, relationships with coworkers and peers, quality of work, relationships with superiors, and even their time out of work, among other things. And that was just the findings on anxiety at work done in 2006; imagine what those numbers might be with the level of stress many of us experience today!
If anxiety strikes while you’re stuck at work, here are a few things to help take back control of your mental health and alleviate anxiety symptoms.
Feeling anxious at work? Take five.
If you start to feel high levels of anxiety at work, stop what you are doing and take a short break. Step outside and breathe in the fresh air. Move your body, even if it just means walking around your building or stretching in a conference room. Take deep, slow breaths focusing on moving the air down into your belly before letting it rise back up to exhale. Sometimes something as simple as stepping away from the meeting to go and wash your hands in the bathroom can make a big difference.
Focus on the present moment.
Often times we have anxiety because we are thinking about or worry about too many future things. People feel as though they are not in control or believe things will take a turn for the worse. These thoughts can perpetuate feelings of worry and anxiety.
Try to clear your mind and focus on the present moment. Scan the room for an object to focus on. Describe the object to yourself. Use these questions as prompts:
- What details about the object haven’t you noticed until just now?
- What is the most unique aspect of the object?
- How do you think someone came up with the idea for the object?
- What might be the oddest or unexpected way someone has used the object?
Simple questions like this are easy to incorporate into our daily lives to get us all out of our own heads and into the present moment.
Put pen to paper and write out worries.
Jot your thoughts in a notebook. Getting them out of your head and on to paper will be helpful in gaining clarity on the issue at hand since you have to think of the right words to describe your feelings. Also, once you note concerns, your brain won’t work overtime to remind you of what ails you every few moments. Don’t overthink this process or worry that someone may read it – you can shred it as soon as you are done.
Is there a thought or specific worry you can pinpoint that might be the source of your work anxiety? Try this exercise from the Centre for Clinical Interventions where you ask yourself to write down the factual evidence for and evidence against the worry.
For example, perhaps you are running late on a deadline and are worried you won’t make get your project in on time. You may be telling yourself a story about how failing to meet the deadline might result in you losing your job. What evidence do you have that supports this story? What evidence do you have that contradicts this story?
I like to go on to think about the actual worst thing that could happen and how I would deal with that outcome. Often you’ll find that you’re creating a more worrisome story in your head than the reality of the situation in front of you.
You read that correctly. The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is a form of acupressure that has been shown to relieve stress and anxiety and improve mood. Using two fingers, you tap on certain pressure points while following a sequence of thoughts around your concern.
Check out the video below to see it in action for stress relief.
If you sit in an open area or are in a meeting and trying not to draw attention to yourself, I’d recommend doing it in a private area like a bathroom stall or conference room.
Gather feel-good tools to deal with workplace anxiety.
If you’re plagued by anxiety at work, listen to soothing brainwave entrainment during your break (Brain.FM has a great ‘relax’ channel). Snack on ‘good mood food’ such as cashews, almonds, blueberries, and dark chocolate which are often used to aid calm. Limit caffeine and other stimulants that may worsen your symptoms.
You might also want to keep calming lavender oil to hand and sniff it when you’re anxious. Incorporating exercise around your work life, getting 8 hours of sleep each night, and short meditation sessions will all help feel-good emotions flow.
There are also lots of stress and anxiety online classes and workshops out there such as this drug-free holistic system for treating panic attacks and general anxiety.
Talk to someone.
If you are experiencing depression or anxiety at work, seek medical advice. Seeing a mental health professional is not just for severe mental illness; it can be extremely helpful to those experiencing even very mild anxiety.
If not a professional, find a friend or even a trusted coworker you can confide in. You may be surprised to find you are not alone. Sometimes keeping it a secret creates more anxiety than the fear of it ‘getting out’ into the world.
Your workplace likely has resources in place to support, such as employee assistance programs (EAP). You don’t have to disclose to your HR department why you are seeking EAP, just ask a representative in HR for contact information.
Consider your options
If your anxiety is work-related, ask yourself if it is an issue that needs to be reported or discussed with your manager or human resources department. Problems created at work need to be dealt with there as well. Going straight to the source of difficulties, while uncomfortable at times, is often the fastest way to resolution. If problems are ongoing and with your manager, and you can’t imagine confronting the individual directly, human resources is the next choice.
If you don’t think your anxiety is linked to a specific work situation, perhaps it’s the pace or something specific to the role or industry of your work. Are you happy with your job? Consider how to make improvements, what it would take to enjoy the role you are in currently, or how to find a job you love.
Other options include moving to another department or try something new. In most companies, HR can support you in considering internal options. Gaining new qualifications or training so you can move up the career ladder might be useful. Alternatively, you may be happier with another job or one with greater flexibility.
Anxiety can be unpleasant unless you know how to get rid of it fast, and usually, it takes time to find what works for you. Sometimes, clarifying why you’re unhappy and taking action will do the trick. At others, using calming tools will soothe away tension so you can cope.
Learn more about some of the techniques in this article:
- Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping)
- Meditation for Anxiety
- Anxious 9 to 5: How to Beat Worry, Stop Second-Guessing Yourself, and Work with Confidence
- The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety: The 8-Week Solution to Help You Manage Anxiety, Worry & Stress
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