Did anxiety at work make you wish you could just hide in bed instead of going to work every morning? Living with anxiety can be a real challenge, and a job is no exception.
The job itself can cause you workplace anxiety. A challenging working environment is just a constant balance above the abyss. Talking with co-workers makes you nervous. Promotion means you just got more responsibilities and more stress.
Anxiety impacts your work itself: it can be hard to focus, plan your priorities, and do your best. Anxiety makes people forgetful, struggling to meet deadlines, or distracted by their somatic (mental health causes body sensations) problems, such as tension, headaches, upset stomach.
The good thing is that there are ways to calm your anxiety at the workplace. Here are 5 steps you can take.
Step 1: Listen to What Your Anxiety Is Trying to Tell You
All your feelings are there for a reason. Just how the Pixar movie "Inside Out" illustrated, all of your emotions try to communicate with you or assist you in reacting appropriately.
Anxiety is here to say: "Something is wrong, please, be attentive." But often, people try to suppress this feeling and live as nothing is happening. They expect the emotion to fade on its own, but that is not the purpose of any emotion. Similar to tooth pain that doesn't diminish if you do nothing about it, anxiety won't either.
The only way to deal with it is to either change the situation or your thoughts about it. But for that, you should try to figure out what worries you. If you already know what stresses you, that's already a step closer to calmness. You can just skip this part and read the second step.
But if you are unsure what worries you, it's time to spend some moments alone, without any distractions, trying to stay with your feelings. It may be unpleasant at first, but try not to suppress any thoughts and, instead, give them space.
Maybe your personal life is quite complicated right now. Perhaps your deadlines are too tight. Or maybe, interacting with your co-workers makes you uneasy. And what if everything seems to be making you nervous?
Everyone experiences stress at work, but if your worries are out of proportion, over welcoming their stay, and making your life harder, it might be an anxiety disorder. It can be harder to deal with than simple anxiety, but many things can help you live an anxiety-free life, or at the very least, make it easier.
Step 2: Learn to Make Your Work Less Stressful
When you have identified the core issues, it will be easier to work around them to make your life less stressful. If you have ignored your anxiety for some time, these tips about managing stress in the workplace may not seem very appealing to you at first. However, in the long turn, anxiety can lead to burnout which will cause much more problems than asking for a bit more comfortable work conditions.
So focus on your goal for more relaxing work, and try out the things below if they are not in your work routine yet.
Set realistic limits
You may sometimes accept unrealistic deadlines or more tasks just because you are anxious. It may look rude to say no, but standing your ground and maintaining a healthy pace, will significantly reduce your workplace anxiety.
Work on one task at once
Try not to think about everything that needs to be done; just focus on what you have to do now. Anxiety often diminishes when your thoughts are on the present moment.
Plan more on larger tasks
Setting mini-deadlines for parts of the project will make it look less scary. It will also encourage you to start immediately, avoiding procrastination and guilt.
Make sure you know what to do
Sometimes, supervisors or managers think their workers already understand how to do a novel task when, in reality, they have no clue. Politely asking for clarification will save you time, stress, and unpleasant conversations later on.
Breaks will help prevent you from getting more stressed. When things get stressful, take time to walk outside or find a place for some relaxation or breathing exercises.
Try grounding practices, such as the 5 senses technique. It's a simple exercise that works great when you need to calm down fast.
- Look closely at 5 things you can see.
- Feel or touch 4 things around you: it can be your clothes, your glasses, or items on your table.
- Listen to 3 sounds you can hear.
- Identify 2 different smells.
- Find 1 thing you can taste. It can be just your saliva or candy.
Short relaxations may not seem much, but they are very effective if you find the right one that works for you. Every bit counts.
Taking time to reward yourself for your achievement will increase your confidence. It will make you trust your skills more in the future.
Give yourself some space
If you don't like attending office parties or talking with someone, you have all the right to stay away from it. But make sure you are not ignoring the problem this way, such as trying to avoid a colleague you had an argument with. Avoiding problems causes more anxiety.
Step 3: Speak With Your Manager. Or Not.
It's entirely up to you if you want your manager or supervisor to know about the anxiety you feel at the workplace. A good manager will take it into account by helping you implement the steps above or finding ways to make you feel more comfortable. After all, it's their interest to provide you with everything you need to work most effectively.
If you are afraid to talk about it, carefully choose the right words focused on benefits. Instead of saying: "I can't do it, I'm just too stressed," say: "I would be more concentrated if I worked from home more," or: "My slides could speak better than me if you could read them instead of me presenting."
If you are afraid to be discriminated against for your anxiety disorder, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 protects qualified workers.
However, if you don't want other people to know about your mental state or decide that your manager is not the person with whom you could share this, that's okay. You can try to make your workplace more comfortable without disclosing the reasons.
Step 4: Learn to Reduce Your Anxiety in Your life
If you are experiencing workplace anxiety, it is necessary that you address it outside of work hours as well.
Learning how to stay in the present moment will help you not to wrap up in your worries. Mindfulness is a great skill to have because it doesn't require any specific time or setup. You can listen to guided meditations in the metro or have a 20-second break to focus on your environment and sensations. Once you master mindfulness, it requires much less effort to calm yourself down.
Take care of your health
Your body is directly connected to your mind. Caffeine stimulates your “fight or flight” response, just like anxiety does. Studies suggest that an upset belly doesn't only make you feel uncomfortable but can cause anxiety disorder.
Make sure you leave anxiety no space to get cozier in your body.
- Get enough sleep. Rest for 7–9 hours. But if that's too long for you, don't worry. Deep sleep restores brain parts that regulate emotions, so the quality of sleep is more important than quantity. Most people need 7–9 hours for a good rest, but some can feel refreshed after 6 hours.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol. If you experience severe anxiety, too much caffeine can harm you or even cause panic attacks. Alcohol has a similar effect.
- Exercise. Sweating up a little relaxes tense muscles that make your body think you are less nervous. Increased heart rate signalizes your brain that it's time to relax.
If you are interested in more ways to reduce anxiety, check this article.
Step 5: For Those Who Have Already Tried Everything – Reach for Help
Maybe you've tried all of these methods, but they don't seem to work. In fact, it's common for anxiety. The purpose of your brain is to survive. And when this survival mechanism isn't working properly, it can be hard to fix it just by breathing calmly. If you run out of self-help options or suffer from severe stress, even if at work only, reach for help.
Some therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT for short), are very effective in reducing anxiety. CBT works on your mind, teaching you how to change anxious, negative thoughts to more realistic ones step by step. It incorporates your bodily sensations as well. A therapist may even help you face your fears, such as public speaking, and get rid of them.
But simply following CBT techniques may not always be enough. A therapist will always look at your personal situation and find the best ways to help you. They can combine different approaches to teach you more about yourself and dig deep to the core of your anxiety.
If you aren't sure about going to a therapist, online therapy for anxiety is a great option. You can talk with your therapist from your couch or text them on the go. If meeting new people makes you nervous, online counseling allows you to simply text your therapist throughout the week.
Breathe in, You Can Handle It
Trying to work and suppress your anxiety at the same time can feel like juggling when you don’t know how to do it. But with enough patience, time, and knowledge, one can start to feel that going to work becomes a calmer and more pleasant activity. If you struggle to manage anxiety on your own, find a therapy most suited for you. If you would like to try therapy online, we are ready to help.