It is not uncommon to experience stress in the workplace from time to time, regardless of the industry in which you work or your specific role. Stress at work can arise for a number of reasons, including upcoming major deadlines, making a presentation, voicing your opinion in a difficult meeting or learning and implementing new skills, just to name a few. In some cases, experiencing stress at work can give us the focus and motivation we need to achieve what is required of us.
However, experiencing anxiety (i.e. chronic worry and concern) at work is not something that should be endured, and when left untreated, can wreak havoc not only in the work life of a person suffering from anxiety but also in their personal life. In addition to the physical, emotional and behavioural symptoms of anxiety (please see our article ‘What Are The Main Types Of Anxiety Disorders?’ for more information on anxiety symptoms), anxiety experienced in the workplace may lead to:
- decreased productivity and performance
- a reduction in quality of work
- strained working relationships (e.g. with managers, supervisors or colleagues)
- a negative impact on physical, mental and emotional health and energy
- the requirement to take sick leave
- losing interest in your work
- reduced self-confidence
- difficulty concentrating, and
- emotional reactivity.
What causes anxiety at work for one person can differ to the next, and the following are some examples of what may cause a person to feel anxious in the workplace:
- the requirement to achieve major deadlines
- an excessive task list (feeling overloaded)
- lack of organisation and planning
- lack of proper communication
- poor teamwork
- working with intimidating or difficult people and/or situations of conflict, and
- participating in or being a victim of workplace gossip.
In this article, we take a look at a number of different strategies you can implement if anxiety is troubling you at work. (However, please note that if you are experiencing anxiety, it is imperative you seek professional help from a qualified therapist; the below strategies may be considered in addition to professional therapy).
Helpful Strategies for Managing Anxiety At Work
Write Down Your Task List, Break Larger Tasks Down into Smaller Components and Set Realistic and Achievable Deadlines
Write Down Your Task List
If you are feeling especially overwhelmed by the vast number of tasks you need to complete, writing a task list is a great place to start when trying to ease feelings of anxiety at work. Simply writing down what you need to achieve can help you empty your mind and stop you from having to worry about remembering everything you need to do. Once you have written down your task list, take some time to prioritise your tasks.
An added bonus is that when you have completed a task, ticking it off your task list can give you satisfaction and self-confidence that you can achieve what you need to. Do your best to stay organised and file any relevant paperwork or other materials as you complete each task (to avoid a messy desk/workspace, which can make you feel overwhelmed and unable to concentrate on the task at hand).
Break Larger Tasks Down into Smaller Components
Taking a major project that is causing you to feel anxious and breaking it down into smaller, much more manageable components is an effective way to reduce stress related to large projects. Writing up a plan, step-by-step allows you to tick off each component or task as you go, and you can visualise your movement towards completing the project.
Where you can, try to focus on the most important and manageable tasks to begin with. Completing the more challenging or unpleasant tasks early in the piece can make the remainder of the project’s journey more enjoyable, not to mention the sense of achievement and drive you will likely feel facing the most difficult components first up.
Set Realistic and Achievable Deadlines
When you receive a project or task from a manager or co-worker, be as honest and upfront as you can as to how long it will realistically take to complete it. Doing so can prevent you from feeling any unnecessary anxiety and stress due to not allowing enough time to work on it.
Avoid Putting Off Difficult Tasks or Conversations
It is easy to avoid working on a challenging task or having a difficult conversation with a colleague. Unfortunately, doing so may only temporarily relieve your anxiety, until you come to a point where the task or conversation must be faced. Do your best not to avoid particularly challenging tasks or conversations and face them sooner rather than later.
Arrive at Work A Little Earlier Than Required
Rushing via foot, bicycle, car, public transport or other method to your workplace before the beginning of your work day or shift can result in you feeling anxious before your day has even begun. It can be of great benefit to allow yourself a little extra time to get ready and/or commute to work, which can enable you to arrive feeling more relaxed and give you extra time to prepare what you need to do for the day ahead.
Take the Time To Build Strong Working Relationships
Get to know your colleagues. Make a special effort to learn their names, their roles and specific responsibilities. That way, when you need to speak with a co-worker or ask for their help, you have already laid the grounds for a solid working relationship and needn’t feel especially nervous or anxious approaching them.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help When You Require It
When you are new to a role or under a large degree of pressure at work, it can be very easy to slip into the habit of saying “yes” to or accepting more and more tasks. However in the long run, this can leave you overloaded and feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Look after both your short term and long-term mental health by being upfront and asking for assistance and/or clarification from management or your co-workers when you require it.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, it is very important to talk to your boss and explain to them your concerns and how you are feeling. In some cases, your manager may not be aware that you are overloaded (or are struggling with some other work-related issue). It is in a business’ or organisation’s best interests to keep its employees feeling happy and healthy, so don’t be afraid to speak up when you feel the need.
Communicate Clearly Using Neutral Language
Conflict is just about inevitable at some stage in our working lives, regardless of your industry or specific role. However, there are a number of helpful tips you can apply when it comes to communicating calmly and effectively with colleagues. It can help to use neutral language, remain calm and ensure both parties are heard equally when a problem arises. Try to be specific about what is causing you concern and stick to the facts.
Do your best to resolve conflict as quickly and as smoothly as possible; after all “winning” or having the upper hand in a conflict does not necessarily reduce anxiety. In fact, it can mean the opposite. The end goal should always be resolving the situation and coming to an end agreement approved (as much as possible) by both parties.
If you are concerned something has been misinterpreted in writing (e.g. in the case of emails) or you are confused about the subject at hand, don’t be afraid to speak on the phone or in person to clear up the situation.
Recognise What Triggers Your Anxiety in The Workplace
It can be very helpful to keep a pen and paper (or electronic device if preferred) handy over the course of a week or a month, for example, and write down when you feel anxious at work and why (for example, feeling overloaded or dealing with a difficult colleague). After some time, you should be able to recognise what triggers your anxiety at work. Therefore, you can devise a plan as to how you can best remain calm and centred when presented with a challenge that ignites your anxiety.
Take Regular Breaks (Where Possible)
As often as you can and is considered appropriate, hop up from your desk or workspace, etc, and take a break. Whether it be taking a walk through the office/building, filling up your water bottle, doing a few gentle stretches or a brief meditation, regular breaks can help you remain focused on your task list and can help to reduce mental stress and fatigue.
Have A Few Go-to Calming Techniques You Can Implement with Ease When You Begin to Feel Anxious
When anxiety strikes at work, our body activates what is referred to as a “fight or flight” response, which causes us to experience physical, emotional and/or behavioural anxiety symptoms. By having a few tricks up your sleeve to help ease your anxiety when it arises at work, you can work to reduce these symptoms and feel calm once more. You may wish to consider some gentle stretches at your workspace, taking a quick walk, talking to a trusted colleague or taking some deep breaths. Choose some techniques that suit you best and work to implement them when you begin to feel anxious at work.
Ensure You Are Getting Quality Sleep
In situations where we are not getting enough quality sleep (generally in the range of 7 to 9 hours per night for adults), it can make dealing with challenges in both our personal lives and at work even more challenging. Do your best to make your sleep a high priority, so you have as much energy as possible to tackle what you need to achieve each day in the workplace.
If you are keen to learn how you can improve your sleep habits (i.e. sleep hygiene) to maximise your sleep quality and duration, take a look at our article ‘Improve Your Sleep: How To Practice Good Sleep Hygiene’ via this link.
Prioritise Healthy Eating
Similar to the way enough quality sleep helps set us up for optimal energy levels, consuming a balanced nutritious diet of lots of fresh wholefoods (in addition to adequate hydration) can help you put your best foot forward when it comes to having sustained energy to manage your task list at work.
Engage in Regular Exercise That You Enjoy
Exercise has a wide variety of benefits for people suffering from anxiety, which may be of great assistance when anxiety strikes at work. Regular exercise:
- enhances our mood (thanks to the release of feel-good endorphins)
- enables the release of pent-up physical tension
- gives us a natural boost of energy
- is a healthy means of distracting ourselves from our worries and concerns
- boosts self-confidence and builds resilience (as we improve our physical strength and appearance, as well as recognise our ability to achieve our goals and safely push beyond our comfort zone)
- enhance our ability to focus on the present moment (as opposed to what is worrying us)
- encourages positive social interaction
- promotes quality sleep (due to physical tiredness and reduced stress levels)
- may help to alleviate symptoms of associated conditions (like depression, for example), and
- promotes overall good health.
For more information on how exercising regularly can help you to manage your anxiety at work, please check out our article ‘Benefits of Regular Exercise for Anxiety Sufferers’ by clicking here.
Spend Time with Family and Friends Beyond The Workplace
Anxiety can cause us to withdraw from the people we care about, however, it is very important to do your best keeping up your social activity beyond the workplace. Spending time with family and friends that bring you joy can help to reduce feelings of anxiety. Socialising gives you the opportunity to talk about how you are feeling and to seek support (or, it can serve as a tool of distraction, depending on how you are feeling). Having a laugh and sharing positive experiences with others can bring us joy and can go a long way in lifting our mood.
Give Mindfulness Meditation A Shot
Mindfulness meditation, or the practice of focusing the mind (meditation) on the present moment (mindfulness) involves focusing our complete attention on the present moment, rather than our worries and concerns. Practising mindfulness meditation regularly can enable you to experience a number of amazing benefits for anxiety experienced in the workplace, including:
- reduced rumination and increased ability to focus on the present moment (as opposed to what has happened in the past or may happen in the future)
- increased production of the neurotransmitter ‘serotonin’ (which is important for mood regulation and boosting cognitive function)
- reduced stress (thanks to reduced activity in the ‘amygdala’ (i.e. the part of our brain responsible for igniting our stress response))
- reduced emotional reactivity (by practicing detachment from our thoughts that lead to us feeling distressed and/or upset), and
- improved sleep (due to a reduction in stress and increased ability to ease racing thoughts when going to sleep).
If the concept and practice of mindfulness meditation is new to you, it may be of great benefit for you to take a look at our article ‘Beginners Guide To Mindfulness Meditation For Depression And Anxiety’ which can be accessed by clicking here.
Do Your Best to Maintain Work-Life Balance
We must remember, that at the end of the day, we (the majority of us) work to live and not live to work. Focusing much of your attention on your job can leave you feeling burnt out and can contribute to further anxiety. It is vital to maintain a work-life balance, whereby your life is a mix of work, play (i.e. time spent with the people you love and enjoying hobbies and relaxation time) and taking care of your health (such as exercising and eating well), in addition to any family and household responsibilities. Make the most of your annual leave where you can and take time off to rest and rejuvenate your body and mind.
There are a number of different tools you can implement to help reduce feelings of anxiety in the workplace, as discussed above. However, these tools alone are not enough to help you recover from anxiety. If you or someone you care about are battling anxiety, please get in touch with our friendly and professional team at Brain Wellness Spa who can assist you with your recovery from anxiety.