How to deal with anxiety at work
Before training for and building a private practice as a registered psychotherapist, I worked in a more ‘traditional’ way for over 12 years; working 9 to 5 for a number of companies, both in large corporate environments and for a small privately-owned business.
I remember feeling A LOT of tension and stress during the work week, and sometimes it would feel like forever waiting for five o’clock on Fridays to roll around. And while the weekends brought some relief from the stress, inevitably the sense of dread would start getting stronger and stronger as Sunday inched closer to Monday morning.
Does this sound familiar to you?
If you experience anxiety and high levels of stress at and thinking about work, you’re not alone.
It has been reported that over 40 million individuals over the age of 18 in the United States are affected by anxiety and stress.
According to a 2006 survey conducted by the Stress & Anxiety Disorders Association of America, 40% of those who participated in the survey report that they have “persistent stress or excessive anxiety daily” and 70% of those surveyed reported that anxiety and stress interferes with their daily lives.
The survey also provided some key insights into the specific sources of workplace anxiety and stress:
• 56% worried about their performance at work
• 51% reported that their stress stemmed from workplace relationships (peers and colleagues)
• 55% experienced anxiety regarding deadlines
• 43% felt stress related to relationships with management and superiors
At the very least, the findings of this survey illustrates that anxiety at work is not only real, but not unusual.
While there are still unfortunately many people who may dismiss emotional and psychological distress as “not real” or at least not as relevant as physical ones, the number of people turning to online searches for answers and help would more than suggest that these are real issues facing many people in the workforce today.
Further, if you happen to be searching for some support or answers for yourself, to deny that you’re feeling anxious or stressed about work is not only unhelpful, it may also get worse if you don’t find ways to learn how to manage those challenging feelings productively.
According to the same survey, many people turn to the following behaviors, which can have further negative impact on overall health and everyday life:
• 52% take medication (prescription or over-the-counter)
• 39% report eating more
• 50% cope by sleeping more
However, please note… This post is NOT a means of diagnosis or providing a treatment plan. If your experiences of anxiety or stress are acute, intolerably intense, ongoing or unmanageable, please consult a trusted medical and/or mental health professional.
Three ways to start coping with anxiety and stress related to work
Learn to breathe better
One of the first suggestions I often make to clients when it comes to managing anxiety is to breathe.
Yes, I know… I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve heard this before and maybe you’re even rolling your eyes right now.
But hear me out: When we’re experiencing anxiety or stress, we start to not breathe as deeply as when we’re relaxed. And when we have less oxygen, the more tense the body is and as a result, it makes it more difficult to feel less stress and anxious.
In fact, many of us no longer may even be aware of how to breathe deeply and as effectively as possible.
Due to our response to stress over prolonged periods of time, a good number of us have become habituated to become shallow breathers, taking less air in than optimal.
This creates a state where the body remains in a consistent pattern of stress, where anxiety has caused a shorter range of breathing and the more shallow breathing also causing stress by not providing the body with an adequate level of oxygen.
The body’s response to shallow breathing signals the sympathetic nervous system (the ‘flght or flight’ response) to be continually activated.
By consciously training yourself to take deeper breaths, it can help to break the physiological anxiety response.
Record or share the specific sources of your anxiety
Among the ways to deal with any challenging emotions is to discover ways to express your thoughts and feelings. This is where keeping a journal can be valuable in helping to manage your psychological health.
Journalling can help improve and manage your stress and anxiety by:
• Keeping records of any daily symptoms to track triggers and patterns, which will allow you to have a more informed idea of how to manage them better
• Providing you with an outlet to express your fears, problems, and issues externally, which can give you a different perspective of them
• Offering a chance to recognize any patterns of negative habits and ways of thinking
By taking the time to write out your thoughts and feelings in a journal, it can provide a way to recognize what the specific causes of your stress or anxiety at work may be.
When you are are able to determine what those factors are, you can start to focus on a strategy to deal with specific issues which, in turn, will help reduce your anxiety and stress.
The best way to get started is to attempt to write every day. To develop the habit, it can help to schedule a few minutes in the morning every day and commit to doing so for three days straight.
Make it as simple as possible by either keeping a journal app on your device or a small notebook with you to have a place to jot down your thoughts or a file you can keep on your computer.
A journal can help you maintain a sense of organization when things at work can feel as though they are in turmoil. Furthermore, journalling can assist you to be more self aware thereby helping you to manage your feelings of stress and anxiety more effectively.
Take control of what you can
While there may be many variables in your workplace which you might not be able to control, have an understanding of what you can control.
For instance, it’s not possible to know exactly what your boss or your co-workers might do at any given time, but you can start developing a better sense of how to control your own time, productivity and reactions by having better self awareness.
Start by taking an inventory of your work day. Do you feel frazzled first thing in the morning? Or do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by how to start your day?
You might benefit from developing a morning routine. Getting up at a specific time every morning, establishing a daily list to take care of your needs for the day (e.g.: eating breakfast, preparing lunch and snacks, working out) and getting out the door at the same time every day can eliminate some of the stress of having to be reactive or make decisions on a day-to-day basis.
Eliminating some of those routine choices from your day means the less non-essential decisions will be required of you to make and doing so can also help reduce your levels of anxiety and stress by not engaging the area of your brain that is responsible for anxiety and making decisions.
Design the morning routine that best works for you, but it might look something like this:
• 7am – Get up and out of bed
• 7:20am – Complete morning hygiene
• 7:30am – Light stretches
• 7:40am – 5 minutes of journalling, meditation and/or self-reflection
• 7:45am – Prepare breakfast and/or morning nutrition
• 8:15am – Out the door
Of course, it’s all easier said than done and it’s also understandable that even the idea of putting something like this in place can add some feelings of stress, but making the decision to put in the hard work now can result in longer term relief.
If creating and executing an entire morning routine in one shot feels too anxiety provoking, consider putting one habit in place at one time.
Start with establishing a specific time to wake up every morning and once you find that you are able to do that consistently (more than three days in a row), move onto integrating the next step into your routine.
Eventually, it will become a habit and doing so will provide you with the benefits of lessened daily workday stress.
This post and this site is not a means of diagnosis or providing a treatment plan. If your experiences of anxiety or stress are acute, intolerably intense, ongoing or unmanageable, please consult a trusted medical and/or mental health professional.