No matter how much we like our jobs, almost all of us will experience anxiety at work. It can make us defensive towards feedback and take comments personally. It can make us misjudge our coworkers’ perceptions of us, believing they dislike us or think we’re not up to the job. It can even make us lose confidence, so we respond negatively to unexpected events or ideas. And when we start avoiding situations which cause workplace anxiety, it can give off the wrong impression: that we’re aloof, superior or difficult.
In short, anxiety at work can quickly snowball. While stress is often unavoidable at work, it should never be crippling or cause serious, enduring unease – and luckily, it can be effectively managed. Try these strategies to minimize your risk of stress and deal with workplace anxiety whenever it strikes.
1. Create a healthy work schedule
When you’re anxious at work, sometimes the last thing you want is to take a break. You might think that getting in super early and working late without a break will help you be more productive, and help reduce the stress you feel, but in fact the opposite is true. It’s essential that your working day is balanced, so put some time aside to create a healthy schedule.
Prioritize the important tasks, but always schedule time for yourself too. Take a five minute break whenever you feel your anxiety rising – find a quiet space for quick meditation, go for a walk, make yourself a drink or just chat to a coworker. Sending a message to your brain that it can relax and reset, even for a few minutes, can make a world of difference.
When you’re dealing with anxiety at work it’s can be tempting to bottle it up, or to think that if you don’t address it it’ll all go away. If only it were that easy! Talking to someone can be a great way to relieve stress. It isn’t about the other person solving your problems, it’s just a chance to express what’s going on inside – to vent, offload and verbally process everything.
It doesn’t matter whether the other person is someone you work with or not – they just need to be a good listener. Sometimes the simple act of voicing your concerns helps alleviate them, whether you’re worrying about a project or a stressful social situation in the office. When people are anxious they can begin to shut themselves off. Don’t – stay open; communicate.
3. Keep busy after work
If you have anxiety at work, sometimes it’s just the thought of getting home and crashing out on the sofa that keeps you going. But this isn’t always the best idea. If you’re doing nothing in the evening the chances are that thoughts of work will start creeping in. You’ll play those anxiety-inducing moments over in your mind, inadvertently making your anxiety rise again – and making it likely tomorrow will be just the same.
Instead, try to keep busy after work. Go for a drink with your coworkers, have dinner with friends, join a book club, start a course, learn a language, commit to the gym, or go visit your family… whatever you choose to do, it’s important to replace those anxious work-related feelings with better ones – and ideally fun, rewarding ones. Work shouldn’t consume your life, and keeping your social life alive is important.
4. Exercise before or after work
That exercise is good for your mental health is not exactly news, so if it’s not already part of your routine you should make so, pronto! Physical exercise releases endorphins – the body's natural painkillers – that elevate your mood and reduce stress; they also help you sleep better, which can have a knock-on effect at reducing anxiety.
If you’re not exactly a fitness fiend, don’t worry: even a brisk walk makes a difference. Try to factor it into your daily routine, whether that’s before or after work – both have their benefits. Exercising before work helps set you up for the day, and exercising after helps prevent anxiety ruining your evening – as well as your night’s sleep.
5. Switch off
If there’s a specific issue behind your anxiety at work, like an important project you’re working on or a deadline you’re worried you can’t meet, it’s tempting to be “always on”, checking your phone every few minutes, waiting to see if the situation changes or if someone sent you an urgent message. But in terms of anxiety levels, it’s one of the worst things you can do.
Set clearly defined boundaries. Turn your phone off or on airplane mode when you’re relaxing to avoid notifications pulling you back in. When you’re having lunch at work, go away from your desk, and don’t check emails. Always turn notifications off at night; seeing messages flashing if you wake up for a moment is a sure fire way to ruin a night’s sleep!
6. Ask for help
If you try these tactics and they don’t work – or you feel your anxiety is too severe to ease with exercise and downtime – don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to your supervisors and tell them how you feel: if you feel your workload is unsustainable or your deadlines are unreasonable, they need to know. Time constraints may need to be rethought and additional resources brought in, but without raising the issue your manager might never know. Asking for help also shows you’re genuinely bothered about doing a good job – and that’s always a positive!
If you don’t think having a lighter workload or more flexible deadlines will help the issue, it can still be a good idea to open up to someone you trust at work, whether that’s your manager or HR. Some workplaces have counselling programs for employees that you might benefit from, or they might be able to refer you to other resources that can help you deal with anxiety. Ultimately, asking for help helps strengthen relationships and improve communication – which is an essential component of staying happy and healthy at work.