Anxiety at work is incredibly hard to deal with. You’re in the bathroom, dapping cold water on your face with a tissue. You thought about having a little cry in the toilet cubicle but you can’t bear the thought of going back to your desk and seeing your colleagues with a tear-stained face.
Or maybe you work from home and the idea of another meeting on Zoom when you’ve got so much on your plate is making your chest tighten up – like there’s a belt around your heart – slowly squeezing.
Anxiety at work is awful; having to face it every day and feeling like there’s no escape.
If you work for yourself (like me) it can feel as though resting and taking breaks is a luxury you can’t afford. Or you feel guilty about it.
If you have a manager you might lack control over your workload or struggle with work relationships.
The good news is: there are plenty of ways to manage your stress and anxiety so that they don’t interfere with your ability to do your job well! In today’s post, I’ll share 6 tips on how to better deal with these feelings when they come up at.
Signs of Anxiety at Work
Work anxiety refers to anxiety that is either triggered by work situations or made worse by work. Don’t get me wrong, some anxiety is normal. Many people will feel a bit nervous before a job interview or a big presentation. But it becomes a problem when it disturbs our every day and holds us back from enjoying and achieving at our work.
What are some of the classic signs of work anxiety? Perhaps you go to work with a knot in your stomach, dreading the day ahead. It might be hard to get out of bed and face the day. It could impact your sleep so that you struggle to get good rest the day before a big workday, or you wake up super early, full of adrenaline as you anticipate the day ahead.
You might find yourself wanting to avoid things – skipping meetings, saying no to opportunities to present, or take on more responsibility, because it just feels too much.
It might be hard to concentrate because your mind is always busy. You’re fidgety and restless and you end up procrastinating. The procrastination might relieve some of the anxiety in the short term, but you end up beating yourself up and under more pressure when the deadline looms.
Maybe it’s that you put a tonne of pressure on yourself. You never feel good enough, you strive for perfection but never feel you reach it. So it’s hard to switch off and you’re close to burning out.
If any of this rings true, read on for some tips and advice on how to tackle this.
Causes of Anxiety at Work
There might be a single cause (Hello, narcissistic boss!) or, more likely, there’s a range of issues that culminate in a load of anxiety at work.
Perhaps you have anxiety already, whether it’s GAD, social anxiety, or panic disorder and the pressures of work just add to it.
You might be experiencing a lot of stress at work, they’re making people redundant in your department, the workloads are excessive, you have an ineffective (or just plain incompetent) manager.
Or maybe it isn’t external factors at all – for you – the issue is internal. You have a harsh inner critic, you get overly stressed over small issues or you struggle with difficult conversations and delegating. None of this is your fault, but it’s important to get help for these things if they are holding you back.
Here are my 6 Ways to Manage Anxiety at Work
1. Address the root cause
If you’re experiencing anxiety at work, chances are that there could be a root cause that has little to do with the external circumstances of your work. Whether it’s childhood trauma, perfectionism that roots back to earlier in your life, self-esteem issues, or social anxiety – all these things can manifest as anxiety at work. It’s easy to blame external factors, your boss, the hours, the job itself – but unless you work at the root of your anxiety – those factors could change, but the anxiety at work remains. Find a therapist who can help you to work through your childhood trauma, delve into your perfectionism and make a plan to enhance your self-esteem. So much of this is an inside job.
2. Learn to rest
A huge factor in work anxiety is burnout and our inability to rest, take breaks and take care of ourselves. This isn’t your fault; it’s been programmed into us at an early age. ‘Put others first’, ‘be perfect’ and ‘don’t ask for help’ are all messages we get exposed to. Many of us have internalised capitalism to the point where we believe our worth is only linked to how much we achieve and do. But rest is vital if we want to be happy and do a good job.
Think of yourself as an older person, aged 99 on your death bed. Looking back on your life, you’ll wish you’d taken more time to savour the moment, spend time with loved ones, have sex on a random Tuesday, and take weekends off to walk in the countryside. No one wishes they’d worked more. In fact, one of the biggest regrets of the dying is that they wish they hadn’t worked so hard. Please remember that rest is productive. Schedule it in. Book in that massage and yoga class. Treat yourself like the Queen/King/Non-binary Royal that you are.
3. Avoid avoiding
Although it can be tempting to want to avoid meetings/presentations or social events with colleagues, the issue with avoiding is that it can make matters worse. When you avoid something, you reaffirm to yourself that the meeting/presentation/work event is dangerous and should be avoided. I’m not saying to force yourself to do things when you’re in panic mode. But if something like giving a presentation causes us some anxiety, avoiding it may only strengthen your fear of public speaking.
We need support to get to the root of our anxiety, tools to help ourselves to cope, and then to gently challenge ourselves to face our fears. That way, you slowly learn that meetings, events, or speaking in public are not life-threatening – you survive (it may even go well) and it gets a little bit easier next time. Add to that the fact that most of the time, the things we worry about end up turning out well – or we handle them better than we expected.
4. Get enough sleep, rest, and exercise
Yes, I know this is super basic – but when it comes to anxiety at work, the basics really count. If you’re burning the candle at both ends, working long hours, not getting enough sleep, pumping yourself full of caffeine and sugar, and sitting at your desk 10 hours a day – you’re going to feel it. Get the basics in order and everything else becomes easier.
Going to bed at a reasonable hour (listen to a hypnotherapy recording before sleep if you struggle to switch off), sticking to one coffee a day (or none ideally!), having a lunchtime walk, and taking breaks to stretch, chat to colleagues or look at the sky and ponder the meaning of life are going to go a long way in helping you to feel less anxiety at work. Self-care is vital – the more you look after yourself, the better you’re going to be for your boss, colleagues, team, friends, and family.
5. Release tension in your body
A stressful conversation, tense meeting or tight deadline cause adrenaline to pump through our bodies – but we don’t use up that extra energy. Hence; anxiety.
A technique that helps me massively is to get up every hour or so to stretch, shake and move my body. I might head outside and jump up and down, put on a song to shake to, or pull out the yoga mat and do a little downward dogging. If you work in an office – pop into the loos to do your shaking – or get the team involved! It’s a great way to discharge stress and tension and calm your nervous system back down again.
6. Talk with someone about how you’re feeling
A colleague, the HR department, your manager, a therapist, a friend. It’s amazing how often I hear this; I felt like I couldn’t tell anybody, but when I did I felt so much better!’
Anxiety will try to tell you that you’re alone, that no one will understand, and that it won’t help to tell anyone anyway. But that’s just the anxiety talking. Keeping it to yourself serves no one and getting help is always a good idea.
Many workplaces know that when you’re given support for your anxiety at work, you become a better employee; they are likely keen to help.
I know, it’s scary and vulnerable to be open, but you’d be surprised; almost everyone knows someone with anxiety (if they don’t experience it themselves – which there’s a fair chance they do!)
Give your manager a heads up beforehand and let them know that you want to talk about how you’re feeling at work – or investigate what other types of support your workplace may offer.
There are also helplines like Samaritans and charities like MIND who have people who can support you.
If you’re self-employed, try to have some self-care in place and see it as a cost of doing business. Whether that’s weekly therapy sessions, a monthly massage, or a lunchtime breathwork class – make it a priority. Your mind is your money-maker and you need to take care of it!
I hope these tips have been helpful – let me know in the comments which one you’ll be trying – or if you have any tips for taking anxiety at work.