Anxiety at work? 8 tips to fight the office fear factor
Most of us will openly admit to feeling some anxiety at work. Most of us assume that it’s just part of the job, but for some of us, it’s a bit more than serious than that. Anxiety becomes so overwhelming that it haunts people’s working lives, limits their career aspirations or cuts their career short. It’s important to identify when anxiety at work crosses the line from being an occasional experience, to a real, everyday problem that’s affecting our health and overshadows our lives.
Feeling anxious at work? You are not alone
Latest figures from the Health & Safety Executive1 show that almost half a million (488,000) of us are dealing with work related stress, depression or anxiety, resulting in 11.7 million sick days or an average of 23.9 days per person. These numbers only relate to those who have taken some form of action to address their anxiety, such as seeking help online or approaching their GP for advice, and doesn’t account for the many more who haven’t.
Talking ourselves out of the problem
Anxiety at work is often ignored because we fear being judged by others as being weak or not in control. The idea of anxiety being in the same mental health category as so many more severe mental health issues, often causes confusion and worry about being judged in a similar way. Research from the mental health movement Time to Change showed that almost two fifths (38%) of us have been negatively treated as a result of a mental health problem and almost 1 in 5 (19%) have lost their job.
While public awareness of mental health issues such as anxiety at work has grown thanks to high profile figures such as Prince Harry and Ruby Wax talking to the media about their personal experiences, it’s clear this negative perception around anxiety, particularly at work, is stopping many from seeking the help they need.
Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at mental health charity Mind, said: “There’s still a problem with employees feeling able to talk about their mental health, with only one in four of us (26 per cent) saying we would be likely to seek support from their manager if they were experiencing a mental health problem.”
How much anxiety is too much?
Researchers estimate that we spend approximately 12 years of our lives at work2 or 90,000 hours3, so it’s important to identify the difference between an occasional bout of bad nerves and the kind of constant anxiety that becomes a permanent feature of every single working day. Feeling anxious about taking on a new job, giving a presentation, working to a tight project deadline or facing a big meeting is pretty normal, but feeling anxious constantly throughout the working day is not and would suggest that there is a wider problem that you might need help with. Many of us don’t recognize the symptoms of unhealthy levels of anxiety at work or are simply too busy to notice, because we are so preoccupied with the full-time role of “doing the job”, until it’s too late. You might notice your performance is suffering, or you repeatedly get passed over for promotions or feel a sense of dread about going into the office that affects you even when you’re not at work.
Despite having what most people would consider one of the best jobs in the world, the singer Adele recently revealed that she experiences significant anxiety: “I have anxiety attacks, constant panicking on stage, my heart feels like it’s going to explode because I never feel like I’m going to deliver, ever.”
The symptoms of work anxiety – what you should look out for?
www.nhs.uk tell us that anxiety (often referred to as Generalised Anxiety Disorder or GAD) is a common condition, estimated to affect up to 5% of the UK population. Slightly more women are affected than men, and the condition is more common in people from the ages of 35 to 59. Anxiety can be the symptom phobias such as social phobia, panic disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, but Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a long-term condition that may cause you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific thing.
People with GAD feel anxious most days, and as soon as one anxious thought is resolved, another may appear about a different issue. GAD often results in both psychological and physical symptoms, which can cause a change in the way you think and feel about things.
Typical psychological symptoms – feeling irritable; a sense of dread; feeling constantly “on edge”; feeling withdrawn and difficulty concentrating; overly focusing on the negatives; avoiding social contact including work and feeling lonely.
Typical physical symptoms – tiredness, racing heartbeat, muscle aches, dizziness, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, stomach ache, insomnia and headaches.
Identifying the triggers of anxiety at work
While it’s easy to identify the trigger of a specific work-related phobia, such as public speaking or socialising at an event, Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) might leave you wondering what the problem is. You might not be aware of what’s making you feel anxious at work and this can intensify those stressful feelings and leave you worrying that there’s no solution; so it’s important to seek expert help to help you identify those triggers and find ways to manage them.
Tips for managing anxiety at work
Regardless of whether you’re able to pinpoint a specific cause of anxiety at work or you have GAD, Calmer You has identified a number of techniques that will help you feel more in control and reduce your anxiety levels.
- Lifestyle changes – Many people find that small alterations to their lifestyle can help reduce their anxiety at work, such as introducing a regular exercise routine. Free apps such as Couch to 5K are great for those that have never run before, because they provide simple advice on how to get started, up until you can comfortably run 5K. Yoga is another good way to exercise and relax at the same time.
- Replacing stimulants – Either limiting or restricting our intake of stimulants such as caffeine, smoking, alcohol and sugar can help reduce our anxiety levels. Many wellness sites and coffee shops offer healthy alternatives such as smoothies or turmeric teas, both of which contain relaxing and anti-inflammatory properties that won’t spike your adrenal levels.
- Meditation – Introducing meditation might sound a bit “hippy” to most people or like slowing down when you’re incredibly busy, but doing 10-20 minutes’ meditation a day will help slow down your breathing which in turn will restore a calm state of mind. The slow breathing and focus brought on by meditation relaxes the vagus nerve in our bodies, which is linked to our heart, lungs and digestive system. Calming this system reduces our heart rate and our and adrenal systems, helping us to handle and recover from stressful experiences in a far more effective and relaxed way.
- Take regular breaks – Take regular breaks from your desk. Sitting in the same spot for most of the day can cause lethargy, a lack of focus and is bad for your eyesight. Get some fresh air by taking a short walk around the office building if you’re pushed for time, or join a lunchtime exercise or yoga class if there’s one nearby. You will find that taking your mind off work will give you renewed focus and make you more productive when you return.
- Don’t bring work home – With the advent of smart phones, we are living in an age of always “being on”, but if you have an anxiety problem, it’s vitally important to make time to switch off and relax. This has been recognized as a global problem with many businesses and indeed governments starting to take note of the stressful effect this is having on their workforce. France introduced legislation at the beginning of this year which forces businesses to establish a “right to disconnect” outside of office hours. Some large companies such as Volkswagen and Daimler in Germany have also taken steps to limit out-of-hours messaging to reduce burnout among workers.
- Go on a self-help course – If lifestyle changes have only addressed part of the problem then the natural next step is an online course. Most people prefer the less intrusive and more private approach of taking an online course as a first step in addressing their anxiety, as opposed to consulting a person face-to-face. There are a huge range of courses available, and some will include options such as meditation or hypnotherapy. Join the wait list for the ‘Your Calmest Self’ online course from Calmer You here.
- Communicate with others – Many employers now provide staff with access to free, confidential counselling through an in-house service. Open up about work anxieties with someone you trust, whether that’s with workmates, your manager or HR. Your employer may fund a course that helps address your phobias such as hypnotherapy or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, as part of your personal training plan.
- Mental health organisations – Alternatively, you can get access through local charities such as Mind and voluntary organisations, your GP, or private mental health specialists.
There are organisations such as The City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA) which is a coalition of organisations for City workers that have come together to discuss mental health in the same way as physical health. They state that over 70% of people with a mental health condition fully recover.
- Source: Work related Stress, Anxiety and Depression Statistics in Great Britain 2016