By Luna Greenstein
There are so many aspects a job that can cause anxiety: having tight deadlines, trying to harmonize a work/life balance, dealing with office gossip and politics, meeting your supervisor’s expectations… the list goes on.
Thanks to all this, most people who work will experience some anxiety at some point. But what do you do if your workplace makes you feel that way on a regular basis? When you dread stepping foot into the office day after day. When something about your job makes anxiety your norm. When you have an anxiety disorder and work constantly triggers your symptoms.
Depending on your situation, it might be helpful to evaluate whether your job is right for you. But if you aren’t able or don’t want to change jobs, there are ways to manage workplace anxiety.
Before you can improve your situation, it’s important to understand what exactly is creating your anxious feelings or worsening the symptoms of your condition. Even if the root of your anxiety is something you can’t change, like having more work than you can handle, knowing the cause can help you figure out next steps. It’s a lot harder to reach a destination without a map.
It may be helpful to talk to a trusted coworker as they can relate to and sympathize with your anxiety. If you don’t have a coworker you trust, you can talk to a friend, family member or mental health professional. Talking about anxiety with the right person can help you process these intense emotions and it can be validating if the person is supportive and understanding. They might also have ideas or suggestions to help you cope.
Anxiety feeds off itself and one anxious thought can turn into 100 pretty quickly. There’s no way I will meet this deadline. What if something else comes up? What if Steve thinks the project is terrible? If you’re feeling inundated with this kind of thought-spiral, it can be helpful to release your thoughts.
One of the most effective ways to do this is by writing them all down. Do a brain dump of all your anxious thoughts—not to understand them, but just to get them “out.” If you’re at home (or somewhere you feel comfortable) thinking about work drama, you can also sing your thoughts. The idea of these practices is that you can’t write or sing as fast as you can think, so you’ll actually be slowing down while you release your unhelpful thought patterns.
If you’re drowning in work, having a hard day or feeling like you can’t meet your supervisor’s expectations, ask your colleagues for help. While it may feel like everyone handles their own work and stress independently, and you should too, this is often not beneficial to anyone. Asking for help when you need it alleviates your burden and builds trust among coworkers. If you feel guilty for taking up their time, offer your support the next time they need help.
Every six months or so, take some time off work and disconnect as much as possible. Don’t feel guilty about it. You deserve time to yourself or with your loved ones. There is no shortage of research about how important it is for your mental health to get regular breaks from work to decompress and reset. It gives you something to look forward to, time to reflect and practice gratitude. Time off also helps build resilience.
The more you fear anxiety, the more powerful it can become. Part of reducing anxiety is accepting that sometimes work is going to make you feel that way. This is a lot easier said than done, but it comes with practice. So, next time you feel your thoughts and heartbeat start to race, take a moment, sit at your desk and tell yourself: “I feel anxious right now and that’s okay. I’m uncomfortable with this feeling and that’s okay. I don’t know how long this will last, and I’m okay with that.” Tell yourself these things and mean them. It can be surprising how much this small act can help.
Workplace anxiety happens to everyone. But for those who experience it regularly, it’s not something you should push aside or ignore. Even if you feel stressed out and under pressure, it’s important to take time to manage your anxiety. Work is important, but it’s not worth your mental health.
Laura Greenstein is communications manager at NAMI.
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