Anxiety in the Workplace
At one point or another in your career, you will more than likely face some type of anxiety in your life. The stressors that cause this anxiety won’t always be work-related. It can be chronic, can stem from issues at home, finances, and sickness. The list goes on and on, but no matter the cause, anxiety can affect your work, relationships with coworkers, and your overall view of your job.
A Firsthand Look
As someone who has struggled with this since childhood, I’ve seen that anxiety can manifest itself in many ways. I remember the stress and worry that I developed days before performances like piano recitals and Christmas plays which resulted in difficulty eating and sleeping. Throughout the performance I would be nervous and shaky, and for a while afterwards I spent my time wondering if what I had performed was good enough.
Lacking the coping skills to deal with my anxiety, this continued through the two years I spent as a Music Education major in college. I spent my time comparing myself to my peers and believing that I wasn’t good enough. Additionally, I was hours from home and without my big support system, so I shut down and stopped practicing. Rather than pushing through that fear, I let it consume me, and was not successful.
During college, I began going to counseling and started developing healthier ways to work through my anxiety. I learned how to recognize when I was starting to feel anxious, I began to grow the support system around me, and I started to set more boundaries. This skill became important as I entered the workplace.
I’ve had great jobs, but I’ve also had jobs that were not healthy with environments that were often high-stress and consistently tense. There were many days I left angry and days I had breakdowns. There was a job I eventually had to leave for the sake of my mental health. Although I was fortunate enough to have another job lined up, I had seen and experienced on several occasions that leaving is not always a viable or good option.
Managing Your Anxiety in the Workplace
There are differences between working in a toxic environment and having a job that causes anxiety from time to time. So how do you cope? Here are some things I’ve found helpful to manage anxiety in the workplace:
One way my anxiety manifests itself is through panic attacks. My body starts to tense up and I start fidgeting a lot. If it’s really bad I feel like my lungs are closing and I can’t breathe. It’s in these moments I have to be self-aware and remind myself to take deep breaths. Anxiety pushes you into fight or flight mode, so you have to slow down. Take a deep breath, then exhale slowly. Practice this until you settle down. It will help calm your mind.
Get on your feet
Even if it’s only a short distance, getting up and walking can help you loosen up. While you’re up, get some water to stay hydrated. Outside of work, exercise is really good for you. Whether you’re going to the gym, doing yoga, or just taking a nice stroll through nature, exercise helps you relax and relieve tension.
Eat (and drink) well
I enjoy having coffee once in a while, but I’ve found that caffeine, especially on an empty stomach, makes my anxiety worse. Instead of starting out the day with tons of caffeine, try drinking water or some nice, decaf teas first. I personally love chamomile. Although it’s a tea people drink to help them sleep, it can offer a calming and peaceful start to your workday. There are many options out there. Additionally, try eating a wholesome breakfast with protein, fiber, and healthy carbs. Don’t skip meals! Hunger only makes things worse. You are important and it is important to get the nutrients you need to stay well!
Share your story
If you are struggling, talk about it. This is becoming an increasingly important factor of Human Resources and there may be resources available to help you. Let your employer or HR department know what’s going on. If something at work is jeopardizing your mental health it’s important to let the right people know, so proper steps can be taken to rectify the situation.
If the issue comes from outside of work, you don’t have to explain everything, but you can let the appropriate people know so they are aware when something is going on. More often than not, you will find someone who understands how you are struggling because they’ve been there before - even if it wasn’t under the exact circumstances. If you can’t find that support system though, find a community outside of work like trusted friends, family members, spiritual leaders, or counselors.
There are people who absolutely embrace the art of meditation, and there are those that feel completely uncomfortable with the idea of it. A lot of times, that uncomfortable feeling stems from preconceived notions about what meditation is. Meditation made me feel awkward at first, but I didn't really know or understand what it was. However, after meditating more and doing more research, I learned that there are so many different forms, and it can help in many aspects of life. It clears your mind and helps you focus on the present. If you are interested in learning more about it, here is a resource that explains the usefulness of meditation. You can also find guided meditations through downloading apps or doing a simple YouTube search!
Sometimes it helps to simply write out what you are feeling. Even if you don’t share it with anyone, journaling helps you come to grips with your feelings, fears, and thoughts. There have been times when my anger towards a person or a situation contributed to my anxiety, and although journaling may not have completely resolved the issue, it helped me take a step back and think about why I was angry and anxious and what steps I could take to help make things better.
Take a Break
How long has it been since you’ve taken a break? Sometimes you need to take a step back from your job for a moment to work through stressful situations. If you are able to, take a few days off! That time away can help give you the rest you need to avoid work burnout. And it doesn't have to be the most extravagant trip! It could simply be a few days at home, doing what you love. Here is a more in-depth look at why vacation is important.
These are just a few ways you can combat anxiety as you work. You may find that a certain technique helps in one situation but not in another. You have to find out what’s best for you! If after trying a few of these tips you find that your anxiety is still hard to manage, here is a list of other techniques you can try to help resolve and cope with the stressors that affect day-to-day life.
Above all, do what you need to take care of yourself. You are important and you are loved. Anxiety does not define you or make you any less of a person or employee. Your situation does not define you. You will get through this and come out stronger on the other side. Keep up the good work!
Last Updated: 6/19/19
About the Author: Caitlyn Norwood
Caitlyn is a very proud wife and new mom. She often believes she should have been born in the 1960s. The progressive thought and change that occurred in that decade is very inspiring to her. She is the Social Media Strategist at VTR. She loves coming up with new ideas to provide products with innovation and relevance. Her favorite things include political science, alternative history, going to the beach, and listening to all kinds of music-but especially music from Motown.