How to Deal With Anxiety at Work
“You can’t always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.”– Wayne Dyer
Anxiety isn’t fun, exciting, or glamorous. Anxiety just plain sucks. You’re in a constant state of fear and dread. Your chest hurts. Thoughts are running through your head uncontrollably. And sometimes, you can barely breathe.
It’s unsettling enough dealing with anxiety in your own home or in another comfortable setting. But having to go to work with it is a whole other level. You may feel like you have to conceal your anxiety from your colleagues and act like it doesn’t even exist. It can make you question everything about yourself and your ability to function normally in society. Anxiety can make you feel like you’re crazy and completely alone.
Personally, anxiety has affected my career more than any other area of my life. It’s been a huge challenge and it’s still a battle I face regularly. I have left multiple jobs in which anxiety was a factor behind my departure. So, I feel it’s worth talking about as I’m sure I’m not alone.
I’ll just give it to you straight. It’s absolutely horrendous to go to work when you suffer with anxiety. Since it continues to be a taboo subject in the workplace, a lot of people put on a brave (and often fake) face. People with anxiety are experts at masking their symptoms. And most wouldn’t dare bring it up to anyone for fear of what someone may think or how they will react. And because you so often have this “secret” that you feel you must keep to yourself to remain professional; by the end of the day, you are completely drained. Sometimes, I just have to go home, lay down, and sleep it off.
There have been plenty of occasions when the mere thought of me having to go to work was completely debilitating. Sometimes it led to me calling in so I wouldn’t have to face the day. And it’s not always the job itself that’s giving me anxiety. All too often, it’s anxiety for what the day may bring. What events could possibly transpire and what situations will I find myself in? Which ones can I control, and which ones will I not be able to?
As I did, you may wonder is there anything that can be done to lessen or eliminate your anxiety at work? Yes, I believe so. However, I do think it is unique to the individual and to the environment of the workplace itself. It may be more difficult to manage your anxiety if you find yourself in an open-space environment than say if you had your own office. But the trick is to find some techniques that you can “carry in your back pocket” for those anxiety filled days. And the real treat is that a lot of these suggestions can be used in other situations as well.
Create a Calm and Inspiring Atmosphere
The evening before work and the morning of my workday are my most vulnerable times for anxiety to sneak in. I obsessively replay my expectations for the day in my head or worry what might happen on the way to work, at work, and on the way home. I’m hoping that maybe it will help me feel more comfortable and more in control. But really, it is only making things worse. You see, I’m setting myself up for failure before I even before I get out of bed.
When my anxiety gets like this, I try to listen to something that calms me down. This might be music that I enjoy or a podcast that I’m currently listening to. In the morning, I like to listen to something inspiring and uplifting as I’m getting ready to set a better intention for the day. At night, I like to play some calming music on my TV via YouTube that helps me relax and fall asleep faster.
Change Your Thoughts
Sometimes my anxiety is so strong at work that things can get real ugly quick. I start to shame and berate myself. I think I am an imposter and that there are others here who can do my job better. Sometimes my anxiety turns into panic, and I think the world as we know it is ending. Anytime negative thoughts like these start creep in, I try to become aware of them as quickly as possible and stop them in their tracks! I then replace those negative thoughts with some positive affirmations.
While there are plenty of affirmations at your disposal, I like to repeat ones that are better suited for how I am feeling in the moment. If I am feeling like I suck at my job and that I can’t do anything right, I may repeat affirmations (to myself of course) such as, “you have a lot to offer” or “you are worthy”. If I’m feeling unsafe, I may repeat to myself that “I am safe” or “I am in control”. These affirmations help provide me with the confidence I need to make it through an anxiety filled moment.
I know sometimes it can feel like it’s hard to survive anxiety at work when you feel like you have no privacy. Not everyone has the luxury of their own personal workspace, and some may find themselves in a room full of people. However, there is one thing that is so simple and so discreet that no one will even notice that you’re doing it. Breathing. Practicing simple breathwork can make a world of difference when dealing with your anxiety at work. You can do it while sitting at your desk or at a meeting. You can do it while you’re on the phone or walking down the hallway. The point is you can do it anywhere!
There are so many different techniques when it comes to breathwork, such as 4-7-8 breathing and box breathing (4-4-4-4). Both breathing exercises focus on the number of seconds within each breathing sequence. For example, with 4-7-8 breathing, you will inhale though your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. If you want to be super discreet, you can exhale through your nose instead of your mouth. This should be repeated a few times.
With box breathing, it is the same concept but with different timeframes. You inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, exhale through your mouth (or nose) for 4 seconds, and then hold your breath for another 4 seconds before repeating until you feel more relaxed.
Get Out of the Building if Possible
Sometimes just taking a step outside will cause an energy shift and can help alleviate your anxiety. Take a walk in the parking lot or any nearby trails (if they’re available). Sit in your car for a few minutes and crank up some music. I find that leaving my physical workspace allows for a change in my thinking and gives me a much-needed break. When I still physically went into the office pre-pandemic, I liked to go home for lunch if I lived close by. If that wasn’t an option, I would drive to a neighboring park instead. Just by getting out of the building helped me decompress and break up any negative energy that was surrounding me.
Create a Zen Like Workspace
Your environment can have a big impact on your mood. If your able to, contemplate decorating your workspace to have create a more calming and relaxing atmosphere. What’s included will vary person to person as we all have different things that help ground us. For me, I have a salt lamp in my office to create a more ambient feel. I also like to decorate with pictures of people who are important to me and my past travels. That way I can look at a picture and escape the current reality for a moment.
I also like to have inspirational words posted in various locations in my office. It may take the form of a quote written on a sticky note or a whiteboard. It could also be an inspirational magazine clipping posted on a bulletin board. Also, consider taking a couple of fidget tools to keep in your desk drawer. Whenever I experience anxiety, doing something with my hands helps reduce the intensity and takes my mind off it. Even if it’s only temporary, I find any relief from anxiety to be helpful with getting through the workday.
Keep It Simple
While this is not an exhaustive list of everything that can be done to ease your anxiety at work, I have filled it with tips that I have personally found to be the easiest to implement. When it comes to dealing with anxiety, we all know that what is easy is what is most desired. I hope some of these ideas are helpful for you when dealing with your own anxiety at work.
So how about you? Do you know of any other ideas for dealing with anxiety at work? Have any of the above worked for you?