How To: Manage Anxiety in the Workplace
Many people don’t know this about me, in fact, it’s something I’ve masked for years, but I suffer from Anxiety Disorder, more than I’d ever like to admit. But, here I am opening myself up; being completely and utterly vulnerable. I find that my anxiety plagues me; mostly at night, which in turn leads to insomnia, but often while I’m in the office too.
To manage my anxiety at home, I have certain methods that I subscribe to, such as a foam topper for my bed and a weighted blanket. These two things saved my life, literally. I usually couple that with the adult coloring book app on my phone, which really helps me re-center myself, in addition to some other things if that doesn’t work.
While I have been able to cope with my anxiety at home, I find that anxiety in the workplace is still a tough one. I never felt like I could tell my colleagues “Hey I feel really anxious now”, without being looked at as a crazy person, or so I thought. I would constantly feel worried about my performance and often felt overwhelmed by the pressures of my job. It seemed like common office situations—anything from talking to co-workers in the elevator to speaking up on a meeting—brought on heightened stress. But, ironically, I’m a project manager so a lot of the high-stress encounters were practically unavoidable for me.
What did my workplace anxiety look like? I found that I had trouble concentrating on the work in front of me, which sometimes resulted in chronic self-doubt and work nightmares.
While it’s true that nearly everyone experiences some level of stress these days, living and working with anxiety is different. It can be crippling, but it doesn’t have to push you down. Beyond getting the right diagnosis, you might consider incorporating some simple coping strategies into your daily life.
1. Know Your Triggers
Pay attention to situations that spike your anxiety—whether that’s getting feedback, writing important emails, being put on the spot, or starting the day with a messy desk.
Keep a journal to document your observations and look for patterns. When you know what makes you the most uneasy, you can better anticipate challenges and create a plan to deal with triggers.
When I realized rushing was one of my anxiety triggers, I created a warm-up ritual to practice before big meetings. I started blocking off 20 minutes before the start of my meeting to review the agenda, jot down questions to ask, and grab water.
2. Have Go-To Grounding Techniques
Anxiety activates the body’s fight or flight response, which sets off a number of uncomfortable reactions from sweating to tunnel vision. Calming yourself with grounding techniques, or ways to stay in the present moment can get you back in control and feeling better fast.
Meditation, stretching, calling a friend, or going for a walk are all great options. You’ll have to find what works best for you (depending on your personality and what’s acceptable in your office environment), but this list is a great place to start. Luckily for me, one of my closest friends works for the same organization as I do, so quick chats and kitchen breaks with her really help me ground myself.
Your company might even offer mindfulness or yoga classes or encourage power napping for productivity. All of these are self-care options that can greatly benefit the anxious mind.
3. Create Conditions for Success
Make your well-being part of your daily to-do list. Simple changes like avoiding too much caffeine, working by a window with natural light, and controlling noise in your work space with headphones can all help keep the racing thoughts at bay. While you can’t control most of your environment, make it a point to change what you can.
Prioritizing rest is huge. Studies have found that getting more sleep helps about 50% of people feel more at ease and less anxious. Outside of the office, focus on creating rock solid work-life boundaries. For instance, pick a non-negotiable time to put away your work—and stick to it.
Scheduling fun after-hours activities can help make that a reality.
4. Ask for What You Need
Know your rights when it comes to managing your mental health at work. You can ask for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, including a flex schedule, additional time for assignments, and more frequent breaks.
Consider also making reasonable requests that will help you enormously—things like soliciting questions ahead of a presentation or asking your boss not to send you late-night emails unless it’s absolutely urgent.
If you’re explicit about your needs, respectful of others’ time and schedules, and intentional about producing quality work, it’s likely your team will have no problem honoring your preferences.
5. Set Micro-Goals
Setting small, achievable goals is always smart, but it’s even more important when you struggle with anxiety. You want to expand your comfort zone, yes, but you also want to be careful not to overwhelm yourself.
For example, if you’re trying to grow your network and change careers, you might aim to go to one industry event each month—not one each week. Setting realistic expectations for yourself is key to not only building positive momentum, but also preserving your well-being.
Living and working with anxiety doesn’t have to be debilitating. While there may be setbacks in your journey, make sure you celebrate every little victory along the way. Rally a support team around you who you can lean on in good times and bad. And if you have an understanding boss, embrace that relationship and practice effective communication about what’s going on with you and when you might require a little flexibility.