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12 tips for managing anxiety at work

26 October, 2018

Managing anxiety

Anxiety is a common concern in Australia, affecting 1 in 4 people. While anxiety and stress are natural, inevitable experiences in life, there are times where it can take a severe toll on the state of your mental health and quality of life.

Generally speaking, stress and anxiety are simply biological and physiological reactions to perceived threats to your safety or external danger. Once the stressful situation has passed or the ‘stressor’ is removed, these feelings should subside. Anxiety is when these feelings fail to subside, continuing without any identifiable reason or cause.

Common anxiety disorders

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) - A person feels anxious on most days regardless of what might be happening around them.

Social phobia - A person has intense fear of being criticised, embarrassed or humiliated, enough to avoid speaking publicly, eating in public, or being assertive at work.

Specific phobias - A person feels a strong enough fear for a particular object or situation, such as getting an injection or flying, that they go to great lengths to avoid it.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) - A person has recurrent and persistent thoughts, images or impulses that are intrusive and unwanted. Obsessed, they perform repetitive and ritualistic actions that can be excessive, time-consuming and distressing.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - A person experiences anxiety following a traumatic event, such as an assault, accident, death or disaster. Symptoms can include difficulty relaxing and avoidance of anything related to the event, flashbacks and upsetting dreams.

Panic disorder - A person who experiences panic attacks or overwhelming feelings of fear when faced with certain situations. Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness and excessive perspiration.

Workplace anxiety - A person develops fears, phobias, or hypochondriac anxieties specifically regarding working conditions, interacting with colleagues and superiors, and fears of inadequacy or judgement.

Workplace anxiety is a learnt response to stress and can be triggered from a range of factors, with some cases more severe and debilitating than others. While most people experience some levels of stress in the workplace, workplace anxiety differs in that it goes beyond the body’s natural response to fear.

It’s important to distinguish between healthy, productive levels of stress and that of anxiety, which can impinge on an individual’s mental focus, satisfaction, motivation, and ability to carry out their work duties.Common work anxieties include:

  • Fear of public speaking/ speaking up in meetings;
  • Fear of working in groups;
  • Fear of not meeting deadlines;
  • Worrying that work won’t be up to scratch;
  • Fear of being judged;
  • Fear of humiliation;
  • Fear of interacting with authority figures;
  • Avoidance of committing to new tasks; and
  • Fear associated with trying for a promotion.

When these anxieties are not addressed, they can worsen and cause serious implications to both emotional wellbeing and workplace performance. Ignoring the warning signs can lead to bigger problems, such as missed opportunities, cut work hours, salary reduction, and even job loss.

Stress in the workplace and recognising the signs of anxiety

Recognising the signs of workplace anxiety is the first step in making improvements to your mental health.

Signs and symptoms to look for include:

  • Feeling irritable or depressed;
  • Disappointment with yourself even when you haven’t made mistakes;
  • Increased emotional reactions;
  • Loss of interest in work;
  • Loss of confidence in your abilities;
  • Poor memory;
  • Changes in eating habits;
  • Problems sleeping;
  • Fatigue;
  • Trouble concentrating;
  • Muscle tension or headaches;
  • Stomach problems;
  • Social withdrawal;
  • Changes in work attendance;
  • Loss of libido; and
  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope.

Should you recognise any of these symptoms, take steps to reduce job stress by taking care of yourself. When stress interferes with your ability to perform in your job, manage your personal life or adversely impacts your health, it’s time to take action. By protecting your physical and emotional health, you’ll become stronger and more resilient to stress. Essentially, the better you feel, the better equipped you are to manage workplace anxiety.

The good news is that even minor changes can make a difference. Managing stress doesn’t mean a total lifestyle overhaul. A range of positive changes will greatly impact your stress levels over time.

12 tips for managing workplace anxiety

  1. Get enough sleep Stress at work can cause a vicious cycle when it comes to sleep. Stress can cause you to stay awake at night, and this lack of sleep will leave you vulnerable to even more stress. Being well-rested will make managing your emotions and coping with stresses much easier. To set yourself up for a better night’s sleep, try the following:
    • Decrease stimulation in the evenings by reading, taking a bath or practicing gentle yoga.
    • Don’t drink coffee after 12 noon. Caffeine can stay in your body for up to 12 hours!
    • Eating foods that contain tryptophan, melatonin and magnesium, all of which promote sleep.
    • Going to bed at the same hour every night.
    • Practicing left-nostril breathing - a yoga technique that is thought to promote relaxation
    • Repeat positive affirmations - “I can fall asleep at 10pm”.
    • Aligning your internal rhythm by making a point of exposing yourself to sunlight in the day and total darkness at night.
    • Taking two 15-minute “relaxation breaks” in the day.

       

  2. Talk to an attentive listener Talking face-to-face with a relaxed and balanced listener can help calm your nervous system and relieve stress. The goal isn’t to have the person “fix” your problems, it’s merely an opportunity to offload.

  3. Eat well Healthy eating is not about depriving yourself of the foods you love or staying unrealistically strict regarding what goes into your mouth. It’s about fuelling yourself with foods that make you feel great, increase your energy levels, improve your outlook, and stabilise your mood. Diet can have a profound effect on your mood and sense of wellbeing, with processed meats, packaged meals and sugary snacks all being strongly linked to today’s higher rates of depression, stress, bipolar disorder and anxiety. Eating an unhealthy diet can even play a role in the development of ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and the risk of suicide. If you’re experiencing mental health problems, eating well can help you better manage symptoms. Specific nutrients, such as protein, monounsaturated fat, carotenoids, folate, calcium and fibre are known to have mood-boosting qualities, but by eating small and frequent meals you can help your body maintain an even level of blood sugar, keep your energy up, stay focused, and avoid mood swings.

  4. Create a balanced schedule Those who find themselves very stressed at work often might be giving too much value to what happens in the workplace. While there’s nothing wrong with trying hard and being ambitious, try to remember that the purpose of work is to enable you to live a great life. If you can learn to change your priorities so that work is not your only priority, you may find that your workplace anxiety will decrease. Analyse your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks and try to find some kind of healthy balance. All work and no play is a recipe for a burnout, so be sure to include time for work, family life, social activities, solitary pursuits, daily duties and downtime.

  5. Leave earlier in the morning Frantically rushing to your desk every morning will leave you feeling flustered and add to your stress levels. Try leaving 15 minutes earlier each morning, and slow down your commute. Leaving a little earlier will let you ease into your day. This may also mean that you miss the worst part of rush hour, meaning you will have a more relaxed journey.

  6. Delegate Over-committing yourself to many projects might mean you simply have too much on your plate. Firstly, understand when to say no, and then find ways to delegate tasks you don’t need to do yourself. Let go of the desire to control everything, and realise you can’t do it all on your own. It’s okay to ask for help.

  7. Break projects up and prioritise If a large project seems overwhelming, break it up into smaller tasks and create a step-by-step plan. Focus on the most manageable and important tasks first, and before you know it there will be light at the end of the tunnel. You could also try getting the most unpleasant of tasks done first so that the rest of the project seems more enjoyable.

  8. Improve your emotional intelligence Emotional intelligence is just as important as intellectual ability, if not more so. It has four major components: self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, and relationship management. Taking steps to improve these components, such as looking for ways to inspire, influence, and connect with others in your workplace can help distress your work environment. Recognising your own emotions and the impact they have will also help the situation. Laugh more, resolve conflict quickly, and factor in the feelings of yourself and your colleagues when making decisions.

  9. Break bad habits Workplace anxiety can be the result of some of your own undoing’s, such as working in a messy environment, always requiring perfection, and trying to control the uncontrollable. Turning these habits around can make an impact on your overall anxiety levels. Understand that no project is ever going to be perfect, and that it doesn’t have to be. File work straight away, and keep your desk clear. Look for the good in your work instead of the bad, and accept the aspects that are out of your control.

  10. Find the “off” button Carrying your work with you wherever you go can be extremely exhausting, so be sure to hit the “off” switch now and again. Turn your phones and gadgets off between 7pm and 7am, and refrain from checking emails at lunch. Take your sandwich away from your desk and focus on simply eating or chatting with friends.

  11. Exercise Exercise is considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and is known to reduce stress and anxiety. Physical activity produces endorphins that act as natural mood-boosters and help promote sleep, which in turn reduces stress. A brisk walk or other simply physical activity can deliver several hours of relief from anxiety, and regular exercise has been shown to have long-term effects. Try aiming for three hours a week of moderate exercise or two hours of rigorous exercise a week. Look for consistency rather than perfection, by including 20 minutes of exercise into each day.

  12. Know when to open up If you feel that your workload is unreasonable or your deadlines are too rushed, talk to your supervisor. Engage them in the process and explain your concerns so that if a deadline is missed or the project can’t be completed they are aware of the reasons in advance. Telling your boss about your stress and anxiety is a personal decision, and one only you can make. Explain your anxieties carefully, and together look for ways to make improvements that could be of benefit to your mental health. Always seek professional advice if you think you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. 

All information in this article is intended for general information purposes only. Information should not be considered medical advice and is in no way intended to replace a consultation with a qualified medical practitioner. CBHS endeavours to provide independent and complete information, and content may include information regarding services, products and procedures not covered by CBHS Health Cover policies. For full terms, click here.

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