Workplace anxiety happens more often than not. It’s nothing to be ashamed about, and within my experience I am finding more and more companies are helping their employees rather than belittling them for struggling in silence. Anxiety can affect different areas of your work life, performance, social relationships and professionalism.
6:45 a.m. and my alarm is ringing from my phone. “Let’s hit snooze,” I tell myself. However, I am not actually asleep; I am lying in bed staring at the ceiling in the dark with my covers pulled up. A pang of worry shoots through my body; I close my eyes and hope when I open then again, the worry goes away.
7:00 a.m., my alarm goes off again. I open my eyes; the niggling thoughts are still there. I feel like the bed is a black hole and it is dragging me down. I curl up into a ball, close my eyes and shuffle around the bed, shaking anxiety niggles off me.
7:45 a.m., I fall out of bed and sit on the side. Yesterday runs through my mind — every single detail, every conversation, my appearance, my tone of voice and the biggest worry… my quality of work, how I came across to others the previous day.
Work anxiety is an everyday occurrence for me. The task of forcing myself out of bed and to getting to work — without my coping mechanisms, I am surprised I make it out of the door.
It is not that I cannot do my job; give me a spreadsheet, a diary to manage or an event to run and I will be fine. I enjoy being at work, and being the organized busy person. I have confidence within myself: “I can do this! This is a job I’ve done for years!”
It is the after-effect and the paranoia that my best was not good enough.
“Did I do a good job?”
“What do people think of me, really?”
“Can I actually do this?”
It has taken me a while to calm my workplace anxiety, and I still have it at times. I noticed through the years, I would talk excessively when nervous, I would feel sleepy, I would be late and I would always be walking around, as sitting still when you are full of anxiety is a nightmare.
How do I cope with workplace anxiety after years of working in an office? It takes more than mindfulness and yoga to overcome workplace anxiety at times. I use everyday coping mechanisms to reduce my anxiety.
1. Choose a workplace environment that agrees with you.
I am not saying put up with your workplace’s non-compliance of mental health. I have worked in places which disregarded mental health and I was told to “shut up and put up” if I wanted the job when I raised my issues with anxiety. However, working in a place where mental health matters, and is not too chaotic for your mind, works wonders.
2. Exercise before work.
I ride my bike to work to burn the extra anxious niggles through my body. Sometimes I walk but exercising before work helps set you for the day and lifts your mood.
3. Eat well and sleep well.
This goes hand-in-hand with anxiety. If you make yourself eat something before work, by the time you get to work you will feel better. Set a routine for weekdays. Home for 6 p.m., eat your dinner for 7 p.m., watch TV until 8 p.m., set your items out for the next day until 9 p.m., get ready for bed until 10 p.m. and read for half an hour. Humans are made of patterns; once you get into a routine, your body and mind will thank you for it.
4. Talk to someone you trust at work.
Make sure your employers are aware. When I started my current workplace, I refused to declare my mental health diagnosis due to previous workplaces not taking my mental health seriously; I believed having a mental illness at work would put a strike against me. My work was slipping. They could not understand, as when I first started I was on the ball, completing my tasks and happy, but after months and months of struggling in my personal life and work life, my work was taking a toll. Once I mentioned my mind and health, things were implemented to make sure I was OK. I have a weekly meeting with my manager to talk about things which are stressing me out, or I can raise anything which makes me feel anxious or worried, such as my performance. I felt comfortable enough to tell them when I was feeling overwhelmed.
5. Try listening to calming music.
I requested to listen to music in my earbuds whilst I worked. Feeling stressed and anxious at work is terrible when all you can hear is typing on keyboards and people talking loudly on phones. Think of it like nails on a chalkboard, but constant. When I plug in during times when I am working on something big, music helps with the constant beat.
6. Avoid gossip.
This is hard as at times; there is a lot of talk surrounding you in the lunchroom. Nevertheless, find a group who likes to talk about anything but workplace gossip or work. It only builds up tension during your out-of-hours or lunch break, and causes stress when something is said or a criticism is made of another and you question if you do that too.
7. Do not set unrealistic deadlines.
If you know you are struggling to complete the deadline for a piece of work, raise the issue. Do not sit and struggle whilst everyone else has left the office at 5 p.m., and it’s 7p.m. and you are still working. It is not right and the deadline is unrealistic. Lift the stress off yourself and request a little help. I know I am always agreeing to deadlines that are unrealistic, and when I rush work, mistakes happen, which sends me in a higher anxiety spiral than I first started. Work-life balance is something someone taught me many years ago, and I stick very firmly to it.
8. Remind yourself you are doing your best.
No one can say you are not working to your ability when you are. Again, if you are struggling, let someone know who can support you and help you tackle issues at work.