Whether struggling to meet a tight deadline or dealing with difficult colleagues, there are many reasons why you may feel anxious at work. Considering that most of us spend the majority of our days working—whether remotely or in an office—being able to deal with anxiety at work is crucial to managing your mental health. While a little bit of anxiety can be beneficial, chronic anxiety can not only affect your work performance, but also often has a negative impact on your daily life and your personal relationships.
Being anxious at work is a pretty common phenomenon. The main issue is that it’s a hidden one. People won’t talk about it. When we’re at work, a place where we’re expected to perform at our best, it can be difficult to admit to such vulnerabilities. Indeed, a survey found that 38% of those with an anxiety disorder don’t tell their employers because they fear that “their boss would interpret it as lack of interest of unwillingness to do the activity.”
Telling yourself to stop being anxious when you’re stressed is similar to telling yourself to fall asleep when you have insomnia—it simply doesn’t work. So what does?
5 ways to deal with anxiety at work
Here are some science-based tips you can use next time you feel anxious while working. Please bear in mind that if you experience chronic anxiety, it may be worth seeing a specialist as it may be a symptom of some underlying issue that needs to be addressed.
- Take a break. This may seem an obvious strategy, but many people tend to deal with anxiety at work by powering through and trying to get as much as possible done to alleviate their stress. Stepping away from your computer can be a great way to reduce your anxiety. Try Teeny Breaks, a free Chrome extension I built that reminds you to step away from the screen and gives you science-based tips to take mindful breaks.
- Talk to a trusted colleague. Anxiety can lead to lots of rumination, which is basically repetitive thinking about the causes, factors, and consequences of a negative emotional experience. Talking to someone can break that loop by getting novel input and creating new ways of thinking.
- Exercise. There’s lots of research showing the positive impact exercise has on our mental health in general, and in particular on anxiety. Going for a quick run can be a great way to reduce your stress. When I used to work at Google, I would pop into the gym for half an hour and come back to my desk much more relaxed.
- Reduce your caffeine intake. Drinking too much coffee can produce the exact same effects as anxiety, to a point where researchers cannot tell apart anxiety from caffeinism with complete certainty. And if you’re feeling stressed already, caffeine can exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety. So switch to decaffeinated drinks or herbal infusions.
- Practice mindfulness. This can be as easy as taking a few deep breaths, but if you can, try yoga or meditation. Mindfulness-based stress reduction has been found to work great in randomised controlled trials.
There are so many uncontrollable factors in a work environment that feeling anxious from time to time is inevitable, but you can apply some of these strategies to manage your stress in a healthier, more sustainable way. Accepting your anxiety and dealing with it in a structured manner are the first steps in reducing its occurrence and feeling more relaxed at work.