Anxiety is one of the most common negative emotions in the workplace. Left unchecked, anxiety can have serious effects on your health, wellbeing, work, and relationships. The best way to manage an anxiety disorder, at the workplace or otherwise, is to seek professional help.
Psychologists and psychiatrists understand where your deep-seated emotions lie and know how to uproot them. However, not everyone needs professional help as their anxiety probably hasn’t turned into a disorder yet. Nevertheless, they do feel anxious and it’s the most uncomfortable feeling in the world. So what can you do when feelings of doubt, fear, failure, and worry creep up in your mind along with the side effects—stress, blood pressure, hypertension, dizziness, nausea, breathlessness, weakness, etc.?
Here are 7 ways you can handle workplace anxiety:
1. Set realistic targets and deadlines.
Anxiety and panic attacks at work often kick in when we’re not able to perform to our best capabilities or complete a task at hand. Sometimes, our emotions get the best of us when we overhear coworkers speaking about us and we don’t like what they say. Or when the project we’ve been eying for a while goes to a coworker. These situations can’t really be stopped or changed. But how much you let them affect you is in your hands.
The first step in managing anxiety, therefore, begins at understanding what is important to you and then setting realistic targets. If you pitch in for every project under the sun, you’re obviously not going to be able to dedicate enough time to each one of them and deliver quality work. Enter anxiety, stress, and the dreaded imposter syndrome.
When committing to deadlines, don’t feel pressured to complete tasks faster than others or worry about what your peers and managers will say if you need a little extra time. Be honest with yourself and commit only to a timeline you’re sure you can deliver on.
2. Don’t treat anxiety as your enemy.
What we call anxiety today is actually our sympathetic nervous system trying to save us in life-threatening situations. The only problem—not getting a promotion or forgetting the lines during a speech isn’t really a life-threatening situation, even if we consider it to be one. What we feel during such times is just a red alert, it’s a message from our mind and body that we’re uncomfortable and we need to solve this problem.
Unfortunately, what most people do is they feed their anxiety by treating it as the enemy. They think more about it, curse it, and hate it when they should be thinking about solutions instead.
Let’s be honest, is anxiety really that bad? Without anxiety, there is no relaxation and peace of mind. Just like there is no happiness without sorrow and no love without hate. Biologically, anxiety is just a surge in energy levels within your body. Channel this energy in the right way and you can achieve a lot with it. For example, the adrenaline rush helps you notice things that usually would slip your eye, so you can do more work and multitask, and you’re more alert.
3. Spot your anxiety triggers.
The biggest mistake we make when we feel anxious is trying to lock it away and hoping the feeling goes away. What we need to do instead is pay close attention to what causes our anxiety. Do you feel anxious when you’re not able to meet a deadline? Maybe as a toddler, you saw your mother panicking before a big family dinner and now you behave the same way. Or do you have panic attacks when you think your team doesn’t like your work? Maybe your sibling taught you to always please your elders, and now you want to please your colleagues and leaders. Identifying these problems and triggers helps you deal with your anxiety much better; because it’s no longer a vague feeling but a solvable problem.
4. Create a breathing ritual for when you have a panic attacks.
Ever seen a co-worker in the midst of a panic attack? A clear sign is shortness of breath. When we panic, we breathe into our chest and shoulders without letting enough air fill the lungs. Surprisingly, people who are able to control their breathing are also better at managing panic attacks.
Create a breathing ritual that works for you. Some people follow the 4-7-8 method— breathe in for 4 seconds, hold it for 7, and then exhale for 8. Others like the 4-4-4 or 4-4-4-4 method, adding an extra 4-second hold after exhaling. All these methods have specific names in Yoga and with the right guidance, you’ll know exactly what to do to calm down when things don’t look so good.
The downside of trying breathing exercises during a panic attack is that it can cause dizziness, blurred vision, excess body heat, and a head rush. If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms during your breathing exercises, immediately seek your physician’s advice.
5. Journal positive and calming messages.
Our deep-seated emotions and insecurities surface when we feel anxious, and they can make us feel incomplete, incapable, and unimportant. The only way to tackle this problem and stop spiralling down into negativity is to say good things to ourselves. This can be tough, especially when you’re obsessing over how worthless you are (trust us, you’re not!). Instead, take time out of your schedule to write down good stuff for a rainy day. Fill a journal with your strengths, accomplishments, positive thoughts, healing messages, etc. Get into the habit of journaling every day so you have a lot of good things to read about yourself. Plus, writing daily will help you discover a lot of great things about you that you would never notice otherwise.
6. Have a friend you can talk to.
People who feel anxious and are fearful often end up isolating themselves, making things worse. Whatever it is that holds you back from creating strong and meaningful relationships at work, find a way to overcome it. Strong relationships with co-workers can be a calming influence during panic attacks, helping you realise what’s really important. Start by finding a friend at work who understands you and is ready to help when problems arise.
By now you should know your anxiety triggers, what you do when you feel anxious, and how to solve the underlying issues that cause anxiety and panic attacks at work. Share this with your friend and ask them to look out for you. A good friend will be more than happy to help you out.
7. Remember it will go away.
A co-worker often experienced panic attacks and we were all scared for her. But she’d always calm herself down and explain later that the only thing that kept her going was “knowing it goes away eventually.” The first time can be tough because you wouldn’t understand what’s happening. But a few more times, and you’ll know exactly what to do.
Open communication and access to information goes a long way in helping employees deliver exceptional results. A culture of brainstorming and teamwork and a community spirit is at the centre of the structure of creative organisations. Employees show collective ownership over big wins and failures alike, keeping everyone motivated and alert.
The struggle with anxiety is real and can harm us physically and emotionally. If you have a history of panic attacks, please seek professional help. The sooner you work on solving it, the easier and faster it will be to uproot the root causes of workplace anxiety. Nowadays, companies have several workplace wellness and employee assistance programs that include access to psychologists, wellness activities, etc. Take advantage of these facilities available to you and work to overcome the underlying problems.