Is it hot in here? It just got way too hot in here. Wow, I’m really sweating right now. Ok, breathe. Focus. Ohmygosh, Ohmygosh, Ohmygosh there is no way I can finish all this in time. No possible way. It’s just not going to happen. She’s going to be so mad at me. I mean she probably already thinks I’m incompetent. Would she yell at me? Could I get fired? If I get fired, how will I pay rent? And all my bills…ohmygosh…I’m going to be homeless. I am going to be a homeless person. This is it.
Welcome to my internal dialogue when my workload becomes too much. Fear and dread consume me. Every negative thought I’ve ever had forces its way into my forebrain and I suddenly feel like I’m either going to burst into tears or run out the door like a lunatic. All day I carry this feeling of unease in the pit my stomach and all I want to do is crawl under my covers and shut the world out.
Thankfully, but unfortunately, I am not the only one experiencing stress and anxiety in the workplace. Nearly 1 in 9 employees in the workplace have had or will have an anxiety disorder.
Stress is a fairly subjective concept to measure. Everyone varies in his or her triggers, manifestations, and coping mechanisms due to their own personalized concoction of nature versus nurture. Although most everyone will experience stressful moments at work, it starts to morph into an anxiety disorder when these stressful and anxious moments become persistent, excessive, and interfere with one’s ability to function on a daily basis. Interestingly, even though many employees report the very symptoms of an anxiety disorder, few report actually having an anxiety disorder.
Whether you’ve been noticing some frequent bouts of stress and panic while at work, or you’ve already been plagued with the constant heart-racing, blood-pumping states of stress, here are a few tips to help you handle yourself at work no matter where you are on the anxiety spectrum:
The tension is building up and a million thoughts are racing through your mind. Slow yourself down. Close your eyes, and focus only on your breath. Try breathing in for five seconds and breathing out for five seconds, each time letting go some of the tension you are holding inside.
If your trigger is time-management, separate your tasks so they are smaller. Focusing on one task a time will slow the roll of those spiraling thoughts when looking at your to-do list, so it doesn’t seem as overwhelming.
Get to know your anxiety.
When you start to feel those prickles of fear, that overwhelming blanket of stress, try not to suppress it. Invite the feelings in! Anxiety is trying to bring something to your attention. Take a breath and examine yourself. Figure out what is happening, why, and what your natural response is. Knowing your trigger and your natural coping instinct (food, sleep, drugs, sex) is a major step in handling your anxiety. Anxiety is essentially an attack of the mind. Figure out your opponent, and you’ll know how to defend yourself.
Talk to a coworker, your friends, or your family. They can provide you with an outlet and validation. If your anxiety is more serious, it would also be beneficial to talk to your supervisor. There are common fears that bringing the issue of your anxiety to the attention of a supervisor would mean you are “weak,” that any chances of mobility would be affected, or that your interest and/or ability to do the job is lacking. However, the reality is that your employer may not realize the load of responsibility you have. A healthy employee is usually a more productive one so your employer has a strong incentive to make sure they are providing a good work environment. Oftentimes, employers can offer you resources, referrals, and may even have benefits like discounted gym memberships. Take advantage!
Last but not least, always, always, always practice self-care. Eat more good food than bad. Exercise in any way, shape, or form (a walk is better than nothing). Get some sleep. Do your favorite hobbies- hike, color, knit, garden, etc. Seek professional help when needed. We are not infallible; it is ok to ask for help. If you take care of yourself you will be happier, more productive, and less stressed. We get one body and one life. Let’s not destroy them by being anxious at work.