How to Manage Anxiety Levels at Work

Man with anxiety at work

By Jim Woods
It’s completely normal to feel stressed about work from time to time. Maybe you’re giving a big presentation to an important client or you’re working on a project with a tight deadline. You may even have a micromanaging boss.

Wherever you are, if you feel anxious at work, you’re not alone. Research has found that one in seven women (and one in 10 men) with no previous mental health issues reported high stress levels at work and struggled with clinical depression or anxiety by the age of 32.1 Clearly, this is a common problem.

So what can you do about anxiety on the job? These tips can help you keep workplace anxiety in check.

Recognize the Symptoms

It’s possible to have anxiety and not even know you’re experiencing it — especially if you’ve been feeling that way for a long time. That’s why it’s important to know the symptoms of anxiety.

According to the Mayo Clinic, here are a few symptoms to keep an eye out for:

  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate or breathing rapidly
  • Sweating or trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or worrying constantly
  • Having trouble sleeping2

Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive. If you’re experiencing any of these problems or know you’re not feeling normal, talk to a medical professional.

Give Yourself an Anxiety Checkup

If you’re feeling anxious at work, one of the best things you can do is hit the pause button. Stop and take a moment to reflect. If possible, get up and take a walk. This may sound counterintuitive if you’re stressed about work, but the benefits are worth it. Exercise helps your body de-stress and clears your head, giving you focus and clarity — both of which help reduce anxiety.

You can also try this simple exercise. Set a timer for five minutes, and write down all the things on your mind. Don’t censor. Just write. What you wrote down will likely provide valuable insight. For example, if the majority of the page is filled with a list of things related to one specific project, you know that project is likely causing some anxiety.

But don’t stop there. Ask yourself: What can I do right now that will make me feel better? Then do it. If you can’t decide at first, narrow it down to three possible actions, and pick the one that takes the least amount of time.

Work on Problem Areas

Now that you have a written list of stressors, mark the ones that frustrate you most. Is there a common thread? It could be a communication problem. Or maybe your boss has unreal expectations about your workload. If so, talk to him about it.

Sometimes, working longer hours leads to more mistakes, and that can give rise to anxiety. If that’s the case, is there a way to work smarter instead of harder? Batching similar tasks together can help you get more work done in less time. For example, set designated times just for email so you don’t spend all day in your inbox. When you structure your days intentionally — instead of spending your time responding and reacting to email — your anxiety levels will improve.

Another simple technique for building structure into your week is to theme your workdays. You might decide to use Mondays for catching up on emails from the prior week and making phone calls. Not sure how to theme your days? Look at your calendar, and keep an eye out for any existing patterns. For example, let’s say you have a meeting every Tuesday about a special project. You could make Tuesdays “special project day.” The great thing about this approach is that you can personalize it in a way that makes sense to you.

Spend Some Time Focusing on You

It’s easy to let your own needs fall to the bottom of your to-do list. But taking time to exercise, get a massage and spend a few moments alone is not selfish. These activities are essential ways to manage your anxiety. An hour with a friend over coffee or tea can calm your nerves and even improve your overall mood.

Hobbies are important, as well. Don’t let your job become your identity. Your job is just something you do — it does not define you.

Don’t Struggle Alone

We all deal with anxiety from time to time. The key is to be as self-aware as possible. Be honest with yourself. If you’re stuck or just having a hard time, reach out for help. While talking to a friend can be a great place to start, if anxiety interferes with your daily life, it’s best to bring in a professional. Talk to your doctor or mental health professional about treatment options that can help you regain a sense of control over your anxiety and your life.


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