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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Cope with Anxiety at Work: 5 Psychology Techniques

How to Cope with Anxiety at Work: 5 Psychology Techniques

It can be disheartening to come across yet another self-help article that tells you to go for a walk or take a bath whenever you’re feeling stressed. Stop reading it! You’re probably done with listening to or reading reactionary advice about how to manage what you feel and experience.

Let’s face it. It doesn’t actually address the root causes and it’s a band-aid, temporary fix.

If you no longer want to just cope with anxiety and stress you experience in the course of your work, read on. Learning how to predict, be prepared for and apply proactive strategies to embrace the triggers which drive your adrenalin and cortisol hormone levels skyward, will have you thriving in times of stress.

So how to cope with anxiety?

Get ready to learn some performance psychology strategies and techniques that are truly going to help you long-term.

There is a catch. You have to commit different effort until you bed down these changes which will have you responding – not reacting – to your work-related unique stress and anxiety triggers far differently to how you have been up until now.

1. Realize That Anxiety and Excitement Are Physiologically Expressed the Same Way

Unfortunately, every which way you look, the word ‘anxiety’ itself automatically attracts a connotation that we’re weak because we experience anxiety and stress responses. It is seen as something unhealthy. Negative self-judgement, self and talk and labels quickly transpire in our minds.

Sport and performance psychologists ascribe a different perspective to anxiety: arousal. In decades of research, optimal arousal responses have been shown to deliver peak performance not just in sporting contexts but in work and business as well. Everyone – and that includes you – will have their own optimal threshold of anxiety or stress symptoms for each circumstance that drives you to be alert, focused and ready to perform where it matters.

Unfortunately we often get stuck on the how badly our experiences have felt. Our physical symptoms combined with the emotional derailing of the moment, have a purpose: to keep the status quo. What we don’t realize is these physical symptoms and unhelpful thought processes operate to keep us safe. But we ended up feeling stuck.

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When you have been anxious at work or remember times when those physical stress symptoms bared their unwelcome heads, see if you can ask yourself if there is an excitement component to what you are experiencing. Can you recognize that there might be a benefit to what you are experiencing here?

Start working with a coach or psychologist to undertake hind-sighted reviews of when you’ve felt work-related stress and anxiety.

Explore whether or not there have actually been positives in your experience that to date, you have not been able to see. Never do the analysis in the heights of feeling stressed or anxious. It’s like trying to throw more clothes into a front-loading washing machine that’s already mid-cycle. You’ll only end adding to the chaos!

Do, however, start asking yourself this question more. It will open up a perspective of possibilities as to how what you’re experiencing truly is helping you.

2. Look Beyond the Obvious to Face Deeper Underlying Causes

You don’t need yet another scientific explanation of what anxiety is.

You know what your own definition of anxiety and stress is. You know what it feels like. However, if you experience the symptoms of stress and anxiety continuously without any apparent triggers, (i.e. general anxiety)[1] detecting where it transpired from can be a more complex journey of discovery.

It’s also unlikely you can take an unpredictable required amount of time to figure it out. You can’t just stop the train, ask to get off and tell the world you’ll get back on board when you think you’re ready. When you have work demands, what can you do to keep moving and managing how you feel along the way?

If your experiences of stress and anxiety in situations are unique to you and not shared by others, it is likely values, principles, morals and ethics of your own are being violated or dishonored in some way. When this happens, our bodies will naturally show signs of stress and anxiety even if we try to convince ourselves with self-talk to ‘get over it’, ‘don’t over-react’ or ‘toughen up butter cup’. Your stress and anxiety will remain, each and every time one of those values and principles are violated and the negative effects will compound.

If you keep getting colds and flu’s despite eating well, exercising, sleeping properly and taking supplements you can guarantee deeper issues are going on that you need to face. We’re trying to trick ourselves and ignore what’s really aggravating, scaring or depleting us. We need to go deeper.

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Let’s look at an example:

Customers not paying on time and your experiencing financial stress.

Customers who don’t pay on time are every business’ headache. When you are constantly stressed, angry and questioning your self-worth chasing for payment, there could be a few things to explore surrounding your internal values concerning money:

  • Your comfort level and therefore ability to initially assert terms and conditions of receiving money which reduces customers delaying payment;
  • Your level of comfort to illustrate and assert you deserve the money – asking for 50% up front then commencing your service versus requiring full payment once the job is complete to the customer’s satisfaction;
  • Potentially feeling obligated to accommodate this payment behavior;
  • Why you attract customers who treat you this way.

You only have control of changing your own behavior. Looking above, one of those occurrences might resonate with you strongly. You have the option of looking to adjust that existing behavior, create an additional one which better honors what’s important to you or replace one completely. Your customers’ response to your behavior will need to change in some way. It is your developmental journey to find out which of your new behaviors receives a better response that honors your values.

When you start to first observe and notice that certain things, people and circumstances raise alarm bells within you, stop and ask yourself why this might be creating such a rise in you. You’ll be surprised at what moves from your subconscious train of thought into your conscious one.

The answers will come and you may not like them, however you will be in a much stronger position of power to recognize and plan the change necessary to not only help you cope but remove the trigger as stressful or anxiety-provoking altogether.

3. Know Your Resilience Fitness and Dedicate Effort to Proactively Improve It

It feels like we don’t have the luxury of being proactive when it comes to managing stress and anxiety levels skyrocketing. The world of commerce changes at an alarming rate. We often feel we can barely catch our breath constantly burning the candle at both ends sometimes just to tread water.

What can greatly help you to cope with the stress and anxiety of constant change is to get real and honest with yourself about what truly does cause you stress and anxiety. Thinking about your workplace, brainstorm a list of things and see if you can do the following:

  • Identify patterns in the things, people and circumstances which cause you to feel stressed and anxious;
  • Against each item you’ve written, see if you can recognize any common responses looking at your behavior, emotional and mental states
  • Try to recognize how much each item affects you and impacts not just your working life but also your life outside of work.

Look to create a hierarchy of these to help you prioritize what irritants need strong attention, how much and when. It can greatly help to work with a psychologist to do this step. Forming the list and staring it in the face may be confronting but at the same time overwhelmingly liberating!

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Against each item, start planning strategies which can either distract, displace or detach you from a downward spiralling process of negative thoughts, destructive self-judgment dialogue. At work, you need quick, fast ways to stop the broken record playing and repeating any messages to your subconscious that further debilitate you whilst you’re feeling stressed and anxious.

Distractions remove the ability for you stay stagnated in a highly anxious state. Change your seating position. Get up and stretch. Plug in your headphones for two minutes playing a song that makes you usually want to sing, laugh or makes you feel more confident. Research shows music to be an incredibly powerful mood regulator. So choose wisely and be bold!

You may displace your current focus onto something or someone outside you. Checking in with colleagues to help them or simply see how they are tracking reduces the ability for your stress and anxiety symptoms to increase. Turn your attention outward and be 100% present.

Distractions and displacement greatly help to pacify your nerves and negative, cyclical inner dialogue so that you can more calmly (even if slightly) face the projects, deadlines and/or people which are causing you angst. The most important thing is to stop the constant rhythm of your debilitating symptoms and buy yourself breathing space to get back on the work merry go ‘round.

The idea is not to be reactive, but proactive. Get familiar with those things that are likely to cause you greater stress and anxiety and have techniques and strategies in place already expecting that those things are going to affect you.

It’s too late to try and think of something in the middle of feeling chaos so have your strategies pre-prepared. Create your own recipe of managing stress and anxiety in the same way Martha Stewart might celebrate the final outcome of her culinary masterpiece: “Here’s one we prepared earlier.”

4. Learn the Art of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

If you haven’t yet learnt the art of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), you’re in the dark on one of the most effective arsenals that helps people the world over process and cope with stress and anxiety, particularly work related stress.

Originally developed by Professor and clinical psychologist Steven C. Hayes[2] in 1982, ACT involves learning to recognize the unpleasant thoughts, memories and images for what they are: just thoughts, memories and images.

As you experience your unique physical symptoms of anxiety and stress, you also learn to make space for accepting the experience of them without creating resistance to suppress them.

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You learn to become a calm observer. You become better at riding the wave of discomfort. Over time, the potency of what you have felt becomes less and less often sometimes to the point of the original stress and anxiety triggers no longer bubbling up.

Learning the steps of the ACT will truly change your life. Once you experience success with one particular trigger (work with a psychologist or other mental health professional to develop a prioritized hierarchy of what you will tackle first), you will want to apply it to many others, work-related or not.

5. Learn Emotional Freedom Technique to Reduce Anxiety and Stress Symptoms

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)[3] is also known as ‘tapping’. And anyone can do it. Clinical psychologist Dr Roger Callahan[4] discovered clients were able to achieve relief and a reduction of their anxiety symptoms when they self-administered pressure to acupressure points on their body.

In collaboration with Callahan, professional associate Gary Craig drew on neuro linguistic programming,[5] thought field therapy[6] and acupuncture to create a suite of energy points that clients gently tap on with their fingertips. Whilst tapping, they consciously describe the discomfort of their thoughts, feelings and physical symptoms.

Best learned with the guidance of an EFT practitioner or trained professional, individuals first identify the intensity and magnitude of the stress and anxiety they feel. As they tap whilst labelling and describing (and often feeling the physical discomfort too during a session) their thoughts, feeling and emotions, individuals gradually start to experience relief.

Research shows that the positive effect of tapping is long lasting, particularly for anxiety disorders and post traumatic stress. Other mental health challenges it is becoming used more widely for include weight loss, grief and loss, low self-esteem and confidence.

Final Thoughts

You often cannot change nor control your work environment, the people and often the circumstances that elevate your stress and anxiety levels.

With these mental strength training tools, not only will you be able to improve your ability to cope with work-related stress and anxiety you’ll be able to improve your skills in so many other areas of your life.

More to Help You Cope with Stress and Anxiety

Featured photo credit: DANNY G via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
[2] Steven C. Hayes Profile
[3] Good Therapy: Emotional Freedom Technique
[4] Callahan Techniques: Dr Roger Callahan
[5] Business Dictionary: neuro-linguistic programming (NLP)
[6] Good Therapy: Thought Field Therapy (TFT)

More by this author

Helen D'Silva

Performance Psychologist for Business and Entrepreneurship, Sport and Personal Development

How to Cope with Anxiety at Work: 5 Psychology Techniques How to Cultivate a Positive Mindset (A Step-By-Step Guide) How to Manage Anxiety: Sound Advice from a Mental Health Expert The Scary Truth About Nightmare Disorder And Top Treatments that Work How to Improve Focus: 7 Ways to Train Your Brain

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Published on April 9, 2021

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

Mindfulness has become a popular buzzword in the health and wellness industry. However, few people truly understand what it is. My aim here is to teach you what mindfulness is and how it helps your mental wellness. By the end of this article, you will understand the meaning and benefits of mindfulness. Additionally, you will develop the ability to integrate mindfulness into your daily life.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is approximately 2500-years-old with deep roots in the Eastern world as a spiritual, ethical, and philosophical practice. These roots are intimately connected to the Buddhist practice of vipassana meditation.[1]

Mindfulness continues to be practiced as a cultural and spiritual tradition in many parts of the world. For Buddhists, it offers an ethical and moral code of conduct. For many, mindfulness is more than a practice—it is a way of life.[2]

However, mindfulness has evolved in the Western world and has become a non-religious practice for wellbeing. The evolution began around 1979 when Jon-Kabat Zinn developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).[3] Since then, mindfulness has emerged in the health and wellness industry and continues to evolve.

It is important to recognize the distinctions between mindfulness as a clinical practice and mindfulness as a cultural practice. The focus of this article is on the clinical model of mindfulness developed in the West.

Many researchers have integrated aspects of Buddhism and mindfulness into clinical psychiatry and psychology. Buddhism has helped to inform many mental health theories and therapies. However, the ethical and moral codes of conduct that drive Buddhist practices are no longer integrated into the mindfulness practices most-often taught in the Western world.[4] Therefore, Western mindfulness is often a non-spiritual practice for mental wellness.

Mindfulness aims to cultivate present moment awareness both within the body and the environment.[5] However, awareness is only the first element. Non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment is essential for true mindfulness to occur. Thoughts and feelings are explored without an emphasis on right, wrong, past, or future.

The only necessary condition for mindfulness to occur is non-judgmental acceptance and awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, and at any time. It does not need to be complex even though structured programs exist.

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How Mindfulness Helps Your Mental Wellness

Along with MBSR, other models have been developed and adapted for use by clinical counselors, psychologists, and therapists. These include Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).[6]

Structured models of mindfulness allow researchers to study its benefits. Research has uncovered an abundance of benefits including mental, physical, cognitive, and spiritual. The following is not a comprehensive list of all its benefits, but it will begin to uncover how mindfulness helps mental wellness.

Benefits on Your Mental Health

Practicing mindfulness can have positive impacts on mental health. It has been positively associated with desirable traits, such as:

  • Autonomy
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Competence
  • Empathy
  • Optimism

Mindfulness helps to improve self-esteem, increase life satisfaction and enhance self-compassion. It is associated with pleasant emotions and mood. Overall, people who practice this appear to be happier and experience more joy in life. Not only does it increase happiness but it may also ward off negativity.

Mindfulness helps individuals to let go of negative thoughts and regulate emotions. For example, it may decrease fear, stress, worry, anger, and anxiety. It also helps to reduce rumination, which is a repetition of negative thoughts in the mind.

MBSR was originally designed to treat chronic pain. It has since evolved to include the treatment of anxiety and depression. Clinical studies have shown that MBSR is linked with:

  • Reduced chronic pain and improved quality of life
  • Decreased risk of relapse in depression
  • Reduced negative thinking in anxiety disorders
  • Prevention of major depressive disorders
  • Reducing substance-use frequency and cravings

However, more research is needed before these clinical studies can be generalized to the public. Nevertheless, there is promising evidence to suggest MBSR may be beneficial for mental health.[7]

Benefits on Your Cognitive Health

Mindfulness has many important benefits for cognitive health as well. In a study of college students, mindfulness increased performance in attention and persistence. Another study found that individuals who practice it have increased cognitive flexibility. A brain scan found increased thickness in areas of the brain related to attention, interception, and sensory processing.[8]

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To explain this another way, practicing mindfulness can improve the ability to shift from one task to the next, increase attention span and increase awareness of bodily sensations and the environment. Therefore, it has the potential to literally change your brain for the better.

Harvard researchers are also interested in studies of the brain and mindfulness. One researcher studied how brain changes are sustained even when individuals are not engaged in mindfulness. Their research suggests that its benefits extend beyond the moments of mindfulness.[9]

Another study found that the benefits of mindfulness training lasted up to five years. In this particular case, individuals participating in mindfulness activities showed increased attention-span. Mindfulness has also been shown to increase problem-solving and decrease mind wandering.[10]

What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways. However, most practices include these elements:

  • An object to focus awareness on (breath, body, thoughts, sounds)
  • Awareness of the present moment
  • Openness to experience whatever comes up
  • Acceptance that the mind will wander
  • The intention to return awareness to the object of focus whenever the mind wanders

A practice that encompasses these elements is typically called mindfulness meditation. Most mindfulness meditations will be practiced between 5 to 50 minutes, per day.[11]

There is truly no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness. Most mindfulness meditations are done seated with an object of focus related to the breath, body, thoughts, emotions, or sounds. However, daily activities such as walking or eating can be practiced as a form of mindfulness meditation, as long as the aforementioned elements are in place.

Four Mindfulness Meditations and Their Benefits

Not all forms of mindfulness are created equal. Each practice has unique goals, structure, and benefits. The following four mindfulness meditations are linked with improved mental wellness related to vitality, happiness, and attention.

The results come from a study designed to explore the benefits of these four practices. All of these stem from traditional Buddhist practices.[12]

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1. Loving-Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness is a form of meditation that focuses on sending love and compassion to others. It may begin with kindness for the self and extend outward towards close family and friends, communities, nations, and the world. Loving-kindness may even involve sending love and compassion towards enemies.

The study found that eight-weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of closeness to others. However, it did not reduce negative feelings towards enemies. Additionally, one week of loving-kindness mixed with compassion training increased the amount of positive feelings participants experienced.[13]

2. Breathing Meditation

Breathing meditation is a practice where the focus remains on the breath. Whenever the mind begins to wander, the attention is brought back to the breath.

In many different mindfulness and yoga practices, specific breathing (pranayama) practices are taught. However, for beginners, simple diaphragmatic breathing that focuses on each inhale and exhale is sufficient.

The effects of breathing meditation relate to attention. Breathing meditation is linked to changes in the way information is processed. Buddhist monks who practiced breathing meditation were able to process a greater amount of information than monks who practiced compassion meditation.

3. Body Scan Meditation

A body scan is as simple as it sounds. Attention is brought to each part of the body. Participants can choose to start from the top of the head or the bottom of the feet. It can be helpful to imagine a warmth or a color spreading from one body part to the next as each part begins to relax.

When body scan and breathing are combined, there are many benefits. Interoceptive sensitivity is the mind’s ability to focus on bodily cues. It is strengthened by body scanning. Body scanning also helps with attention and focus.[14]

4. Observing Thoughts Meditation

In observing thoughts meditation, the focus is on the thoughts. This is an opportunity to practice non-judgmental observation. It is also a practice of non-attachment.

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Within the study, participants practiced structured observation of thoughts. First, they brought their attention to their thoughts and labeled them within several categories: past, present, future, self, or others. Then, they practiced observing their thoughts without an emotional reaction.[15]

The benefits of this practice were robust. First, participants showed great improvement in the ability to observe their thoughts without judgment. Second, the practice greatly reduced rumination. As a result, participants had fewer emotional reactions to their thoughts and developed greater self-awareness around their thinking patterns.

In summary, there are many different ways to practice mindfulness meditation. The choice may be determined by the benefits each practice offers. For example, body scanning can increase bodily awareness. Thought-observation can increase self-awareness and decrease rumination. Regardless, every practice may increase positivity, energy, and focus.[16]

Considerations Before You Begin Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is still a relatively new concept in clinical research. Critics worry that its benefits have been overstated. There is also concern that the Western world has changed it into something most Buddhists would not recognize.[17]

Mindfulness is a state of mind that builds self-awareness. As a result, it may force individuals to face difficult emotions, memories, and thoughts. In a study of long-term, intense mindfulness practices, 60% of participants reported at least one negative outcome. Some cases are related to depression, anxiety, and psychosis.[18]

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental wellness. Mindfulness offering promising results but there are also risks involved. Working with a therapist may be a great way to start a mindfulness practice while monitoring for risk.

Final Thoughts

Mindfulness is a powerful practice that has deep roots in Buddhism. It is a practice of present-moment awareness, acceptance of the present moment, and non-judgment of thoughts, emotions, or circumstances.

It has many benefits that may increase mental wellness. However, there are also some risks to consider. Overall, you should consider your unique profile before beginning a practice or consider working with a therapist at the start.

More About Practicing Mindfulness

Featured photo credit: Simon Migaj via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[2] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[3] Greater Good Magazine: What is Mindfulness?
[4] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[5] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[6] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[7] NCBI: Mindfulness Meditation and Psychopathology
[8] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[9] The Harvard Gazette: When Science Meets Mindfulness
[10] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[11] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[12] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[13] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[14] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[15] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[16] Greater Good Magazine: How to Choose a Type of Mindfulness Meditation
[17] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?
[18] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?

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