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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Cope with Anxiety at Work: 5 Psychology Techniques

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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

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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 Improve Focus: 7 Ways to Train Your Brain 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

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Published on September 22, 2021

Overwhelmed at Work? 17 Ways to Manage Work Anxiety

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Overwhelmed at Work? 17 Ways to Manage Work Anxiety

Sadly, being overwhelmed at work has become commonplace in many industries in the United States, with an astounding 83% of US workers reporting that they are suffering from work-related stress. The US has been deemed the most overworked developed nation on the planet.[1]

Some of you are nodding your head knowingly, while others might be doing a questioning head tilt right now. Here’s the deal—data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the average productivity of American workers has increased since 1950.[2] Unfortunately, since that time real wages have remained largely unchanged (adjusted for cost of living and inflation), meaning that to earn the same amount that we did in 1950, we have to work approximately an extra 11 hours each week—and an unthinkable 572 hours a year. Sounds a little bit stressful, isn’t it?

To put things into perspective, here are a few statistics to chew on:[3]

  • People are so overwhelmed at work that it’s costing American companies over 300 billion dollars a year and over $190 billion in healthcare costs.[4] This is partly because feeling overwhelmed at work manifests itself in increased sick days, decreased productivity, poor mental and physical health, more errors on the job, and increased turnover.
  • Moreover, stress at work is not just costing us money but also our lives. With a staggering 120,000 deaths annually attributed to work stress, something needs to change.

If the external demands are not enough to raise your blood pressure, we are also unwittingly making our situations more challenging by perpetuating an ideology that would stress out even the coolest cucumber. Let me explain.

The idea that’s been drilled into us for most of our American lives has been this: hard work and working hard is to be admired while admitting something is too much is being a lazy wimp. This underlying attitude we’ve all been spoon-fed with is called Internalized Capitalism. According to Anders Hayden, a political science professor at Dal Housie University in Nova Scotia,[5]

“Internalized capitalism is this idea that our self-worth is directly linked to our productivity.”

Someone struggling with internalized capitalism might look like any or all of the following:

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  • Putting work before their health and well-being
  • Feeling guilty when resting or participating in a leisure activity
  • Feeling lazy and/or anxious when sick, hurt, or otherwise dealing with personal or physical adversity that delays them from doing their job
  • Feeling that whatever they do it’s never enough.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it is admirable to be a hard worker. But here’s the caveat—when our self-worth and lives suffer because of the overwhelming and relentless demand for productivity, profit, and performance, we need to start reconsidering what’s going on. And here’s the real kicker: this attitude plays right into the hands of the few who are profiting from the many. It’s almost like we have been brainwashed to police ourselves against our self-interest.

Now that we are all on the same page about how we got here, the question is this: How can we overcome a difficult system and dysfunctional thinking?

Honestly, we didn’t get here overnight, and there is not a magic wand to wave that will change things for the better instantly. True change will occur with a blend of systemic and individual tweaks—or overhauls. Okay, it’s really “overhauls” that we need, but I didn’t want to scare anyone so I said “tweaks.”

Let’s start by taking a look at some of the solutions and changes we can make as individuals. Let’s just be frank and put it out there that these problems won’t be fixed only by reminding people to take better care of themselves. Taking personal responsibility for your self-care is part of it, yes, but this runs much deeper than that. We are talking about undoing deeply held beliefs that govern our self-esteem and self-worth.

1. Process Your Emotions

“So, if you’re mad, get mad!” Isn’t that how the song goes? (I’ll Stand by You by the Pretenders.) Finding healthy outlets for our emotions is a key aspect of processing and being able to truly move on.

“Name it to tame it,” is a phrase coined by Dr. Dan Siegel about the power of labeling an emotion to reduce its impact. Examples of this could be journaling or talking things out with someone. Honestly, this step really needs to come first as it is extremely difficult to think clearly when we are feeling very emotional.[6]

2. Be Aware of Negative and Judgmental Self-Talk

Are you staying late at the office and missing time with friends (or your dog) because your internal critic is telling you that if you don’t get this project done, you are a lazy, underperforming blob of an employee? This type of self-talk is not productive or healthy.

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You can overcome this by becoming aware of the story you are telling yourself and the judgment that accompanies it. This is the most important step by far. These stories and criticisms we tell ourselves that keep us working crazy hours and provoke toxic anxiety are the same cockamamie stories that prevent us from taking the time we need to take care of ourselves.

3. Question Your Beliefs

Once you notice the narrative you are telling yourself, take a step back and try to see it for what it is. “Is this really true? Why do I believe that? Is there any evidence to the contrary?”

4. Make New Beliefs

Rewrite your story with what feels right to you. Luckily, we are our own authors, and we get to choose the things we tell ourselves. It doesn’t sound like much, but the power of perspective and authentic positive thinking can be monumental. It’s healthy to evaluate our internal beliefs and self-talk from time to time.

5. Be Clear on What You Want

Be clear on what you want and how you’d like things to be different. Do I want to work a zillion hours a week and then be too tired/anxious/grumpy to do anything else in my life? What are my priorities and does my situation now reflect that?

6. Talk to Your Supervisor

Talk to your supervisor to clarify expectations. Are you holding yourself to implied or self-imposed expectations? Or have they explicitly been set by your employer?

7. Have a Solid Support System

Having a solid support system helps prevent you from being overwhelmed by work anxiety. They can be your friends, family, life coach, psychologist, teammates, social groups—whoever feels supportive, positive, and encouraging.

8. Brutally Assess What You Can and Can’t Control.

This step is important as it dictates the actions you have to choose to move forward. I used to wish I would win the lottery, but the time and energy spent on that didn’t get me anywhere. Changing my work hours, taking some classes, and cutting back some expenses did.

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9. Develop an Action Plan

Develop an action plan based on your findings in #8. It’s not all going to change at once. Start with one small thing, and keep chipping away until you get wherever you want to go.

10. Talk to Your Supervisor

Talk to your supervisor or someone from HR about your concerns and struggles. Find out about your options and any assistance they may be able to offer.

11. Set Boundaries and Limitations.

Just because you can work from home and check your email at 2 am doesn’t mean that you should. Learn to set your boundaries. Limit digital contact. Limit work to work hours and stick to it.

12. Complete One Thing at a Time

We are only neurologically capable of doing one thing at a time. Multitasking is a myth and, when attempted, has been shown to take up to 40% longer to complete a task.[7] Don’t waste your precious time and energy doing many things at once. Instead, focus on one task at a time.

13. Be Organized and Timely But Also Realistic

Don’t set yourself up for increased stress and overwhelming work anxiety by putting an unreasonable amount of things on your “to-do” list over a short period of time. Prioritize what needs to be done, and set realistic time frames for completion.

14. Good Enough Is Sometimes Good Enough

Don’t get bogged down in the minutia and cost yourself hours of needless work by re-reading an email 14 times before sending it. Read through it twice and hit send.

15. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

There is a saying I like: “Comparison is the thief of happiness.” I have no idea who originally said it, but they are brilliant, and most of all, correct. Wasting time and energy comparing ourselves never leads us to a good place. Instead, ask yourself if you are doing the best you can given your own set of circumstances.

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16. Take Time to Fill Your Tank

Meditation, yoga, quiet time, exercise, breaks, breathing, quality sleep, good nutrition, and hydration—just to name a few—are all scientifically proven ways to reduce our internal stress and better manage our energy.[8] On top of good self-care habits, taking the time to do whatever it is that fills your individual tank is crucial to feeling less overwhelmed with work anxiety. I frequently ask my clients which car will make it on a cross-country trip: the car you stop and put gas in, checking the oil and tires intermittently, or the car that you just keep driving?

17. Reframing/Changing Perspective

We all get caught in the habit of seeing things from only one perspective. A friend of mine used to always tell me, “there are three sides to every story: yours, theirs and something in the middle.” She was right, and honestly, there are many more sides than that.

Critical coaching moment here: Take a step back and try to think outside the box to see the vast expanse of options available to you. Try not to discount them right off the bat as they might not readily fit into the narrow view or expectation that you previously held. Allow your mind to run free, be creative, and find solutions.

What Organizations Can Do About It

As we mentioned earlier, this problem of being overwhelmed with work anxiety is not one-dimensional. Much of the onus falls on the system itself. Not ready to make the full commitment necessary, many organizations encourage their employees to “take care of themselves” or “prioritize work-life balance” while, at the same time, covertly/overtly making unrealistic demands in workload and time.

The positive side is that there are companies who have truly taken the task of supporting their employees as people with personal and professional lives to heart.[9] These organizations stand at the forefront with fair wages, employing enough staff, and setting realistic work expectations, boundaries, and goals. Some top organizations employ life coaches, psychologists, and other support staff, offer employee wellness programs, encourage good nutrition through free healthy meals at work, provide access to fitness and game rooms, and provide unlimited paid time off, flexible schedules, the ability to work remotely, as well as resources to assist with daycare, legal issues, and in-home care to name a few.

Lastly, solid training for managers and HR in addressing employees as “whole” people and taking some of the onus off of the employee to find their own solutions to problems that stem from the workplace is another critical component to successfully supporting employees.[10]

Final Thoughts

Improving support for people in the workplace is good for everyone. It’s better for people’s health and well-being, it’s better for productivity and making fewer errors, it’s more cost-effective for companies and our healthcare system, and it increases the bottom line for companies.

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As we discussed earlier, the big picture will not change overnight. For now, take control of what you can and evaluate ways to better manage your end of things. If these changes are not enough to make the difference you are looking for, then a change of environment or to a company that holds the same beliefs that you do may be in order.

More Tips on How to Manage Work Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Elisa Ventur via unsplash.com

Reference

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