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Published on October 25, 2018

How to Cope with Anxiety and Stress at Work: 5 Psychology Techniques

How to Cope with Anxiety and Stress 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 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.

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?

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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.

Let’s look at an example:

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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!

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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)

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Helen D'Silva

Performance Psychologist for Business and Entrepreneurship, Sport and Personal Development

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Published on November 14, 2018

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

Symptoms of Fatigue

Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

  • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
  • mental blocks
  • lack of motivation
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • muscle weakness
  • slowed reflexes and responses
  • impaired decision-making and judgement
  • moodiness, such as irritability
  • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
  • reduced immune system function
  • blurry vision
  • short-term memory problems
  • poor concentration
  • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

Causes of Fatigue

The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

  • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
  • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
  • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
  • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

Medical Causes of Fatigue

If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

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This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

Diabetes

Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

Thyroid disease

An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Too much sleep 
  • Alcohol and drugs 
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
  • Poor diet 

Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

  • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
  • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
  • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
  • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

Psychological Causes of Fatigue

Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

  • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
  • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
  • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

1. Tell The Truth

Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

  • How you feel
  • What time of day it is
  • What may have contributed to your fatigue
  • How your mind and body reacts

This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

2. Reduce Your Commitments

When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

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If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

4. Express More Gratitude

Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

5. Focus On Yourself

Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

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Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

7. Take a Power Nap

When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

8. Take More Exercise

The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

9. Get More Quality Sleep

To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

10. Improve Your Diet

Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

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To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

11. Manage Your Stress Levels

Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

12. Get Hydrated

Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

The Bottom Line

These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
[2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
[3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
[4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
[5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
[6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

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