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How to Effectively Cope with Work Anxiety

According to the American Institute of Stress, approximately 83% of American workers suffer from work-related stress.[1] Some of this stress can be moderate to mild, while at other times, the stress can lead to more complex problems, such as depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness.

The average American is juggling more responsibilities now than in prior generations, so it’s not a surprise that work anxiety creeps in. If left untreated, it can morph into physical and mental ailments that can prevent you from living your best life

How Does Anxiety Affect Your Work?

Before we can dive into how anxiety affects your work environment, we have to first break down what anxiety is in the physical body.

Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress.[2] When you’re faced with situations that are new and unfamiliar, normal feelings of fear or apprehension may arise. On a physical level, your palms may start to sweat more and your pulse and breath will quicken.

You also may notice changes on a mental level, particularly in how difficult it becomes to keep your thoughts on task. This is often evident in moments when you have to give a presentation: have you ever lost your train of thought hen everyone’s eyes turned toward you? It’s fairly normal. This is because anxiety steps in full force, and physical reactions take over. Essentially, the mind shuts down, as if your internal circuit breakers blew.

Because symptoms of work anxiety are very physically-based, it becomes difficult to stay on task when working. Your body begins redirecting the mind away from what it’s supposed to be working on and into the worries vying for your attention.

This is a typical, primal fight or flight response mechanism. We rely on this survival coding to help us in situations where our actual survival may be threatened. However, at work, this mechanism doesn’t serve us. In fact, it creates more problems by gearing the body up to respond to stresses and perceived threats in an overactive way.

Think of a time when you were overloaded with deadlines and projects at work. You likely experienced a heavy dose of work anxiety. You may have also experienced symptoms and stresses of fear at not having enough time to finish everything, or failing to meet your boss’ expectations.

When experiencing work anxiety, you may have trouble concentrating on your work, even when you’re motivated to do so. You may also jump from one task to another and have a hard time settling down to see one project through to completion.

Your restless behavior may impact other people on your team or in your department. This is more evidence to show that one person’s anxiety isn’t localized to their experience only: your energy affects the energies of others around you.

When these anxiety and fear-based emotions reach their peak, they can act as a time bomb. We usually see this as employees overwhelmed with work “flying off the handle” or succumbing to aggression in order to release their anxiety. As a result, not only does your work suffer, but so do your professional relationships.

How to Cope with Work Anxiety

Now that we know what work anxiety is and how it presents itself, we can dig into how to stop it from making us miserable at work. Fortunately, for many of us, the idea of a work-life balance is no longer a taboo subject. More and more employers are jumping on board to ensure that the work environment is fair, balanced, and conducive to health.

With all of that in mind, however, it is still imperative that you find what works for you. Anxiety may present itself when you least expect it, and it may still come around, even if you’ve worked hard to keep it at bay. Remember that your mental health is an ongoing journey.

Below are some tips to help you gain clarity into how you can effectively cope with work anxiety.

1. Take Breaks Throughout the Day

It’s easy to get sucked into the daily grind. We often dive into emails and work calls immediately upon waking, or we’ll work through our lunch break. However, taking breaks throughout your day is essential. They allow you to disconnect from your task for a brief moment, to give your brain some much-needed rest and resetting.

Consider setting a timer on your phone or computer to go off every hour. When it does, take a quick walk around your office, or go outside if you have more time. Do something other than work: text a friend, listen to your favorite song, or simply close your eyes and meditate for a few minutes.[3] The reset will help you curtail the anxiety before it sneaks up on you.

2. Switch Your Coffee for Something Lighter

While your favorite cup of Joe may be your magical elixir to boost your productivity, it will also cause you to crash throughout your work day. While you may not want to cut coffee altogether, you can supplement your hydration. Reach for some water. Fill your favorite reusable bottle, and maybe add some lemon for zest. Lemon is also great for detoxing the body and regulating your metabolism and gut pH levels.

You can also switch to low-sugar smoothies or juices that give you more energy throughout the day.

3. Ensure You’re Getting Quality Sleep at Night

This is really the gem of coping with work anxiety. Sleep is often an underrated activity, but it is so important, and it is directly correlated to your productivity and energy levels in the morning.

Lack of good, quality sleep has been linked to anxiety as it causes hyperactivity and restlessness, both of which keep you from focusing on your work effectively.[4] When getting ready for sleep, ensure that you are undisturbed from any screen time and that you’re getting at least 7-8 hours of rest.

4. Ask for Help

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and buried with work, reach out to your managers or co-workers. Often, just speaking out about how you’re feeling can be a gateway to resolving the issue. Many employees may feel hesitant about approaching their bosses and instead accept their workload or environment as normal.

It is vital that you help challenge the stereotype and speak up when your health is being compromised for your job. In such a way, you can also open the door for others to feel comfortable in sharing. This not only de-stigmatizes mental health and dealing with anxiety, but it also puts more importance on having a solid work-life balance.

5. Set Honest Deadlines

Become more practical in the work deadlines that you either set for yourself or agree to. Ideally, everyone would love to be able to get everything done as quickly as possible. However, there are only so many hours in the day.

You should draw boundaries around what we can and cannot take on. Work anxiety really peaks when we say yes to everything and then realize we cannot complete it all. In order to stop this from manifesting, begin to draw your boundaries around work that you’re willing to do. It’s okay to say no, and it doesn’t make you a lazy or unproductive employee. Rather, it makes you one who is working smarter, not harder.

Final Thoughts

Anxiety is our body’s way of reacting to stress. One of the most common places we experience stress is at work. Between juggling deadlines, projects, and people, it can be overwhelming to complete and excel at everything we pile onto our plate. This is where anxiety takes the front seat, but you can take it back.

By drawing boundaries around what you’re willing and able to accomplish, you keep yourself from spiraling down into the rabbit hole of stressful work. At the same time, tapping into resources of better sleep and richer nutrition will allow you to handle any anxiety that comes your way with a clearer perspective.

While anxiety may feel crippling, there are tools at your disposal that will bring you back into alignment with yourself and your work

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