Tips and tricks to managing your work-related worries
Excessive worry. Unwanted thoughts. Random aches and pains. Overeating. Insomnia.
These are all classic signs of anxiety—fear of what’s to come or fear of future consequences of something that has already happened. Often, the fear is out of proportion to the risk at hand. (For example, thinking that you’re going to get fired because you send an email to the wrong contact.) While anxiety is a natural reaction to stress, being overly-anxious can upset your daily routine and relationships.
Anxiety is extremely common. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 18.1 percent of Americans experience anxiety each year.
And work is one of the biggest anxiety triggers. Unending emails. Endless meetings. Tough deadlines and difficult coworkers. A job is fertile ground for conflict and worry. This is compounded by the fact that we take a lot of pride in our career, so much so that we often measure our value against our work performance.
Anxious people can appear to be the epitome of success. This is called high-functioning anxiety. These folks have used their anxiety as fuel, but it can backfire. Holding yourself to an overly high standard can lead to overworking, lack of sleep, and a drop in performance.
Not sure if you fall into this category? Here are typical behaviors of high-functioning anxiety:
- Perfectionism: Everything must be done perfectly and on time
- Few work/life boundaries: You are often the first at work in the morning and typically work evenings and weekends
- Overthinking: Do you replay meetings? Do you reread and reread emails before sending?
- Over-volunteering: Do you say yes to additional work even if your plate is full? Do you take on projects that someone else is trying to offload?
- Everything is life or death: Anything from a small typo to missing a deadline makes you worried you’ve tanked your career. You become overly embarrassed if you stumble over your words on a call or let an hour pass before responding to an email.
- You can’t take a day off: Even when you’re on vacation or out sick, you respond to emails and join meetings. It’s very hard to stay away.
- You take things personally: A criticism of your work feels like a criticism of you.
Now, whether you meet one or all of the points above, finding ways to cope with work-related anxiety will help you feel better and be more productive.
The first thing to do is to acknowledge your anxiety. This is particularly powerful if you can do it in the moment. Press pause and step away from your work if you can. Focus on taking long, deep breaths. There is immense power in noting your anxiety by name.
It might be challenging but try not to be critical of yourself. Anxiety is normal. You could even try greeting this feeling like an old friend who has stopped by for a visit.
Realize that thoughts are just thoughts
Now that you’ve acknowledged your anxiety, recognize that your worries are just thoughts and thoughts don’t necessarily reflect reality. Yes, you are worried right now, but feelings aren’t permanent. And perhaps the story you are telling yourself isn’t accurate. It may not feel like it, but you have power over your thoughts—including anxiety.
Find the root cause
Take a moment to be curious about your anxiety. Try to find the roots of your worry. If you’re worried about sending an email, brainstorm about the cause. Are you concerned your insights aren’t intelligent enough? Maybe you’re suffering from imposter syndrome or you’re the sole breadwinner for your family. Understanding the root of your anxiety will help you cope with it.
Consider your worth
Often, work-related anxiety is related to concerns about your worth. When we are young, our grades and performance on sports teams is how we define our value. These are easily-understood measures of success. As we get older, our job can become the easiest way for us to measure our value. But our career is not indicative of who we are as human beings. Make a list of all your interests outside of work and a list of the traits you like the best about yourself. Use these when you need reminders that who you are is more than your job.
Find ways to cope
There are many ways to cope with anxiety and it’s important for you to find what works for you. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You might feel silly at first, especially if you’re new to mindfulness and meditation, but keep an open mind. Here are some tips:
- Be in the moment. If you’re anxious, you’re likely fixated on something that’s already happened or a future scenario. One of the most powerful exercises is rooting yourself in the moment. You can do this by breathing deep, getting a cold glass of water, or stretching.
- Establish boundaries. Start setting boundaries. Take it slow and understand you might have setbacks. Turn off your email for an evening. Take a day off and don’t let yourself log on. Don’t raise your hand to take on a project. Again, take it slow. Watch how the world doesn’t end and your career doesn’t tank if you step away.
- Take breaks: Find time between meetings and calls for a break. Get up and walk around. Make yourself a cup of tea. Taking a break, especially if you are feeling anxious, will help you reset and ground yourself in the moment. Making breaks a habit will help you avoid feeling overloaded.
- Establish screen-free time: Screens are unavoidable. We work on screens and often spend our free time catching up on shows or browsing social media on our TV or phone. Try to find 30 minutes every day for screen-free time. Read a book, go for a walk, or take a long bath. Spending time away from your screens will help ease the anxiety that can come with being connected all the time.
These coping strategies should help you start to manage your work-related anxiety. Remember to be patient with yourself and that taking any steps to make yourself calmer and centered is brave. And if you need more inspiration, be sure to check out Be’s schedule and drop in on a virtual meditation class.