If you struggle with anxiety, you may find it especially tough to get things done at work. “Anxiety can be debilitating on its own, but in the workplace, it can be magnified immensely,” said Jenifer Hope, LCPC, a therapist who specializes in treating anxiety.
With its often-fast pace and mounting demands, work can spike stress. One of Hope’s clients, who has generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), feels anxious most of the time and in most situations. When her anxiety is severe, she has a hard time completing any task. She’ll reread the same line in an email because she can’t focus on anything else except her anxiety.
Whether you struggle with severe or occasional anxiety at work, you can practice certain strategies to feel better. Hope shared these five tips.
1. Slow down your breathing.
As Hope said, the reason patients get oxygen at the dentist’s office is because it calms you down. To practice deep breathing, “sit back in your chair and place your hand on your abdomen. When you take a deep breath in, your hand should rise up. When you breathe out slowly, your hand should lower.”
She suggested breathing in deeply for five seconds, and breathing out until you don’t have any breath left. “Repeat this several times until your chest feels less tight and your mind has stopped racing.”
2. Practice reassuring self-talk.
Regularly ruminating about how anxious you are and that you can’t handle the situation amplifies your anxiety and paralyzes you. “If you change your thinking, you can change your behavior,” said Hope, who practices at Urban Balance, which provides comprehensive counseling services in the Chicago area.
For instance, she suggested reminding yourself that anxiety is a feeling that will change and go away. You might say to yourself: “This is temporary. It will pass,” and “I will be OK. I am OK. I will get through this.”
You also can talk yourself through work tasks, such as: “I will work on this project for 20 minutes and then reevaluate how I am feeling.”
3. Get moving.
If you’re able to get outside, take a brisk 10- to 15-minute walk, Hope said. Or find a quiet spot in your building to do several sets of jumping jacks, she said. “This will release endorphins that will help calm your mind and your body.”
Another option is to practice muscle tension and relaxation, which shifts your focus from anxiety to the exercise, and releases the tension your body holds onto from the anxiety, Hope said.
Start with your face. “First, scrunch all the muscles in your face as tightly as you can. Hold this for about 20 seconds. Then release and relax all the muscles in your face.” Do the same with your neck and other parts of your body, moving down to your toes.
Hope’s client finds it helpful to take breaks in the office gym throughout the day.
4. Separate tasks into smaller time periods.
Most people who struggle with anxiety at work are counting down the minutes until they can go home, Hope said. They also may look at their entire schedule, instantly become overwhelmed and feel like fleeing, she said.
Breaking down tasks into shorter time increments shrinks them to a size you can manage and helps you realize that you’re capable of working, she said.
For instance, prioritize your projects, and start with the most important one. Go hour-by-hour, and then re-evaluate. “Tell yourself ‘I just need to get through this hour; then I can think about going home.’”
After that hour, set another goal, she said. “Work on another project for an hour; when that hour is over, take a break and praise yourself for making it through two hours of work.”
“Your day will slowly feel less overwhelming and you can be proud for making it through the day.”
5. Reach out.
When Hope’s client feels extreme anxiety, she emails or calls Hope or a close friend. “If you have someone you can talk to, you can explain your feelings and receive validation, comfort and reassurance, which can help remind you that you are capable of getting through this; you are already doing it.”
If you’re still struggling with persistent anxiety at work, get help. “Do not feel embarrassed. You would be surprised how many other people are suffering just like you.”