6 Tips for Managing Work Anxiety

I’ve had a lot of clients ask me to explain exactly what anxiety is, and I’ve always been able to give a basic text-book definition: an intense worry or fear about something. I’ve explained that some people have intense fear or worry about specific things like; taking tests, public speaking, or flying on airplanes . Some people feel intense fear or worry about their lives in general. Some people experience anxiety as a result of a traumatic event. For some, anxiety is annoying, but manageable. For others, anxiety makes it hard to function on the day to day.  Anxiety does not look the same for everyone, and it can range from mild to severe. 

While I’ve had the ability to put myself in my client’s shoes and think about what anxiety could be like for them, experiencing it while at work has allowed for a whole new level empathy. I mean sure, I’ve been worried about a school test and driving in downtown Dallas makes my heart race but until recently I had never wondered, “Damn, do I need medication for this?”. 

With COVID-19 and the whole lockdown, people were not coming in to have mental health evaluations. There would be some days where I did one evaluation, and some days that I did zero. I knew that with the pandemic; depression, anxiety, and substance use would likely be on the rise, but I guess I wasn’t prepared for just how busy I would get and fast. As the stay-at-home orders were lifting and establishments were starting to open up, there was an immediate increase in the amount of people needing evaluations. I started to see more people in the lobby (socially distanced of course). People were coming in groups of two’s or three’s to be evaluated. There would be multiple appointments and multiple walk-ins. I started to notice that I was becoming stressed and overwhelmed more easily. Before even getting to work, I would be worried about how I was going to manage. Getting to work and seeing double-booked and back-to-back appointments filled me with dread. The very sight of three or four people in the lobby waiting to be evaluated instantly overwhelmed me. 

About a month ago, I started to experience the physical symptoms often associated with anxiety. When I was overwhelmed, I felt I couldn’t breathe properly. It was difficult to breathe all the way in and it was uncomfortable. At the same time, I would feel this pressure in my chest (I hate that feeling so much). These sensations often wouldn’t go away until the lobby was empty, or I was finally able to take my break. Then one day, I did something that I had never done before. I left for my break with people still in the lobby waiting to be evaluated. 

I don’t like for people to have to wait to be seen so I usually just put off my break until I can find an opening. I couldn’t do that on that day. I felt slightly panicked and I kept thinking to myself “I have to get out of here”, and so I did. Luckily, I didn’t experience a full-on panic attack, but I was damn sure close. 

After that experience, I decided that I needed a plan for how I was going to manage this anxiety so that I could function at work to the best of my ability. I needed to manage this not only for myself, but for my clients as well. I still feel stressed, overwhelmed, worried at times. I still get that pressure in my chest, but I’m managing very well thanks to these tips…

Tip #1: Start your morning with positive self-talk, and affirmations

Think of this as giving yourself a pep-talk before work so that you can go in prepared and confident. Affirm yourself with statements like; “I will not stress over things I can’t control”, “I will do my best and my best is enough”, “I am strong and capable”, “I can adapt to anything”.

Tip #2: Use aroma therapy 

Essential oils such as lavender, chamomile, peppermint, and wild orange can aid in relieving stress and anxiety. Use a topical oil or a lotion that has the oil in it. If you can have a diffuser in your work space or office, that’s a great option as well.

Tip #3: Practice deep breathing 

Deep breathing helps to slow down your heart rate and blood pressure which are usually elevated when you’re anxious. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds, and then exhale out of your nose for 6 seconds. Repeat as many times as you need to. 

Tip #4:  Ask for help when you need it

Workplace anxiety can often come from a heavy work load and never-ending deadlines. If there’s something that you can get assistance or support with, ask! Asking for help does not make you incompetent or unqualified, it makes you smart.

Tip #5: Take a break when you need it 

Taking breaks is good for your overall health and well-being. Make sure to step away from your work space and do things like; take a walk outside, eat, drink water, listen to music, watch a funny video. 

Tip #6: Be kind to yourself 

Dealing with anxiety symptoms in the workplace can be frustrating but try not to beat yourself up about it. Becoming stressed or anxious at work does not make you weak! You can learn to manage it, whether that’s on your own and/or with the help of licensed professionals.   

Anxiety in the workplace can come from things such as a toxic environment, issues with co-workers, heavy workload, etc. We spend a lot of our time at work and it’s in our best interest to manage anxiety as best we can. Do you experience workplace anxiety? If so, what is your experience like? How do you manage? I’d love to hear from you! 

How Do You Cope?

Coping skills was a very big topic this last week for clients that I work with, and it got me to thinking about how I cope with things. I want to challenge my readers to think about what coping skills you use, and better yet are they healthy or unhealthy? It’s no surprise that the clients I work with tend to use a lot of unhealthy coping skills, but they are not the only ones. I believe people everywhere, inside and outside of mental health facilities, use unhealthy ways to cope with this crazy thing called life. I, myself use unhealthy ways of coping sometimes.

So what are coping skills? Simply put they are things we use to deal with uncomfortable, difficult, and stressful situations.

So what determines whether a coping skill is healthy or unhealthy? Well to give some examples..

Unhealthy; over-eating, excessive sleeping, self-harm, procrastinating, withdrawing, giving up, blaming others, drinking and drug use, excessive spending.

Healthy; journaling, exercising, listening to music, developing a gratitude attitude, yoga, deep breaths in and out, taking a hot bath or shower, talking to friends/family, seeing a therapist.

I believe a lot of unhealthy coping skills provide temporary relief, but no long-term solutions and can even be detrimental. More importantly, I believe unhealthy coping skills do not help us get to the root of the problem. It’s like when you have a cold, and you take medicine. The medicine is great and helps to relieve symptoms, but the actual cold is not cured. Unfortunately, since there is no cure for the cold, we continue to get them. 

I wanted to touch on drinking and drugs because some of you may be thinking, “Isis, some of that is legal!” Yes, I’m aware lol. I drink and I enjoy it! Marijuana is slowly becoming legalized and I think it’s great. Drugs and alcohol is a very big part of our society and again, I just want to challenge you to think. When you drink or use drugs; what is your goal? Do you set limitations for yourself? Are you trying to forget or avoid something? Are you trying to numb yourself?  Do you fail to meet obligations or handle responsibilities due to use? Are relationships in your life becoming strained due to use? You can even apply some of these questions to other coping skills to determine if they are unhealthy.

 Deep reflection about what you do and why you do it, is key. 

To end on a lighter note, I thought I would share some of my favorite healthy coping skills. “Developing a gratitude attitude” is one I use a lot.  When I’m feeling down, stressed, or really negative I like to come up with a list of things in my head that i’m grateful for. I also sing or listen to music. My go-to song to sing is “Tell him” by Lauryn Hill. Two of my personal feel-good songs are “Pop Thieves” by Childish Gambino and “Return of the Mack” by Mark Morrison. Cleaning my entire apartment is also something I do to cope with stress.

What are some coping skills you use? Which ones would you like to stop? What new ones would you like to try? I’d love to hear from you!!