Battling Anxiety at Work: A Change in Perception

Health Writer

If you can’t change your situation, it might be time to change your perception.

For some people, stress at work drives them to work harder and meet deadlines. But stress can cause other people to feel overwhelmed — lowering their productivity as well as their confidence.

Meditation, deep breathing and other relaxation strategies can help. Using breaks or your lunch hour to take a walk might help you make it through the afternoon. Sitting quietly for a few minutes might bring some relief. But chances are, once you get back into the stressful environment, your feelings of anxiety return. If there are reasons you can’t change your situation -- family obligations, health benefits -- it might help if you can change how you perceive and react to your work environment.

Some ways to change your perceptions about work include: Write down one reason you are thankful for your job each day.

At first this might be hard, especially if you spend most of the day ruminating on all the reasons you don’t like your job. But is your job close to home? Do you like your co-workers? Your boss? Are there nice restaurants nearby? Is there an area where you can sit outside and enjoy nice weather during lunch breaks? It doesn’t matter what it is -- write down one positive thing each day for the next four weeks. Each morning, review your list to help reframe your thinking into that of gratitude.

Consider how this job will benefit you.

You might not see your current job as the most optimal, but it might help you in your long-term professional and personal goals. Does this job help you build skills which will further your career? If not, are you gaining other skills, such as perseverance, patience, or interpersonal skills? Focus on the positive skills you are learning.

Change how you look at the need to work.

Our work lives are supposed to provide for our personal lives. If your professional life is taking away from your personal life -- stress is causing disruption in your relationships or you are worrying about your job during time off -- think about how you can bring the balance back. Can you stop taking calls or reading emails when you are not at work? Can you view your job as a way to give you the financial ability to enjoy your time off? Change your priorities to the time away from work, instead of making work your priority.

Use relaxation techniques before making a decision or working on a task that requires focus, problem-solving or creativity.

Our minds work best when we are relaxed. Whenever you are headed toward a stressful task, take 5 to 10 minutes to engage in an enjoyable or relaxing task. It will help you think more clearly and better complete the task.

Make a game of completing challenging tasks.

One customer service representative found dealing with irate customers extremely stressful. She and a coworker found a way to see these calls differently. They created a weekly “contest.” Both kept track of the difficult calls and gave themselves a point each time one was handled successfully, meaning the customer was satisfied at the end of the call. The person who handled the most at the end of the week received some small prize: maybe a cup of coffee or the coworker treated for lunch. When they treated these calls not as problems but as challenges, both coworkers found they no longer worried about taking customer calls.

Practice mindfulness.

Practice mindfulness by clearing your mind of everything except the task at hand, and do that one to the best of your ability. Instead of being a multi-tasker, change your strategy and your thoughts to completing a single task at a time.

Look at each situation as a single event rather than a do-or-die situation.

People with anxiety tend to view situations as a part of a (negative) string of events. For example, if you are late for work, you might worry about getting fired which will lead to financial problems. Try to scale back your thoughts so that you see each situation for what it is, rather than part of a negative set of events.

Make a list of the good that happens at work.

Keep a notebook at your desk and write down compliments, projects well done, completed tasks, pleasant lunches with coworkers. Keep a running list of all the positive experiences you have at work. Whenever you are feeling anxious, take the time to remember these experiences instead of focusing on the negative.

Act as if you are okay.

This can be very difficult, especially when your heart feels like it is beating out of your chest and you can hardly put two words together. But pretending you are okay will do two things: it will send a message to your brain that you are okay, and it will help you face the same sort of situation the next time it arises -- because you were, indeed, okay this time around.

Making it through the work day when you have anxiety can be tough. If you have tried different strategies and they aren’t working, make sure you talk to a mental health professional about different treatment options.

See more helpful articles on dealing with anxiety at work:

Anxiety and the Workplace

Dealing with Social Anxiety at Work

The Causes, Signs and Symptoms of Work-Related Stress

Sources:

Anxiety and Stress in the Workplace: Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Stress at Work: HelpGuide.org