The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
We live in more uncertain times and that heightens anxiety in our lives, but especially in our work life.
Based on a survey from the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, while only 9% of individuals are living with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, 40% experience ongoing stress or anxiety in their daily lives, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.
It is important to know the difference between normal feelings of anxiety and an anxiety disorder requiring medical attention which can help a person identify and treat the condition.
The symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) will often include:
- restlessness, and a feeling of being “on-edge”
- uncontrollable feelings of worry
- increased irritability
- concentration difficulties
- sleep difficulties, such as problems in falling or staying asleep
The American Psychology Association describes a person with anxiety disorder as “having recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns.” Once anxiety reaches the stage of a disorder, it can interfere with daily function. It’s important to know if your anxiety is general or possibly a disorder, which should include a medical evaluation.
Anxiety in the Workplace
Anxiety at work especially in these current times brings challenges that impact all of our current workplace demographics and workforce diversity. The generations in our current workforce represent Baby Boomers, Gen x, Millennials and GenZ, which spans ages 70 to 20’s. They are more educated, diverse and bring different and important skills to the table. Women are expected to continue to gain share, rising from 46.8 percent of the workforce in 2014 to 47.2 percent by 2024.
We can help each other get through our anxieties by supporting each other and sharing our experiences of how we got through them. Anxiety is a human emotion that gets triggered by so many personal and professional factors. Regardless, we need some concrete and solid ideas, tools and suggestions to help us deal with our anxiety and emotions.
Trying to convince yourself to stop being anxious when you’re feeling anxious is a bit like telling yourself to fall asleep when you have insomnia — it doesn’t work. So what does?
Coping with anxiety when you’re at work and expected to perform at your best can be particularly challenging.
Whether you’re worrying about something specific, like an imminent deadline, or you just have a formless feeling of dread, you might be telling yourself something along these lines: “You’ve got to get back to work, stop worrying, stop obsessing, get your head back in the game and just focus!“
Easier said than done.
How to Deal With Anxiety at Work
Trust Your Feelings
Have you experienced an anxiety attack at work and do you remember how you felt? Too many of us don’t feel like mental symptoms are as real as physical ones. Thinking that mental health problems are, in some way, not as real as physical ones is not uncommon. This year, millions of Internet users have asked Google if mental illness is real, and the Internet abounds with public awareness campaigns from the government and non-profit organizations answering with a resounding “Yes!”
“Anxiety disorders are real, serious medical conditions — just as real and serious as physical disorders such as heart disease or diabetes,” writes the ADAA.
“Anxiety disorders are the most common and pervasive mental disorders in the United States.” The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that as many as 1 in 5 Americans are affected by anxiety disorders.
Don’t Worry About Getting Fired
A major part of having an anxiety attack in the workplace can be the fear that you’ll get fired. The good news is — you probably won’t. The fear of getting let go is often a hallmark of workplace anxiety. But should your worst “what if” scenario come true, the law is on your side.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is designed to protect employees like you from job discrimination; so, if you tell your employer that you have a lasting “physical or mental impairment,” they are required, by law, to not only keep you on, but also provide you with “reasonable accommodation.” As the ADAA explains, your employer cannot fire you, or refuse to hire you, if you’re qualified for the job and your disability stops you from performing tasks that are “not essential” to the job.
Work With Anxiety, Not Against It
Steven Hayes, author of 46 books and over 600 scientific articles, professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Nevada in Reno, a man who is no stranger to panic attacks himself — advocates for a more self-compassionate and self-accepting way of dealing with anxiety. In fact, Prof. Hayes is the founder of one of the newest and most innovative forms of cognitive behavioral therapy, called acceptance commitment therapy (ACT). This form of therapy starts with the acceptance and non-judgemental observation of negative thoughts, and moves toward bringing the client into the present moment and helping them lead a meaningful life.
Make Stress Your Friend
Along similar lines, health psychologist and world-renowned speaker Kelly McGonigal makes the case for a positive rethinking of stress. She explains, it’s not so much the stress itself that is harmful, as the way in which we think about it.
Instead of seeing stress as your enemy, you can make it your friend and work for you. Stress and anxiety are nothing but a sign that you care about something, and this care can be molded into something that wildly improves your performance instead of inhibiting it.
She says these 3 steps help make anxiety work for you:
- Acknowledge stress when you experience it and allow yourself to notice the stress, including how it affects your body.
- Welcome the stress by recognizing that it’s a response to something you care about., so try to connect to the positive motivation behind the stress. Figure out what is at stake here, and why it matters to you?”
- Make use of the energy that stress and the anxiety it brings you, instead of wasting that energy trying to manage it. What actions can you take right now that will move your goals and values forward.
Find Activities That Make You Feel Good and Brings Balance to Your Life
- Exercise Daily
- Yoga and meditation has been shown to significantly reduce feelings of anxiety and stress.
- Stress Management
- Have a Support System
- Seek Professional Counseling
- Get a Mental Health Evaluation
- Restrict Caffeine
- Commit to a Healthy Diet and Hydrate all Day
- Work on a Regular Sleep Pattern
- Focus on what you have control over and let go of what you don’t
- Spend more time with people that support and uplift you
- Support and Uplift others who need it
Be Kinder and Gentler to Yourself
Often, those of us who live with anxiety are also perfectionists, over-achievers, and generally people who (have been taught to) expect a lot from ourselves. When you have anxiety, that makes things even worse, because not being at your best makes you angry at yourself, and treating yourself harshly is the last thing you need when you’re, in fact, at your most vulnerable.
Remember no one is ever perfect, and we all need to take care of and nurture our flawed selves. For most of us, our work days consist of sitting in front of our computers, barely blinking, let alone getting up to move. Take short breaks to get up and move around the building. Go for a walk around the block during lunch or walk to lunch.
Just getting up and walking around your office can be the physical and mental outlet you need to let some of that stress and anxiety burn off without sending you into a spiral.
Remember It’s a Moment
When we are in the thick of our worst anxiety, it feels like it’s never going to end. Here’s the thing: it will, it’s going to end and it will pass and you aren’t going to feel anxious forever. But get into action and help yourself through it.
Take a Five-Minute Meditation Break
We take bathroom breaks. And lunch breaks. So, why shouldn’t there be five minute meditation break? Take time out to center yourself during a stressful moment or situation. This sends a message to your brain. It tells you it’s time to relax and refocus. Take some deep breaths. Let go of aggravating thoughts. And get your emotions back on track.
We need to believe things are going to be okay and put them into perspective. Then we work through our anxieties best. Keep the faith. Take the actions that can change things. And keep treating yourself with love, kindness and respect.
Don’t allow anxiety to define who you are. It doesn’t own us. We own it.