How can you manage anxiety in the workplace?

August 19, 2022

How can you manage anxiety in the workplace?

We are a nation of anxious people. Unfortunately, worries, stress, and anxiety are part of the full human experience. There is no way around it. Especially in the kind of world we currently live in.

“Although anxiety is part of life, never let it control you.”—Paulo Coelho

A lot of us feel most anxious during unpredictable times, and guess what? We’ve been locked in our homes for the past two years because of a pandemic. The Internet and different media outlets are bursting with news about a war, inflation, recession, housing crash, etc. We see a lot of things that make us feel anxious every day, and having information readily available at our fingertips only means we get to see these things a lot more and a lot faster.

No matter how great you are at what you do, or how zen and stoic a person you might be, anxiety is something real. And often, it can be debilitating.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the US, affecting 40 million adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA, 2020). This includes specific phobias (the most common anxiety disorder in the US), social anxiety, PTSD, generalized anxiety, and panic disorders (ADAA, 2020).

That statistic could be less than the actual number because there are still a lot of people who remain undiagnosed and do not have access to healthcare.

And it has negative effects on our relationships with our families, friends, and in the workplace.

“Anxiety is love’s greatest killer. It makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds on to you. You want to save him, but you know he will strangle you with his panic.” – Anais Nin

According to Tanveer Naseer, “Anxiety is also strongly linked to lost productivity, decreased performance, and increased absenteeism and attrition.” As leaders, we have to be at the forefront in managing our own anxieties and helping our people manage their anxiety in the workplace.

So how can we manage anxiety, both at work and in general?

The first thing to keep in mind is that everyone reacts to anxiety differently. It is both generationally and individually diverse, and it is part of our job as leaders to protect their well-being.

Things get stressful at work. That is nothing new. Pressure from deadlines, the pile of workload, or that big contract from a new client is something we are all familiar with. That’s all the more reason why a positive work environment and company culture are important.

Because remember, outside of work, these people who are toiling for hours a day to help your business succeed are also facing problems and anxieties that you don’t know about. Making life a little easier by having a positive work culture is the least you can do to help them—and by extension, help you. You are part of the culture you are building too.

Other tips we can do include being brave enough to keep on taking action, especially in the face of fear. I talked about this the other day in one of my YouTube videos, but the thing about anxiety is that it always comes hand-in-hand with fear. And when we are afraid, sometimes we freeze. But keeping ourselves occupied with productive tasks helps keep our minds off of anxiety. Plus, it builds our self-esteem and gives us that feeling of having accomplished something. That’s why giving others recognition also helps lessen anxious feelings.

Find someone you can trust, a family member, a close friend, a trustworthy co-worker, or anyone to whom you can open up about your struggles. Having someone to share the load with helps lighten the burden a bit.

When everything around us that is outside of our control feels overwhelming, the best we can do to stay grounded and not get tossed around in the storm is to focus on the things that are within our control. What tasks can I take on today? How fast can I do them? How can I choose to react to what is happening? What are the things that I can change and fix that are right in front of me?

“Do what you can, with what you can, where you are.”—Theodore Roosevelt

Setting small goals, such as mini deadlines, can work wonders in helping you feel more in control.

Personally, I’ve found that anxiety comes from not having clarity on what it is I want to accomplish. I do my best to outline my priorities weekly and then, re-focus on each of them daily.

This way, I am making sure that I tackle the important things in my life, starting with self, family, and then business. I try to take very small steps in accomplishing a lot of these bigger goals. Anxiety usually pops up when I try to tackle one big thing and I focus on quick results instead of knowing that everything takes some time to accomplish. 

As for the things beyond our control, don’t ruminate about them. As Ivan Nuru said, “If it’s out of your hands, it deserves freedom from your mind too.”

And when it gets too much, ask for help. You can return the favor later when you are feeling more put together. Don’t stifle your feelings and just wait for it to explode later and drag everyone in the blast radius with you. Speak up about it while you can still do something about it.

Stay away from what triggers you. If the news is full of crap that is also making you feel like crap, then maybe you need to find a better source of news. Distance yourself from toxic people, and avoid negativity and gossip when you can. You can try to change their narrative, or you can take yourself out of the equation. One is within your control, and the other isn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. There are times when you have to engage, but if it's idle gossip about something you don’t care about, leave. Save your headspace for the things that are worth engaging in. Pick your battles

Most importantly, practice self-care. Set boundaries. Don’t take your work home. Disconnect before you sleep. Practice mindfulness, meditate, do yoga, exercise, go for a stroll, and ask your friend out for coffee. Write in your journal or start one. Pick up your hobby and have fun. Plan a vacation with your loved ones. Or travel alone. Read your favorite book, or hunker down and listen to a podcast. At the end of the day, you need to re-charge and keep yourself stuffed.

You can’t pour out to others, your loved ones, or your work if you are empty within. You need to have time to take care of yourself.

Things will get overwhelming if you don’t take time to pause and recollect yourself before going back into battle mode.

And remember, what you focus on will grow. If you focus on the fears, the worries, the stress, and anxiety, guess what? It will look more overwhelming than it actually is. (And, yes, sometimes the source of our anxiety is REALLY overwhelming, but I am talking about the smaller things). Focus on what you can change, what is within your control, and take it one step at a time.

In the words of Martin Luther King, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

Have a great day, and thank you for reading A Brilliant Tribe.