Gina, a former colleague of mine, spent most of her career dreading work. She constantly worried about her performance and often felt overwhelmed by the pressures of her job. As Gina’s anxiety began to interfere with her work, causing her to lose focus and miss deadlines, it became clear she needed to get help.
If you’re one of the 40 million people living with anxiety like Gina, you know that common office situations—anything from talking to co-workers in the elevator to speaking up on a meeting—can take on heightened stress.
You may find that you have trouble concentrating on the work in front of you. This may result in chronic self-doubt and work nightmares.
While it’s true that nearly everyone experiences some level of stress these days, living and working with anxiety is different. It can be crippling, but it doesn’t have to push you down. Beyond getting the right diagnosis and treatment like Gina did, you might consider incorporating some simple coping strategies into your daily life.
1. Know Your Triggers
Pay attention to situations that spike your anxiety—whether that’s getting feedback, writing important emails, being put on the spot, or starting the day with a messy desk.
Keep a journal to document your observations and look for patterns. When you know what makes you the most uneasy, you can better anticipate challenges and create a plan to deal with triggers.
When Gina realized rushing was one of her anxiety triggers, she created a warm-up ritual to practice before big meetings. She started blocking off 20 minutes before the start to review the agenda, jot down questions to ask, and grab water.
She began arriving to the conference room five minutes early, settling in if it was available, and, prepped and relaxed, she made easy small talk with her co-workers. The advance planning enabled her to feel at ease—not frantic. And this calmness in turn allowed her to be fully present and contribute to the conversation in meaningful ways.
2. Have Go-To Grounding Techniques
Anxiety activates the body’s fight or flight response, which sets off a number of uncomfortable reactions from sweating to tunnel vision. Calming yourself with grounding techniques—or ways to stay in the present moment—can get you back in control and feeling better fast.
Meditation, stretching, calling a friend, or going for a walk are all great options. You’ll have to find what works best for you depending on your personality and what’s acceptable in your office environment, but this list is a great place to start.
Your company might even offer mindfulness or yoga classes, or encourage power napping for productivity. All of these are self-care options that can benefit the anxious mind greatly.
I’m a big fan of Box Breathing, a method used by the Navy SEALS that involves slow, controlled breathing. It’s inconspicuous and many of my coaching clients use it during meetings or high-pressure situations when they feel anxiety coming on.
3. Create Conditions for Success
Make your well-being part of your daily to-do list. Simple changes like avoiding too much caffeine, working by a window with natural light, and controlling noise in your workspace with headphones can all help keep the racing thoughts at bay. While you can’t control most of your enviornment, make it a point to change what you can.
Prioritizing rest is huge. Studies have found that getting more sleep helps about 50% of people feel more at ease and less anxious. Outside of the office, focus on creating rock solid work-life boundaries. For instance, pick a non-negotiable time to put away your work—and stick to it.
Scheduling fun after-hours activities can help make that a reality.
4. Ask for What You Need
Know your rights when it comes to managing your mental health at work. You can ask for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, including a flex schedule, additional time for assignments, and more frequent breaks.
Consider also making reasonable requests that’ll help you enormously—things like soliciting questions ahead of a presentation or asking your boss not to send you late-night emails unless it’s absolutely urgent.
If you’re explicit about your needs, respectful of others’ time and schedules, and intentional about producing quality work, it’s likely your team will have no problem honoring your preferences.
5. Set Micro-Goals
Setting small, achievable goals is always smart, but it’s even more important when you struggle with anxiety. You want to expand your comfort zone, yes, but you also want to be careful not to overwhelm yourself.
For example, if you’re trying to grow your network and change careers, you might aim to go to one industry event a month—not one a week. Setting realistic expectations for yourself is key to not only building positive momentum, but also preserving your well-being.
Living and working with anxiety doesn’t have to be debilitating. While there may be setbacks in your journey, make sure you celebrate every little victory along the way. Rally a support team around you who you can lean on in good times and bad. And if you have an understanding boss, embrace that relationship and practice effective communication about what’s going on with you and when you might require a little flexibility.