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Managing Anxiety in the Workplace

Jess Hines, Chief Blogger, and various

You got this

Most of us have daily worries—it’s only human to experience fear and doubt from time to time. Whether it’s something as small as whether your new haircut looks good, or something as significant as the health and well-being of a loved one, the occasional anxiety that comes from these worries is a normal part of life.

For people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), however, these worries often spiral out of control, making it sometimes difficult to concentrate and stay focused on daily tasks. GAD affects 6.8 million adults in the U.S., so chances are, you know or even work with someone living with anxiety. If you’re not living with anxiety, it may be difficult to fully comprehend what it’s like. This anxiety can become crippling and can impact every aspect of someone’s life—school, work, sleep, relationships and most importantly, self-image.

Because there is still stigma attached to mental illness, it’s often hard to open up about GAD. But in celebration of National Mental Illness Awareness week, and as someone who also suffers from GAD (in addition to ADHD), I have teamed up with a few brave team members who are helping to #CureStigma by offering tips and tricks on dealing with their anxiety in the workplace.

Christy Attlesey


Christy Attlesey, Communications Associate

When I was a kid, no one understood my anxious tendencies. It wasn’t something my family talked about and it certainly wasn’t something we treated. Not until my freshman year in college, when the stress and worry had taken its toll physically and I was hospitalized with three ulcers and a variety of other bizarre ailments. That’s when I learned I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

I was relieved to know that with medication and therapy I could live a somewhat normal life. And I do. But like my blue eyes and that tattoo I got when I was 21, my anxiety will always be with me. And while it presents challenges every day, I’ve been working on pushing myself to understand my behaviors and find solutions, especially in the workplace.

Every day is a new adventure and I’m constantly pushing myself from my comfort zone. This is my attempt to control my anxiety—not the other way around. Some days are easier than others. But what gives me strength is knowing I’m not alone. And neither are you!

Take a break.
I worry about everything and although my fears may seem irrational to many, they are very real to me. I often worry that my boss isn’t happy with my work and that my co-workers don’t like me. So, when my anxiety gets the best of me, I try to remove myself from the situation for a bit and find do something that makes me happy. It’s amazing what laughing over lunch with a friend can do for your soul.

Organize, organize, organize.
I like to organize and plan as much of my life as possible, so I feel I have some control when the chaos strikes. At work, I make lists of everything that needs to get done. Removing tasks from my lists helps me feel productive.

Have a ‘feel good’ file.
I question everything I do in life and rarely feel “good enough.” That’s not self-depreciation; that’s living with anxiety. When I turn in an assignment, I dread my boss’s response. For days like these, I turn to my “feel good file.” It’s a folder of emails and letters I’ve received over the years from people complimenting my work or thanking me for a job well done. Sometimes you just need a reminder!

Ask for help.
When work piles up, I often think coming in early, working through lunch and avoiding breaks will help. It doesn’t. And forcing myself to walk away is difficult. This is an area where I still struggle, but I try to leave on time every evening, so I can have dinner with my family. And I’m learning to ask for help. When I have too much on my plate, I now tell my boss and hope that we can find a solution.

Ian Whitlow

Ian Whitlow, Creative Strategist

Know when to walk away. (Or, what I call “The Kenny Rogers Rule.”)
The worst thing about anxiety is the “worry loop.” It’s what happens when a specific anxiety trigger – like a looming deadline, or an uncomfortably tense argument with a coworker – plays over and over in your head like the lyrics of Toto’s “Africa.” The problem is, replaying the same worry over and over doesn’t get you any closer to dealing with it; instead, it paralyzes you and takes up brain space you could be using for productive work. So, after a meeting where 75 new to-dos magically get piled on my plate, or after I get an angry email about that thing I forgot to take care of, I’ve found that the best thing to do is get away from my desk and focus on something else.

If I can, I’ll take my lunch break early and go to my favorite coffee shop or the bookstore down the road. Granted, I’ve spent a small fortune on books and cappuccinos, but taking myself physically out of the office helps me distance myself mentally from the problem at hand. That way, by the time I sit back down at my desk, whatever I was worried about seems a lot less menacing and a lot more manageable. If you can’t take a whole lunch break, even just a few minutes away – brewing your second seventh cup of coffee, dropping by to see how your coworker is doing, or taking a step outside for some fresh air – can put the object of your anxiety in perspective.

Kate Kalil, Manager of Innovation Excellence for Sales Strategy and Planning

Getting stressed at work happens for everyone, but the intensity of working in corporate America can be overwhelming for those who already cope with anxiety. For me, things like disorganization, impractical expectations, hierarchical roadblocks, extremely large meetings, work/life imbalance, and process or procedure inefficiencies can trigger anxious behaviors. When situations like that arise, it really helps to do one or more of the following:

Kate Kalil

 

  • Take a moment to pause, acknowledge my feelings, and let them pass through me rather than affect me.
     
  • Walk away from the situation and ask myself, “Am I seeing this situation clearly, or is my judgment motivated by anxiety?”
     
  • Step out of the office for a few minutes—get some fresh air, take a walk around the building, and listen to calming or motivating music.
     
  • Reserve a small conference room and work privately until the anxiety passes.
     
  • Utilize the meditation room open to team members at our Chicago office to center myself and my thoughts.

This list is by no means exhaustive; however, these tactics usually work for me and I sincerely hope they’ll help you, too.

Join us this week in helping to #CureStigma and visit NAMI's website to check out more ways to get involved for Mental Illness Awareness Week and general information on mental health issues.

Published October 11, 2018.

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