I’ve had generalized anxiety disorder since I was 13, and I genuinely don’t remember a life when I wasn’t anxious about something. Whether it was anxiety about going to school, to the doctor, meeting someone for the first time, or starting a new job, anxiety has been around for all my adult life.
In high school, I managed my anxiety by taking medication, but when I went off to college, I said to myself, “I feel fine. I don’t need medication anymore.” What I didn’t understand at the time was that I was fine because I was on medication – not because I was magically cured of my anxiety and depression.
Throughout college and graduate school, I found myself worrying about every little thing to the point where my heart would race, my breathing was heavy, and I was dizzy, nauseous, and shaky. I brushed it off as normal college stress, but deep down, I knew I was experiencing anxiety again.
Things only got worse when I started working a full-time job after college, and I found it increasingly harder to manage my anxiety – especially between the hours of 9 AM and 5 PM.
Managing anxiety at work is no easy task, especially when you’re in high-stress situations on a daily basis and when you’re trying to hide it from those around you. I don’t have a “magical cure,” but the five tips below have helped me tremendously over the years. And it’s my hope they’ll help you too.
1. Communicate with the People Around You
When you’re struggling with anxiety, it’s tempting to hide it from those around you – especially in the workplace. But it’s important (and helpful) to communicate with your boss or coworkers when you’re feeling anxious.
You don’t have to tell anyone you have anxiety if you don’t want to. But at the very least, telling people what’s causing you stress can help the situation. Sometimes just saying to someone, “I’m worried I won’t get this done before the deadline” can help relieve enough pressure to get you through the day. And better yet, someone may have a solution to help get you through it.
For me, being open about my anxiety at work has been both positive and negative. At some jobs, my bosses and coworkers used it against me to make me feel weak or incompetent. But today, I’m lucky to have a boss that’s both supportive and understanding. Whenever I feel overwhelmingly anxious, I tell her, and we work together to find a solution that helps me get the job done without having a panic attack.
2. Go on a Walk
If your workday is anything like mine, then you spend most of your time sitting in front of a computer. And it’s unlikely you take too many breaks.
I get it – there’s a lot going on. Deadlines to hit, big projects to complete, and meetings to attend. But these things only add to your anxiety.
Whenever you’re starting to feel anxious, or even when you’re not, take a break and go for a quick walk. I try to do this at least two to three times a day, but do what works best for you.
Go on a walk around the block or even just around your building. Getting outside, breathing fresh air, and focusing on something other than work (if only for a few minutes) can help calm your anxiety.
3. Focus on Breathing
If you’re already feeling anxious at work, it can be difficult to calm yourself down. I know because I’ve been there so many times. But one of the best tricks I’ve learned is to focus on your breathing.
When you start feeling anxious, breathe in slowly and gently through your nose for five to seven seconds. Hold for three or four seconds. Then breathe out slowly through your mouth for seven to nine seconds.
Do this exercise ten to twenty times – or until you start feeling less anxious. This method of breathing helps ensure you’re not hyperventilating (which happens a lot when you’re having a panic attack) and helps activate the body’s relaxation response.
4. Spend Time Writing
Writing is a great coping mechanism for anxiety and other mental illnesses. If you’re feeling anxious, go to a quiet place with a pen and paper (or your laptop), and write down all the things that are making you feel anxious or stressed in that moment.
Or, you can take it a step further and write a blog post, short story, poem, etc. about how you’re feeling. You don’t need to make it perfect, and you don’t even need to spend a lot of time on it. But letting your emotions out and speaking what’s on your mind is a powerful tool that can help get you overcome your anxiety when you’re at work.
5. Exercise Before or After Work
This isn’t something you’ll do while you’re at work, but it’s certainly a helpful tool for managing anxiety in general, and the effects can trickle down to work.
According to several studies, regular exercise can be helpful to reduce the symptoms of both depression and anxiety, and the effects can be long-lasting. Just one intense exercise session can help reduce your anxiety symptoms for hours, and a regular workout schedule may help reduce them over time.
In the past, I always exercised after work to relieve all the stress and anxiety I built up throughout the day. Lately, I’ve switched to morning workouts, and it’s really helped me remain focused, centered, and calm throughout the day.
That’s not to say I don’t experience anxiety during the workday – because I certainly do. But exercising in the morning helps get me in the right mindset and relieves a lot of the anxious feelings I usually have before work.
Remember: It Gets Better
If you’re struggling with anxiety or another mental illness, it’s easy to feel like it’s never going to end. You think you’re always going to feel this overwhelming sense of panic or anxiousness, and it’s easy to want to give up.
But here’s what you need to remember: it will get better, and you aren’t going to feel like this forever.
It’s important to keep fighting – even when you don’t feel like you have much more to give. Because your best days are ahead of you. Just take it day by day. Hour by hour. Step by step. You can do this. I know you can.