How To Manage Your Anxiety At Work, According To Experts
While it can be tough to cope with anywhere, figuring out how to manage anxiety at work can be particularly difficult. There are the added pressures of projects, deadlines, and stress that can make your symptoms worse. And, it can be tricky to find time to slow down and regroup, which can leave you feeling pretty depleted.
That's why, no matter how busy you get, "it is extremely important to take good care of yourself throughout the day to make sure you are being mindful of your thoughts," Valentina Verani, LMHC, a Boston-based mental health counselor, tells Bustle. If your anxiety is running high, that's your cue to step away, take a break, or practice other anxiety-relieving tricks, so that it doesn't start to feel out of control.
Of course, "if your anxiety is getting the best of you [...] definitely get help and visit a mental health professional," Vinay Saranga MD, psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry, tells Bustle. This is one thing you can do after work, or even on your lunch break, to better manage how you feel.
It can also help to change up your daily routine while at work, so you can treat yourself well, and even alleviate a few symptoms. So, if you have anxiety, here are a few tips for taking good care of yourself throughout the day, with the goal of making being at work just a little bit easier.
1. Take Plenty Of Breaks
Even though you may feel compelled to stay at your desk or push through the day without a break, it's so important to get up, get out, and give your brain a rest.
"Taking a break throughout the work day is good advice for everyone, and especially if you suffer from anxiety," Saranga says. "It’s important for your mental health to rest, relax, and recharge so you can [... stay] clear of stress and overwhelm."
So whether it's a quick step outside, or an hour-long lunch break, take whatever you can get. "It doesn’t have to be anything fancy," Saranga says. "Even just going for a short walk, taking some deep breaths, or chilling out to your favorite music in the car will do the trick."
2. Ask For Some Help
"For people with anxiety, letting the work pile up or trying to do it all can be overwhelming, stressful, and can cause a great deal of anxiety," Saranga says, which is why you shouldn't hesitate to delegate tasks whenever possible.
"If you are in a position to delegate," he says. "definitely take advantage of this workplace perk. There’s a reason you have a team working besides you, and while it helps with productivity it will also keep your anxiety levels low."
You might also want to make a work friend who can come to the rescue and help out with a task, if it's becoming a bit much. You can even tell them about your anxiety, so they know what's up and can offer support.
3. Avoid Those Extra Cups Of Coffee
It's so tempting to spend the day revisiting the break room, and pouring cup after cup of coffee. But if you have anxiety, it's a good idea to hold off on all the extra caffeine.
"A cup of coffee in the morning to help you get going is one thing," Saranga says. "However, if you suffer with anxiety, the excess caffeine can trigger more anxiety and make it more difficult to deal with."
Instead, go for decaf, choose a caffeine-free tea, or get really into jazzing up a bottle of water with mint or berries, so you can sip on that throughout the day.
4. Keep Snacks Nearby
Going off that idea, it's important to keep plenty of snacks on hand as well, especially since "a drop in blood sugar can mimic symptoms of anxiety," Saranga says. "You may feel lightheaded, shaky, and off balance."
So take your lunch break, but also "keep nutrient-rich snacks at your desk to munch on throughout the day," Saranga says. "It’s also important to stay properly hydrated even if you are in an office environment and not doing any physical activity."
Between your snacks, your beverage, and a lunch break, you'll be giving your body what it needs to get through the day, while also staving off anything (like low blood sugar) that might make you feel worse.
5. Check In With Yourself
It can be tough to stick through a busy work day when you have anxiety, so be sure to check in with yourself every few hours to see how you're truly feeling, and notice if there's any minor adjustments that can be made.
If you feel anxious, "focus on slowing down your breathing, being optimistic and believing the best, and spending a few moments in mindfulness (being present in the moment)," Saranga says, as this will help bring your anxiety levels down.
You might steal away to the bathroom for a few minutes, or focus on making a cup of tea — anything that'll help bring your mind back to the present moment, and get you out of your head.
6. Remember To Breathe
If you catch yourself tensing up, take a moment to breathe. "Deep breathing increases overall mental clarity by delivering more oxygen to the brain," Greta Aronson, a licensed professional counselor who specializes in seeing women who struggle with anxiety, perfectionism, and depression, tells Bustle. "It helps your concentration and improves your memory, but most importantly — helps you think more clearly about whatever you're having anxiety about."
Are you stressing out over an upcoming presentation? Or a long line of customers? Or simply feeling anxious for no real reason? Take some deep breaths and "you'll be able to think more rationally, talk yourself down, and see new perspectives, which are all helpful tools in managing anxiety," Aronson says.
7. Go For A Walk
Sometimes the best way to release anxiety is by moving, so if you feel like it's getting a bit intense, "go for a quick walk outside if weather permits or walk the stairs," psychotherapist Shauna K Zotalis, MA, tells Bustle. "Movement can bring our body back to baseline by decreasing cortisol and activating healthy hormones and body chemicals such as endorphins."
You can go by yourself, or ask a coworker to come along for some added benefit. As Zotalis says, making an effort to talk to coworkers and make friends can increase your sense of belonging, which can really help with your overall well-being at work.
8. Make Your Environment As Pleasant As Possible
If you have a desk, it can help to create a space that feels nice to be in, as this will "help organize your thoughts and calm your mind," Verani says. You might not want to cover your desk in a thousand messy papers, or leave snack wrappers lying around.
"It's hard to get things done in a messy environment for most," she says, so keep it clean and organized, and add in a few touches so it feels cozy. Think along the lines of photos of your pet or friends, a leafy indoor plant, your favorite mug... whatever seems like it'll be a nice addition to what can be an otherwise cold and boring space.
9. Leave Work At Work
When it's time to head home for the day, do your best to leave work at work so your brain can de-stress for a while, and get ready for the next day.
"Being connected all the time might be beneficial to your job, but it’s terrible when it comes to your mental health and can increase anxiety," Saranga says. When the end of the day rolls around, make an effort to spend time relaxing, see a friend, get some exercise, or whatever else you want to do.
It's OK if you have to check your email or finish a project on occasion, but it's also important to prioritize your mental health, and to take plenty of time each day to slow down and make sure it's all balancing out. This, along with other things — like going to therapy, if you think that'd be beneficial — will help keep your anxiety in check.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.