Work-related anxiety is a huge problem for many – a problem that seems to be getting worse instead of better. Indeed, research by the UK Council for Psychotherapy has shown that anxiety and depression rates amongst UK employees have risen by almost a third in four years. If you feel like work is affecting your mental health, therapist and life coach Lisa Wood says it’s important to realise that you really can turn things around. Here she shares practical steps for dealing with workplace anxiety when it strikes.
Understanding why you feel anxious
Although the research that shows that anxiety is becoming more common among UK workers doesn’t identify the cause of this trend, it’s clear that work pressures have grown. Technology means there’s no real break from work. And fuelled by the growth of idealised images in advertising and social media, we’re all living with unrealistically high expectations about what our lives should look and feel like. There’s now so much pressure for us to attain perfection in all areas of our lives, which leaves us vulnerable to a sense of failure when we inevitably fall short. The truth is that while a negative work environment can trigger feelings of anxiety, those feelings can also be worsened or caused by the pressure we put on ourselves to have a perfect career. We want to climb the career ladder at a specific pace, always get the promotion, always be praised for a job well done and never make mistakes. And this is simply not realistic.
The most important thing to know
Regardless of the specific reason for feeling anxious, the hardest part of anxiety is often the way we judge ourselves for having those feelings… rather than the feelings themselves. The problem lies with the inner voice that tells us we’re not good enough or that something must be wrong. If you catch yourself experiencing this type of internal chatter, try taking a step back. Take a breath and pay close attention to your inner voice. It’s easy to believe that it’s offering objective truths, but it’s not. If you listen carefully, you’ll notice how often it contradicts itself. It really is just chatter. Simply noticing this occasionally is enormously helpful and creates the space for a different experience to surface.
Don’t fight the feeling
Most of the time we don’t really notice our internal chatter. We just experience the feelings it generates. And if the feelings are painful it’s natural to want to block them. But studies show that avoidance is not the best strategy for mental wellbeing. Pretending everything is fine and trying to ignore the anxiety tends to make it worse. When we shrink our world to fit our comfort zone, everything that lies outside of this zone becomes a little more intimidating. So as painful as it might be, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings of anxiety and recognise that whatever you’re feeling is OK and that you are absolutely fine. The more you can accept the feelings passing through you, the more quickly they will shift and change.
In moments of crisis
Experiencing intense anxiety at work can feel overwhelming, so when this happens, place your attention on the physical sensations in and on your body as a way of grounding yourself. It tends to bring you back to the present moment and creates space for your mind to settle. Take your attention to your feet. Notice the weight of them on the floor, how they feel in your shoes and any internal sensations you’re aware of, such as numbness, pulsing or tingling. There’s no particular sensation to look for. It’s the shift of your focus to the physical experience that’s helpful. It gives the mind a chance to settle and refresh.
Time for a career change
Having said that, it’s also important to recognise if your anxiety is a direct result of a work circumstance that isn’t serving you well. Using these suggestions can help you deal with the day to day feelings of anxiety, but if your job is a bad fit, in terms of hours, management style or company ethos, and you find that the anxiety centres only around your work situation, it could be time for a career change or job change. Sometimes it’s the feeling of stuckness that generates a sense of anxiety, and those feelings can begin to grow if you don’t take action. So be brave and ask yourself, “what is my heart really crying out for?”. Feelings of anxiety can be a call to action. Maybe it’s time for a growth spurt.
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