Even though I’ve experienced quite a bit of anxiety, I’ve generally been pretty good at keeping it out of my work-life or at least preventing it from becoming too prominent at work. And I’ve been working hard to develop methods that help me keep my anxiety under control at work, partly because I’m too concerned about what would happen to my career if I allowed my anxiety to show up at work, partly because I’m really passionate about what I do and don’t want my anxiety ruining the fun, and partly because I’m really motivated to do something great with my career. So here are, at least from my experience, 10 great methods to avoid anxiety from taking over at work.
I know it’s not always possible to take a lot of breaks at work, depending on which industry you work in or the culture in the company you work for, but I’m luckily a bit flexible. If things become too overwhelming, I go get a refill for my water or tea, grab a snack or catch up on our Slack channels. It doesn’t have to take much time, usually just a minute or two away from the screen is enough to bring the anxiety levels down a bit. I also avoid working during my lunch breaks and use them for eating and socializing with my coworkers, except for when I really have to meet a deadline.
Using vacations, weekends and evenings to relax
Where I live, everyone has 25 paid vacation days they have to use each year, which has been of great help for me. I get to take a long Christmas and summer break and get to take some time off after important deadlines as well. I understand it’s not that easy for everyone, since not every country or company offers this much (paid) vacation, but I do recommend using the days you have (if they’re paid or you can afford it) and use the weekends and evenings to relax a bit and reflect on how your day/week has been. If you’re working multiple jobs or working while studying, this might be a bit harder as well, but I’d still recommend setting some time aside to take care of yourself.
Setting both achievable and challenging goals
Both situations with a high risk of failing and boredom are the perfect climate for my anxiety to thrive in, so I try to avoid them both at all costs. It can be a bit challenging, though because as soon as you take away too much difficulty or risk and things become easy, they have a high chance of becoming boring too fast. I usually have some goals like ‘finish this feature two days before planning’, and try to use every project as a learning opportunity. I’ll add in some more challenging tasks, that I know will be doable within the time we have or that won’t be missed if it isn’t ready in time.
Writing down strengths and skills
It’s so easy for me to forget about my strengths and slip into the imposter mindset. Often, I get insecure about something at work, causing me to start doubting every single thing about myself, just because I don’t realize or remember I can actually do it. Writing down my strengths and skills, or at least saying them to myself, and looking back at previous achievements has been very helpful for me when it comes to battling the self-doubt. You can download a free worksheet to help you with this at the bottom of the page.
Learning to say no
I find it hard to say no, especially in a professional setting, and I guess my anxiety is semi-responsible for that as well. But it’s important, and no matter how hard it is, when I know something won’t be possible, technically or because I don’t have the time or skills to complete it, I speak up for myself and let people know about it. I’ve also found that giving some explanation makes it less scary to say no as well. “I won’t be able to implement this feature by Monday because there is too much on my backlog. I can finish it by the week afterwards, though.”
Accepting help from others
Both inside and outside of work, accepting help is important. The less alone we feel, and the more people we have around us to support us, the easier it is to manage negative emotions. Personally, I get my help from therapy sessions. Therapy has taught me so much about myself already and still continues to do so, and it’s also a place where I can talk about my emotions or failures without any shame and without being judged.
Making a planning
It’s when I’m all over the place with my work that the anxiety gets the perfect opportunity to pop up and take control of me. And not knowing what to do next, not being sure if I’ll have time to do something, or accidentally agreeing to too much at once all makes the anxiety worse as well. So I try to keep track of what I have going on in my personal life, at work, and with my side projects, and everything goes into a planner and my calendar. Doing this has allowed me to make sure I don’t have too many potentially stressful things going on at once, gives me room to relax and a clear idea on what to do next.
Having a hobby outside of work
Being passionate about something outside of work doesn’t only provide me relaxation and fulfillment during my spare time, but it also helps me look at my work in a healthier way. There was a time where the only thing I would do was work, from the moment I got up until going to bed, without any breaks. During that period, I wasn’t only becoming overworked, but work also became my entire world, it was the only thing that defined me. Making a mistake at work made me feel worthless, and bug reports felt like personal attacks. Taking on some hobbies takes that pressure away a bit since there are other things I’m good at and enjoy doing now, and it also helps me relax at home.
Figuring out the best way of working
While I enjoy working in a team, when it comes to working alone and getting a lot done, I prefer being all by myself as well. A lot of noise or distractions around me can easily make me feel a bit more anxious, so when I have to think something through or tackle a difficult problem all by myself, I use noise canceling headphones or move to a silent meeting room. Other people might find the background noise more relaxing or might prefer working from different locations. Figure out what works best for you, and adapt.
Identifying what triggers anxiety
Therapy has taught me a lot about myself, and about what triggers self-doubt, insecurity or anxiety for me. So I can avoid triggers at work as much as possible, and prepare myself better when I know my anxiety might rise. For example, all my messages, except those from a few people, are muted and only visible when I actively look for them and push notifications are turned off. Before deadlines or meetings I’ll also plan in more meditation and self-care at home, and before important one-on-one’s (like the yearly one-on-one’s) I’ll go over the best-case/worst-case scenarios, and go through extra mental preparations for the conversation.
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💻 Mental Health × Work 💻
Mental health can have a big influence on one’s life, and especially on their work life and career. And at the same time, there’s still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health, which can make talking about it at work harder or even impossible. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With my “Mental Health × Work” series, I want to have an open conversation about mental health in relation to the work culture, share tips for employees and employers, reduce stigma and share personal experiences and motivational stories. If there’s anything you want to see here, or if you have any critiques or suggestions, feel free to send me a mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).