Anxiety creeps its way into many New Zealanders everyday life, often in our most stressful moments. You may feel it during your presentation to your work colleagues or on the days leading up to your performance review with your manager. For many, once those stressful moments have passed, so does the anxiety. However, if your anxiety lasts beyond those moments, it can begin to be a problem. A persons health, relationships and work can be negatively impacted by too much anxiety.
Since Covid reared its ugly head at the beginning of 2020, we have had to change our routines, work from home (which didn’t suit everyone) and severely limit our social interactions. Combining all these factors together and it is no surprise people are feeling more anxious than ever.
Research has also shown Anxiety is more prevalent among females than males and, in particular younger women. A 2018 New Zealand health survey found that that 17% of young women aged 15 to 24 experienced symptoms such as anxiety, confused emotions, depression or rage often - that’s double the rate of young men of the same age.
Phoebe Poulter is an Auckland based clinical psychologist who works predominantly with adolescents and young adults struggling with a range of anxiety based difficulties. Phoebe has seen first-hand the adverse effects anxiety can have on someone’s work-life and knows there are ways people can manage their anxiety and remain productive and happy in the workplace.
‘Anxiety at work can be debilitating and impact your engagement, productivity, and enjoyment. While the possible causes and intensity of anxiety can vary from role to role, there are certainly some general steps everyone can take to understand and manage anxiety levels more effectively.’ Says Phoebe.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to manage your anxiety and stress at work. Phoebe gives us four tips below to help people who are dealing with Anxiety at work.
1. Know Your Triggers
Educate yourself about the symptoms of stress and anxiety, often referred to as the fight or flight response. Physical symptoms of these emotions are part of a survival mechanism known as fight or flight, the very response that kept your distant ancestors alive when faced with a dangerous predator. Muscle tension, adrenaline, racing thoughts, increased heart rate, and rapid breathing (among other things) are all pretty helpful to increase chances of survival in a life or death situation (by making you stronger and faster).
However, they are less helpful when triggered in response to everyday stresses such as a conversation with your manager or deadlines. By learning about what these symptoms are and that they are here to help and not hurt you, you'll likely be able to manage them better.
2. Practising Mindfulness
Practising mindfulness has been associated with lower levels of anxiety, stress, and depression and increased perceived well-being levels. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a particular way - with acceptance and without judgement. You can practice formal mindfulness meditation (e.g. apps like Headspace or Smiling mind, or by taking a local class), which can help you work towards living your life more mindfully (e.g. being more present in the moment, without judgement, and with acceptance).
3. Take Care of Yourself Outside of Work
Fill up your fuel tank. Much like your car, you will not be able to operate effectively (and eventually at all) if you are not filling up your tank. Sometimes when work stress piles up, our instinct is to load up on caffeine and work longer and harder to try and get on top of it all. While this is relatively harmless and effective when used occasionally, when used too often, it leads to burnout, where effectiveness and fulfilment in your work only suffer more. By caring for your wellbeing outside of work, you will be filling up your tank and helping to set yourself up for happiness within the work environment too. This might look like more regular exercise, eating healthy food and enough of it, sleeping enough, and doing things you enjoy with people you like being around.
Sometimes taking a break is the most effective thing you can do for your work life. Also, caffeine is a stimulant, meaning that it increases activation of the nervous system (that is, increases physical symptoms of anxiety) - so consider trying to reduce your intake or eliminate it altogether if you are someone that struggles with this! Figure out what fills up your tank, and prioritise that.
4. Seek Professional Help
If things are intense and persistent or preventing you from functioning in your life, talk to your GP or reach out to a mental health professional. Many workplaces offer an employee assistance program (EAP) or similar scheme to support employees to get free counselling support to help with stress and anxiety related to work. Explore your options and reach out for support.