How to cope with anxiety at work: strategies to banish the panic

Anxiety is a stressful and debilitating mental illness, and dealing with it in the workplace can be really tough.

When anxiety hits, simple things like meetings, phone calls or a snarky email can send adrenaline coursing through your veins, leaving you sweating and shaking at your desk.

It can make getting through the week seem like an insurmountable task, and if you’ve ever had a panic attack in the work loos you will know just how vulnerable that can make you feel.

But there are strategies that you can employ to make the working day manageable when you have anxiety.

Sarah Romotsky, Director of Healthcare at Headspace, believes incorporating mindfulness, along with a host of other lifestyle changes, could have a huge impact on your overall well-being and help you cope with anxiety in the workplace.

Here are Sarah’s top tips for coping with anxiety in the workplace:

Take control of your commute

Londoners on average commute for 1 hour and 21 minutes each day: time better spent on positive habits instead of excessive screen time checking emails or playing Candy Crush.

If you’re lucky enough to get a seat, this is the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness by being focused on the present.

Feel the weight of your body on the cushion; mentally scan your body from your head to your toes and increase awareness of how it feels; listen to the noises around you, grounding you in the present.

Being in tune with how your mind and body feels can not only reduce anxiety induced by overcrowded spaces but can also help set you up for the day by managing morning grogginess, ensuring you are calm and collected before heading into work.

Schedule two sessions of mindfulness each day

We all know the importance of fuelling your body each day with nutritious food, and the same goes for your mind.

Make it a routine, as with your meals, to schedule two sessions of mindfulness each day: once at the beginning of the working day and another around the 4pm slump.

Even if you only manage two minutes per session, it will work wonders and refuel the mind. You could even get a group of like-minded colleagues together and book a meeting room so you’re not disturbed.

Know when to take a time out

When making important strategic or creative decisions, it’s easy to feel anxious, deriving from the innate fear of making the wrong choice.

When you feel anxiety grip, take yourself away from the trigger; you could make yourself a cup of tea or go for a brisk walk around the block.

Taking a moment to breathe so you can be in the right frame of mind when making your next move is a great way to feel more confident in your decision making.

No more lunch à la desk

To be at your best throughout the day, change up your routine by taking the time to eat a healthy lunch away from your desk and socialise with colleagues.

Disconnect from work by having a break from your inbox, and take the time to be mindful about what you’re eating, chewing your food properly and savouring flavours.

So often, we eat on autopilot in front of screens (both at home and at work); practicing mindful eating allows us to remove distractions, be more aware of what we’re eating, and connect with colleagues around the table.

Being a mindful eater also helps to avoid the dreaded 4pm slump, ensuring you’re focused throughout the day.

Head out and take a stroll

Sometimes the hectic work environment is enough to throw you off balance. Anxiety can also be triggered by noise and a sense of cabin fever from being inside for hours on end.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, switch out the grey office décor with some outdoor green and take in your surroundings whilst enjoying the fresh air.

Meditating whilst walking, with the eyes open and attention focused on the environment around us, is a great way to re-centre the mind.

Rather than focusing on breathing – as in normal meditation – be aware of the rhythm of your steps, take note of how your body feels, and notice what’s around you: the sights, sounds and smells of your environment.

Allow gaps before and between meetings

Filling out your diary to the brim is something we’re all guilty of. Over-scheduling is a recipe for disaster and can leave you running from meeting to meeting, feeling flustered and unprepared.

Manage your time so that you have small gaps between meetings to catch a breather, scroll through urgent emails and delegate other tasks.

That way you won’t find yourself uncontrollably rolling down the dreaded anxiety hill.

Multi-tasking is not your friend

It’s all too tempting to be pulled in different directions when keeping more than one tab of research open on your browser or checking your phone for Slack and WhatsApp messages whilst working on a report.

Dabbling in more than one task will leave you feeling like the finish line is nowhere in sight.

A mindfulness technique called ‘noting’ means realising the moment you‘re distracted by something and creating a bit of space whilst gaining clarity of what your main priorities are.

This isn’t something that is taught, and is usually used sparingly; ‘noting’ is simply about being aware that distractions are imminent, so we are able to pull ourselves away more regularly.

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