How to manage stress and anxiety at work

How to handle stress at work

If you’re currently working, you probably know what it feels like to be stressed on the job. A must-do project arrives without warning. Three emails stack up for each one you delete. Phones ring, meetings are scheduled, a coworker drops the ball on a shared assignment.

How does your body react to work stress?

Imagine for a moment that your boss has emailed you about an unfinished assignment (a stressor). Your body and mind instantly respond, activating a physical reaction called the fight-or-flight response. Your heart beats faster, your breath quickens, and your muscles tense. At the same time you might say to yourself, “I’m going to get fired if I don’t finish this.” Then to manage your anxiety and negative self-talk, you work late into the night to complete the task.

Over the course of our evolutionary history, humans developed this coordinated fear response to protect against dangers in our environment. For example, a faster heart rate and tense muscles would help us escape from predators. In the modern era, fear continues to serve an important function. After all, the fight-or-flight response can provide the necessary energy to pull an all-nighter and keep your job.

But what happens if you encounter stressful experiences at work every day? Over time, chronic work stress can lead to a psychological syndrome known as burnout. Warning signs of burnout are overwhelming exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of inefficacy. Certain work-related stressors are closely linked with burnout. Examples are having too much work or too little independence, inadequate pay, lack of community between coworkers, unfairness or disrespect, and a mismatch between workplace and personal values.

How can work stress affect well-being?

Long-term exposure to work-related stressors like these can affect mental health. Research links burnout with symptoms of anxiety and depression. In some cases, this sets the stage for serious mental health problems. Indeed, one study shows younger people who routinely face heavy workloads and extreme time pressure on the job are more likely to experience major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

High levels of stress at work –– and outside of it –– can affect physical health, too. Repeated activation of the fight-or-flight response can disrupt bodily systems and increase susceptibility to disease. For example, repeated release of the stress hormone cortisol can disturb the immune system, and raise the likelihood of developing autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic stress can also affect health by interfering with healthy behaviors, such as exercise, balanced eating, and sleep.

Work stress can also harm companies or organizations. Burnout reduces job productivity and boosts absenteeism and job turnover, and also leads to conflict between coworkers, causing stress to spread within a workplace.

How can you cope with work stress?

All of us can benefit by learning skills to manage fear and anxiety on the job. Several skills taught in cognitive behavioral therapy may help, including these:

  • Relaxation strategies.  Relaxation helps counter the physiological effects of the fight-or-flight response. For example, progressive muscle relaxation helps reduce muscle tension associated with anxiety. To practice this skill, sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Working from your legs upward, systematically tense and relax each major muscle groups. Hold the tension for 10 seconds; release tension for 20 seconds. Each time you release muscle tension, think “relax” to yourself. This skill and many other relaxation strategies can help reduce symptoms of anxiety.
  • Problem-solving. Problem-solving is an active coping strategy that involves teaching people to take specific steps when approaching a roadblock or challenge. These steps include defining the problem, brainstorming potential solutions, ranking the solutions, developing an action plan, and testing the chosen solution.
  • Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to the present moment with curiosity, openness, and acceptance. Stress can be exacerbated when we spend time ruminating about the past, worrying about the future, or engaging in self-criticism. Mindfulness helps to train the brain to break these harmful habits. You can cultivate mindfulness skills through formal practice (like guided meditation) and informal exercises (like mindful walking), or try mindfulness apps or classes. Mindfulness-based therapies are effective for reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Reappraising negative thoughts. Chronic stress and worry can lead people to develop a mental filter in which they automatically interpret situations through a negative lens. A person might jump to negative conclusions with little or no evidence (“my boss thinks I’m incompetent”) and doubt their ability to cope with stressors (“I’ll be devastated if I don’t get the promotion”). To reappraise negative thoughts, treat them as hypotheses instead of facts and consider other possibilities. Regularly practicing this skill can help people reduce negative emotions in response to stressors.

14 Ways to Manage Work Stress and Avoid Burnout

Work-related stress can get the best of us all. Emails, Slack messages, phones ringing off the hook, your co-worker dropping by for an impromptu meeting — it’s enough to make anyone frazzled.

Feeling some tension is normal, especially if you’re facing a looming deadline or challenging assignment. But when work stress becomes chronic, it can end up affecting both your physical and emotional well-being.

Experiencing work strain is unavoidable — even if you love what you do — but there are steps you can take to keep job stress to a minimum.

This might sound overly simple, but it’s easy to underestimate how much stress effects you. Take note if you find yourself emotionally exhausted and pessimistic by the end of the day.

Long-term exposure to unmanaged stress can take a toll on your body and mental health, and recent research suggests a potential link between work-related burnout and depression and anxiety.

Signs of stress

Here’s a look at some of the subtler signs of stress:

  • low energy or fatigue
  • headaches
  • insomnia
  • changes in appetite
  • digestive issues
  • rapid heart rate
  • sweating
  • low self-esteem
  • loss of sex drive
  • frequent illnesses

Identifying and recording stressful situations can help you understand what’s bothering you. Some of these can be subtle sources of tension, such as an uncomfortable workspace or a long commute.

Keep a journal for 1 week to track your stress triggers and your reactions to them. Make sure to include the people, places, and events that gave you a physical, mental, or emotional response.

As you write, ask yourself:

  • How did this make me feel? (Afraid, angry, hurt?)
  • What was my reaction? (Did I visit the vending machine afterward or go for a walk?)
  • What are some ways of resolving it? (How can I find solutions to this stressor?)

Taking even a few minutes of personal time during a busy day can help prevent burnout.

Listening to an interesting podcast in between meetings or watching a funny Youtube video can give you relaxing pauses throughout the day.

It’s also important to take breaks from thinking about your job by not checking work-related emails on your time off or disconnecting from your phone in the evenings.

Read about more ways to recharge.

Sometimes, feeling overwhelmed by work comes down to how organized you are. Try setting up a priority list at the beginning of your work week by preparing tasks and ranking them according to importance.

You can also beat procrastination by setting aside specific time blocks for deep concentration work.

Being available around the clock will easily burn you out. It’s important to create clear boundaries between your work and home life to help you avoid potential stress.

Part of this means setting aside time for socializing and establishing rules for when you’ll check emails or take phone calls.

When you’ve experienced worry and chronic stress for an extended period of time, your mind may tend to jump to conclusions and read into every situation with a negative lens.

For example, if your boss doesn’t say hi to you first thing in the morning, you might react thinking “they’re mad at me.”

Instead of making automatic judgements, try distancing yourself from your negative thoughts and simply observe.

Keep in touch with trusted friends and family members to help cope with stressful work situations.

If you’re struggling with an especially challenging work week, try asking parent friends if they can help out with carpooling your kids to school on certain days.

Having people you can rely on during the tough times can alleviate some of the built-up tension.

Setting aside time for self-care is a must if you regularly find yourself feeling overwhelmed by work. This means prioritizing sleep, setting aside time for fun, and making sure you’re eating throughout the day.

Feel like you don’t have the time? Keep in mind that you’ll likely be able to tackle work issues more effectively when your core needs are being met.

Purposefully slowing down and being conscious of your surroundings can keep you relaxed throughout the week. Meditation, deep breathing exercises, and mindfulness all work to calm your anxiety.

Start by taking a few minutes each day to focus on being present and enjoying a simple activity — whether that’s a short walk around the park or appreciating a meal at your desk.

Make it a habit

Here are a few other ways to build mindfulness into your daily routine:

  • Pause for a few moments before starting your workday and set your intention.
  • Download a meditation app you can use when feeling excessive pressure at work or during your commute.
  • Schedule in a 5-minute break to try breathing exercises.

Workplace conflict can take a major toll on your emotional well-being. Try to avoid participating in gossipy situations.

If you know that one of your colleagues is especially prone to gossip, find a way to spend less time with them or steer the conversation to safer topics.

Some other strategies for staying out of the fray include:

  • emphasizing the positive (“Tom has been juggling a lot lately and handling it really well.”)
  • ignoring the conversation and changing the subject to something unrelated
  • walking away (“Sorry, I have a huge deadline due after lunch and can’t stay and chat.”)

If you need to get that presentation just right or find yourself working extra hours perfecting a report you finished days ago, it may be time to take a step back and reflect.

While perfectionism has some positive benefits, it can also be highly stressful and lead to burnout.

Try to keep your high standards in check by focusing on the effort you put into a project and not personalizing failure when you make a mistake.

Being able to disconnect or “switch off” from responsibilities and job-related activities can help you relax and unwind like no other.

You don’t have to jet set across the world, either. A work-free staycation or trip a few hours out of town can still help you reset.

Getting support from your boss can significantly alleviate feelings of burnout.

Set up a quiet time to talk with them and calmly discuss feeling overwhelmed by challenging tasks. Approach the conversation from a place of problem solving, rather than listing out complaints.

For example, you could say that you want to revisit what’s expected of you outside of working hours because things feel a bit overwhelming right now. The point is to find a resolution that helps reduce strain.

If this task sounds daunting or you don’t have a good relationship with your boss, consider reaching out to someone in your company’s human resources department (if available). They can help you navigate the conversation and offer troubleshooting tips.

You don’t need to have a mental health condition to try therapy. Feeling overwhelmed at work is a perfectly valid reason to reach out for additional help and support.

Working with a therapist can help you better identify the sources of your work stress and help you come up with ways to better navigate them. They can also help you develop strategies for decompressing and taking care of yourself.

Not sure where to start? Our guide to therapy for every budget can help.

5 ways to deal with work anxiety

December 9, 2021 Productivity

Channel your emotions in a productive direction, watch for mood swings, and remind yourself of small accomplishments.

You can listen to the article. If it's more convenient for you, turn on the podcast.

It's four o'clock in the afternoon, and you still have a million things to do. You understand that until the evening you can’t cope with everyone. Feverishly thinking about how to do everything in time, you begin to get nervous and cannot concentrate. And when you come home, you keep thinking about work tasks and conversations, unable to completely relax. nine0003

If you feel this way, you are not alone. Work anxiety is common. According to the American Anxiety and Depression Association, 56% of people with anxiety disorders suffer from work-related fears.

When you live in constant agitation, the quality of work and productivity (not to mention health) inevitably suffer. Here are five ways to help manage anxiety.

1. Don't force yourself to calm down

Do not rush to take deep breaths and sit in silence. According to Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard Business School, this approach will not help. Instead of trying to relax, she recommends turning the excitement into excitement.

Recognize your condition. Suppose you are shaking from nervous tension and anxiety. Don't waste your time fighting them and get to work. Try to redirect energy in a positive direction and use it to complete tasks and achieve goals. nine0003

2. Stop multitasking

When there is a lot to do, decision fatigue inevitably sets in. It is necessary to choose one option from several and simply decide which task to take on first. As the day progresses, this usually increases tension, and with it increases stress and anxiety.

To avoid this condition, do not multitask. In it, you stop noticing the finish line - the moment when the job is done. And this feeling is very important for productivity: it is precisely such moments that make you feel that you have achieved something. nine0003

Remind yourself that it's better to do one thing than to switch between several things and do nothing at all. If you find yourself trying to multi-task at the same time and it makes you nervous, focus on one thing.

If all of them are of equal importance, choose any one and don't waste time on further thinking. Break this task down into small steps and work through them one by one. Gradually crossing them out, you will feel satisfaction and peace. nine0003

Study the question 🤔

  • What is multitasking in terms of science and what to do with it


Watch for changes in productivity

According to scientists, fluctuations in the ability to concentrate are a warning sign that signals an impending attack . For example, you switch between several things, look for something to distract yourself with, procrastinate. nine0003

Watch out for these symptoms and you'll have your own alarm system on hand.

Doing a task - write down how it makes you feel. Get a separate document for this, make notes in your diary or in Trello if you keep track of tasks there. Record fluctuations in mood and concentration.

And after a while you will notice what exactly causes anxiety attacks. Maybe it's a certain type of task, a specific client, or deadlines that are too tight. Knowing the reason, it will be easier to build the work process. nine0003

4. Temporarily disconnect from the Internet

Most people today feel the need to constantly have access to the Web. There was even a new concept of "nomophobia" - the fear of being left without a mobile phone or away from it. But such obsession most often interferes with productive work: every now and then there is a desire to check something, get distracted, or respond to a message. We end up doing less and worrying more.

Try setting aside a few hours a day to work offline. Gather all the information you need, and then turn on airplane mode. So you will not be distracted by various notifications and messages. nine0003

Find out 📱

  • Where phone addiction comes from and how to overcome it

5. Ask for feedback

Anxiety also arises when we do not understand whether we are doing our tasks well. This is especially true for those who work remotely or, due to the specifics of their work, cannot see the results of their own work with their own eyes. In any case, feel free to ask for feedback. nine0003

According to organizational psychologist Cary Cooper, having clear expectations and thoughtful feedback is the key to reducing anxiety. Many feel uncomfortable asking for clarification and feedback from a client or manager, but it is necessary. Try to set up regular face-to-face meetings or video calls so that you can discuss all the details and feel that you are really moving forward.

Read also 🧐

  • 3 ways to free up time for your personal life if you have a lot of work
  • Work for a living, don't live for a job

How to deal with anxiety at work

Translated an article for you by Trello, a better work organization app company.

Anxiety as a phenomenon

The working day is coming to an end, and you still have a lot of unfinished business. You realize with horror that you will not have time to cope with everything in time. Your heart starts pounding, every minute you look at your watch, time is running out... Sounds familiar?

The US National Institutes of Health estimates that 40 million American employees suffer from anxiety. Another study found that 56% worry that they are not performing well at work. nine0003

Everyone is subject to such anxiety. Here's another piece of news: your boss is 50% likely to feel anxious while at work too.

Of course, anxiety can take many forms. The slight anxiety that you feel before meeting an important client, and the panic that thieves might break into your house, are manifestations of anxiety of varying intensity.

When you panic, your adrenal glands release two hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. The pressure is rising, the heart is beating faster - your body is preparing to run from the robbers or put out the fire. nine0003

This "fight or flight" mechanism helps to survive in extreme situations.

But when such a reaction is triggered in the situation of “introducing yourself to the client” or “handing in the report on time”, anxiety is no longer beneficial, but harmful.

Anxiety or stress?

It is easy to confuse anxiety and stress, but they have different origins. Stress is the body's reaction to specific external stimuli, it disappears with a change of scenery.

Anxiety is a more autonomous experience and can occur on its own, without an external cause.

In the case of stress, you experience great relief after its source leaves (for example, the acquaintance with the client took place): there is no problem - there is no experience.

If you experience constant fear and nervousness before work, then we are talking about anxiety, which may not go away for a long time.

Living with a constant feeling of fear is very energy-consuming. It's like another job. Anyone who works on two projects knows that the quality and productivity of work are also divided in two. nine0003

Nature has programmed us to be productive and to do our jobs well. In primitive human societies, those who could not do their job were expelled from the tribe, which was equated with death.

That is, we inherited the feeling of anxiety due to its inefficiency. Although the conditions of life have changed, the biological imperative remains the same.

Anxiety causes you to waste your resources. You blame yourself for not working hard enough and doing a good job, reinforcing this feeling. It turns out a vicious circle, from which it is not easy to get out. nine0003

6 steps to overcoming anxiety at work calm down.

Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard Business School thinks otherwise. She suggests “looking at work anxiety from a different angle,” that is, re-evaluating this feeling.

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You can spend a lot of time and energy fighting anxiety and telling yourself to "keep calm and keep working," or you can learn to perceive it differently.

Perhaps it is not anxiety that causes fear and low self-esteem, but arousal? Anticipation? An impatient wait?

All these feelings, unlike anxiety, help to tune in to a positive mood and turn the fear of the unknown into its expectation. nine0003

2. Learn to make decisions and not get tired

Anyone who constantly makes decisions and evaluates their consequences knows how exhausting it is. In the face of constantly changing priorities and poorly formulated goals, fatigue can become the norm of your life.

As the Harvard Business Review points out, multitasking makes it hard to take short breaks. But our brain perceives such breaks as a sign that one thing is done. nine0003

This realization of completeness is important for a person with a high level of anxiety.

Try to break one big task into several and make a note of yourself as you complete each one. This will set you up for the positive: big victories start with small accomplishments.

Tim Ferriss, investor and entrepreneur, suggests going even further. Set aside 3 hours to complete one small task, even if it means postponing more urgent tasks. nine0003

Finishing one task in 3 hours will be much more beneficial for your psyche and productivity than trying to finish three tasks in the same time without doing any of them on time.

3. Study Yourself to Recognize the Signs of Coming Anxiety

Research by the University of Missouri Science and Technology has shown that rapidly changing attention levels can be a sign of impending anxiety.

If you jump from task to task, constantly get distracted, and don't get there on time, you may soon be overwhelmed by anxiety. nine0003

Carefully study what this restlessness may be connected with. Watch how your mood and motivation change.

Is this a particularly unpleasant task? Or a client? Or is it all about deadlines?

Once you understand what caused your concern, it will be easier for you to plan your work in the future so that this does not happen again.

4. Disconnect from the Internet

Nomophobia is the fear of not being connected to the Internet. It has become so widespread that scientists have become interested: researchers from the University of Iowa have already developed a 20-question test that helps identify cell phone addiction. nine0003

In a recent study by London-based transport company Kiwimovers, experts analyzed the top Google searches for popular tourist destinations.

One of them is “Is there Wi-Fi?” even if visitors are looking for a zoo or a beauty salon.

Believe me, by disconnecting from the Internet, in many cases you can improve your performance.

For example, writer and founder of HARO, Pete Schekman, specifically bought a plane ticket to Tokyo and back just to be without Wi-Fi and focus on writing a book. nine0003

5. Clarify and be specific

As anxiety increases in situations of uncertainty, you may need to get as much accurate information as possible from management.

Trying to clarify everything along the way not only negatively affects the quality of work, but also makes the anxious person feel insecure when communicating with clients.

A study conducted by the developers of the mobile app for remote work showed that the lack of detailed instructions on how to proceed increases the level of anxiety. nine0003

One of the experts who participated in the study, psychologist Cary Cooper noted:

The physical isolation of freelancers from their clients makes it more difficult for the former to obtain accurate information about the project.

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