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How To Manage Stress and Anxiety at Work

by Joanna Cakala |

If you find yourself counting the minutes until the clock hits 5 pm and the prospect of going to work the next day fills you with dread, it’s a sign that you’re not coping well. Stress and anxiety at work are more common than you think but it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to see them as a part of the deal. how to manage stress and anxiety at workBeing unable to relax might negatively affect your productivity at work and eventually impact different areas of your life leading to more serious mental health issues such as depression. Therefore, it’s crucial to learn coping skills that can help you manage stress and increase relaxation. It’s never too late to become a healthier version of yourself--you deserve to enjoy life.


1. Prioritize your mornings to maximize your mental output

Mornings can make or break the rest of your day. While the main cause of stress is typically a heavy workload and high-pressure environment, preparing yourself mentally for the challenges to come can make a huge difference. 

Let’s face it, most of our jobs aren’t exciting and where there’s a lack of excitement it’s easy to feel unmotivated and become affected by failures. To increase optimism, try using positive affirmations as soon as you wake up. Tell yourself that you’re going to have a great day and think of positive aspects of your job whenever you feel discouraged: these could be an opportunity to be independent, seeing your colleagues, personal development, or simply earning money.

Additionally, don’t forget to make sure you eat healthy and nutritious food for breakfast to replenish your mind and body and get ready for the day ahead of you. Lastly, prepare strategies to deal with little things that can spoil your mood before you even get to work, such as traffic, arguing with your family or waking up late. 

One of the most effective ways to manage your mood and mental health and arrive to work with a go-getter mentality is to make sure your trip to work is as relaxed as possible. For example, you could listen to music that lifts you up or an inspiring podcast that puts you in a clear headspace.

2. Increase your comfort to improve your mental health and overall well-being

You’d be surprised how seemingly insignificant things can affect your mood without you realizing it. When you’re required to engage your mind for a few hours, every aspect of your work matters. If your chair is uncomfortable, it can make you feel irritable and you might struggle to maintain focus. If your desk is messy, you might get easily distracted and if the area is noisy, it can affect your work performance. Make sure to evaluate your work environment and consider if there’s something that could provide you with a bit more comfort and allow you to decrease stress at the same time. 

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For example, you could purchase noise-cancelling headphones to ensure nothing affects your concentration or use a pillow to prevent sore back. Don’t be afraid to raise your concerns with the management – they’ll be happy to make adjustments that can help you work more efficiently. Remember, your work environment is where you spend most of your day so it’s important that it's a comfortable space where you can be productive and effectively manage stressors.

3. Outline your tasks for the day to get organized and stay focused

The number of tasks you must complete for the day can be overwhelming but it’s even worse if you aren’t organized. If your organization skills need improvement, evaluate your working style, and think of ways to make it more productive first. For example, instead of starting from the hardest task, you might benefit from doing the easiest one first as it can give you a sense of achievement and motivate you to keep going. 

You might also benefit from more frequent breaks, even if it just means going to the bathroom or having a sip of water. Once you’ve analyzed your working style, make a list of tasks you must do and divide them into smaller goals. For example, if you have a report to write your first goal might be to research the topic, then prepare an outline and so on.

4. Make sure your breaks are beneficial to your mental health and well-being

Have you ever considered what impact spending hours in the same position at your desk can have on your health? It’s no wonder you’re stressed if your body constantly feels stiff and tense. Therefore, it’s important to take advantage of your breaks and allow your body and mind to fully recover. If your workplace doesn’t allow you to squeeze in a quick exercise in your schedule, don’t worry. 

You can always go for a walk to buy lunch and then eat it outside – the fresh air will help you clear your mind, and your eyes will finally get to have a break from staring at the screen. If you’re one of the lucky ones who already move around a lot at work, consider listening to a short meditation that will help you lower your stress level and let your mind get sufficient rest. Don’t feel forced to interact with your co-workers if it doesn’t relax you – your priority should be recharging your batteries.

5. Identify your stressors and anxiety at work

Everyone’s different and the source of work stress can be a very individual thing. While most people might find it difficult to deal with pressure to excel and be constantly at their best, others might dread social interaction and setting boundaries. 

To identify what you most struggle with, try to write down your thoughts in a diary after every shift. Paying attention to your emotions and what causes them will help you decide how to approach your stress in the long run. For example, if you find relationships at work difficult, you might have to improve your social skills. If you struggle not to set the bar too high for yourself, you might have to work on your self-esteem.

6. Don’t try to be perfect

Being at your best every day might earn you extra points with your boss but isn’t sustainable. Sooner or later, you’ll burn out and struggle to be productive at all. So instead of trying to achieve perfection that doesn’t exist, make it your goal to be more realistic. 

To do that, you must focus on the positives. While it’s easier said than done, the problem with perfectionism is that you might struggle to see value in yourself unless you succeed which affects your work performance and can result in even more stress. Instead of congratulating yourself only when your performance is flawless, reward yourself for every effort and every achievement, no matter how small. And if you fail, try to see it as a learning experience. Perhaps you could do something differently next time or you can simply appreciate becoming more resilient as a result.

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Additionally, it’s important to challenge your thought process. Ask yourself, how does failing make you feel? Do you learn from it and keep going or do you break down and start doubting your abilities? If it’s the latter, chances are you engage in negative self-talk quite often which can become a habit you turn to when you’re under stress. If you want to change that, the easiest way is to start keeping a journal. 

Once you’ve become more attuned to your emotions, you can then recognize every time you put yourself down and challenge negative thoughts. For example, if you tend to think “I’m so stupid for not doing this right”, you can tell yourself “I’m not stupid, one mistake doesn’t mean I can’t do my job well”. For every negative statement, you should come up with something more realistic. Other people aren’t perfect either so why should you be?

7. Understand the association between thoughts and emotions

When you feel anxiety at work, your mind becomes your biggest enemy; it might come up with worst-case scenarios and negative thoughts about yourself. Similarly, engaging in negative self-talk can worsen your mood and further fuel the negative thoughts, trapping you in a vicious cycle. In other words, the way you feel affects your thoughts and your thoughts impact your mood. 

Every time you feel anxious before going to work and think that work is scary or that something bad is going to happen, you reaffirm that belief which soon becomes a habit. Even though having anxious thoughts and reacting to them can feel like a part of yourself you can’t change, remember that you can always improve your coping skills.

8. Don’t avoid the challenges, face them

Anxious people tend to ignore a problem instead of trying to resolve it, which only adds to their distress. So, if you experience problems and anxiety at work, remember that not everything can go smoothly all the time and that there is always a way to reach an understanding or better your situation. 

For example, if you’re not on good terms with a coworker, don’t wait until the conflict escalates and have an honest conversation with them. Even if things don’t go the way you want them to, it’s still better than wondering ‘what if’ because the more you wait to resolve your issue, the more distressed you’ll be.

9. Put your mental health first

Thanks to the impact of COVID, more and more professionals are starting to recognize the importance of mental health in the workplace. Poor mental health might prevent you from fulfilling your potential and affect your personal life so it’s not something you want to take for granted. If you notice that some aspects of work make you feel overwhelmed and you need days off, don’t be afraid to reach out to your supervisors. Once you’ve allowed yourself to rest, you’re more likely to return more energized and productive.

10. Develop good relationships with your coworkers

Building strong support networks can be beneficial, especially if you work in a high-stress environment. First, it allows you to feel more like a part of the team where everyone wants you to succeed because it’s in their best interest. Secondly, having good relationships at work can help you become more resilient and more efficient at dealing with obstacles which are important qualities to have if you’re prone to stress and anxiety. Being able to vent to your coworker might not seem like a huge thing but it can help you relieve your stress and make you feel supported. Additionally, it’s much more enjoyable to work with people you consider your friends than simply your coworkers.

11. Practice self-care and self-compassion at home

Practicing self-care at home will allow you to maintain a healthy work/life balance. When things get too overwhelming, let yourself express your anxiety and stress by exercising, punching a pillow or crying. If you ignore your emotions instead of processing them, they’ll eventually build up and might lead to a mental breakdown. Additionally, make sure you include things you enjoy in your routine such as pampering yourself and having a nice bath, making time for your hobbies, or spending time with your family.

If despite relying on those coping skills you still feel on edge when you get into bed, try a relaxation technique called progressive muscles relaxation. All you must do is tense your muscles as you breathe in and then relax as you breathe out. As muscles tension is caused by anxiety and is interpreted by your brain as emotional distress learning how to control it can significantly lower your stress levels. 


12. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help

If you’ve been under chronic stress for a while, creating a wellness plan on your own might not be sufficient and you might benefit from receiving professional help. Working with a good therapist can help you effectively cope with stress and reduce your anxiety by allowing you to practice coping skills both in and outside therapy.  Remember, chronic stress and anxiety are no joke – it’s best to do ‘too much’ to manage them than wait until the problem becomes overwhelming.   

About the Contributor

Joanna Cakala is a multilingual writer based in the UK. Combining a degree in Psychology and passion for writing, she started her freelance journey penning articles on mental health.

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