If you struggle with anxiety, you’ll know how difficult it can be to manage everyday tasks, including showing up and going to work. Getting past the fear that makes you want to stay in bed all day, getting out into the ‘real world’, talking to co-workers and you know, actually getting work done can feel almost impossible, I know.
And in some cases, work itself can trigger anxiety. When I went through my bout of anxiety last year, work was a big trigger for me and I was feeling the effects all day every day.
Of course, going to your doctor and seeking professional support is always going to be my first piece of advice if you think you have anxiety, but if you’re already getting support or you’re on a waiting list, you may need some immediate tips to help you cope while you’re actually at work.
Outside of work tools like meditation, mindfulness, exercise, journaling etc. can all support you, but what can you do when you’re actually at your desk?
Below are some ideas that you can try while you’re at work if you’re struggling. I can’t promise that they’ll work for you, we’re all different and anxiety affects us in different ways, however these are the things that helped me and are certainly worth a try.
Take regular breaks
It is so, so important to take breaks. As well as your usual lunch break (which, if you aren’t taking, start taking immediately!) make sure you take smaller breaks throughout the day. For me, this meant stepping out of the office and going for walks around the building.
I would focus on my breathing and repeat positive affirmations to myself. Getting up to make tea or coffee is also a nice way to have a mindful moment when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Tell people what’s going on
This is quite a big one, I know, but if your anxiety is affecting your working day, it’s important to let someone know how you’re feeling. This could be your HR manager or your line manager. I told both, and my team. They were all very supportive and I felt a huge weight lifted once they knew.
Having people around you who know why you’re out taking walking breaks and check in with you to see how you’re doing can make a big difference to your day. If you’re worried they won’t understand, try sending them some information on anxiety so they can read up about it and learn what you’re going through.
Try breathing exercises
Anxiety symptoms are exacerbated by poor breathing. If you’re feeling panicky, take a couple of minutes to do some breathing exercises. I would pop my headphones in and use the Relax Lite app to practise my breathing. Just a few minutes can help you feel more in control and you can be discreet.
Reduce caffeine and sugar intake
Caffeine and sugar basically get me through the day sometimes, so trust me, it pains me to tell you to reduce it, but honestly – it works. If I had too much coffee, I would feel shaky and physically worse. I embraced fruit tea and held back on the sugary snacks when symptoms were at their peak.
Use grounding techniques
With anxiety can often come depersonalisation, when you feel as though you aren’t in your body or not really ‘here’. I struggled with this from time to time, it was like I couldn’t sense that I was in my body.
To help, I brought a pebble to work (one I picked up on a weekend away with Dan) and sat it on my desk. Whenever I felt like I wasn’t in my body I would pick up the pebble and focus on the sensation of it in my hands. Sometimes I would take it with me and go for a walk.
Touching something with your hands, stomping your feet and generally activating your sense of touch can all help ground you in your body too.
Having anxiety or any other mental health condition can make work hard, and sometimes you may need to take some time out. Never feel ashamed of calling in sick with your mental health and speak to your doctor if you think you need to be signed off.
I’m very lucky in that the company I work for are in the mental health industry and are very supportive. In fact, my team recently published this information about workplace wellbeing which has lots of helpful information for employers who want to improve mental health and wellbeing. Send a link across to your manager if you think your company could do with a gentle nudge in this area.
I hope one day mental health will be as easily discussed and managed at work as a cold . Until then, we must keep learning what works for us and helping others understand. Do you have any techniques that help you cope with mental health wobbles at work?
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