If you’ve been feeling anxious lately, you’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. They are also the most treatable –– yet almost two-thirds of people with the condition never get treated. Pre-pandemic, anxiety disorders affected 40 million adults.
This number skyrocketed as COVID-19’s first wave crested in early 2020. Lockdowns, job losses, financial insecurity and ever-changing rules and regulations all played a role. One study revealed that among respondents aged 18 to 29 years old, almost three in five reported having symptoms of anxiety or depression. Over the last few months of 2020, the percentage of respondents reporting anxiety symptoms increased from 31% to 37%. Anxiety is partly responsible for the rise in rude behavior as people act out in grocery stores and onboard planes. Workplace anxiety can be crippling. It may motivate you to turn down a promotion or even leave a company. So whether it’s a new development or an ongoing issue, if anxiety is affecting your work performance, here are some ways to cope.
Don’t Ignore It
You wouldn’t try to “toughen out” a broken leg, right? Your mental health is no different. Whether you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, burnout, or a host of other concerns, ignoring a problem basically guarantees it will get worse. People with anxiety disorders are six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those without the condition. Plus there’s a decent chance that anxiety affecting work performance also affects your relationships and physical health too. So the first step is seeking out a qualified therapist. Many people with anxiety have found success through cognitive-behavioral therapy. This form of talk therapy works to identify, understand, and change both your thinking and your pattern of behavior. Many who opt for this form of treatment see an improvement in just a few months.
Improve Your Breathing
Breathing exercises can help reduce your anxiety and even stave off panic attacks. The secret is to do more than just “take a deep breath” –– which can actually increase anxiety. Instead, inhaling for a five count, holding your breath for five and then exhaling for five can induce a state of calm. There are other breathing exercises you can try as well.
Identify Your Triggers
What are the situations that make you the most anxious? Do you get nervous speaking during meetings or giving presentations? Are you experiencing anxiety contemplating a return to your office with its open-floor plan, distracting coworkers and funky smells wafting in from the company kitchen?
Identifying your triggers is a vital step toward reducing anxiety. For example if you become anxious just thinking about giving a presentation, then joining Toastmasters or a similar organization geared toward improving public speaking confidence can make a genuine difference. If you’re an introvert, you may be more successful (and less anxious) working remotely. So if you’re dreading a return to the office, set out a clear plan to remain remote. If your supervisor is adamant about coming back, it may be time to pursue other opportunities. Your mental health is too important. It should never take a back seat to your job.
Be Kind to Yourself
All of us encounter obstacles on our journey. Anxiety is a common one. Unfortunately, when we are anxious we tend to up the self-criticism. We tell ourselves we are terrible at giving presentations or that we deserve our boss’s anger. Look at it this way. If someone spoke to your best friend the way you speak to yourself when you’re anxious, would you allow it? If you’d stand up for your bestie, you should stand up for yourself as well. Practice self-compassion. Work on accepting your failures as important lessons to be learned on the road to success.
Anxiety doesn’t make you weak, unprofessional, or less than. Accepting that it is a part of you — but just a part — is an important step toward acceptance and healing. Plus when we are kind to ourselves we often become kinder toward others. Which means everyone benefits!
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