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How to Handle Anxiety in the Workplace


Doctor holding green Mental Health Awareness ribbon

As recruiters in the healthcare industry, we have heard every reason for leaving a job to search for a new one. As one of the fields most impacted by The Great Resignation, healthcare workers are being much more vocal about working conditions that are leading to burnout and anxiety.


Due to the fast-paced and demanding environment of the modern corporation, it is not uncommon to experience anxiety in your 9-5. This is especially true for those in the healthcare industry. The pressures can take a toll on mental well-being, from tight deadlines and high expectations to constant communication and information overload.


As employers, it is part of the job to help employees live full lives. This includes taking their mental well-being incredibly seriously and using our resources to ensure that those who work for us are taken care of.


With this week being Mental Health Awareness Week, we wanted to explore practical tips and techniques to manage anxiety in the modern office setting, allowing employees to thrive personally and professionally.


But first: What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a common mental health condition characterized by feelings of excessive worry, fear, and unease. It is a natural response to stress or perceived threats, but it may indicate an anxiety disorder when it becomes persistent and interferes with daily life.

Girl being pointed at by many hands, symbolizing anxiety

Symptoms:

Anxiety can manifest in various ways, including excessive worry, restlessness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances.


Types of anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

  • Panic Disorder

  • Social Anxiety Disorder

  • Specific Phobias

Woman anxiously picking fingers.

Causes:

Anxiety can arise from a combination of factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality traits, traumatic experiences, and ongoing stress.


Impact on daily life:

Anxiety can significantly disrupt a person's functioning and quality of life, affecting relationships, work or school performance, and overall well-being.


Remember, while this information provides a general understanding of anxiety, each individual's experience with anxiety can vary, and it is essential to consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice.


Here are some ways you can handle anxiety as it comes up in your professional and personal life:

Prioritize Self-Care:

Girl covered in red paper hearts sitting at desk with laptop, coffee, and phone.

Self-care has become a buzzword in pop psychology. While there is no one way to practice self-care, there is a concrete definition: Self-care is “taking the time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical and mental health.” Some things you can do to practice self-care are:

  • Exercise regularly. According to the CDC, adults need 150 minutes of moderate physical activity weekly. This could be 30 minutes of walking 5 days a week, weight-lifting, running, yoga, etc. The important thing is that you move your body.

  • Get enough sleep. The CDC says that adults (18-60 years old) need at least 7 hours of sleep nightly. Sleep helps your brain function, an integral part of everyday life. While you are asleep, your blood pressure and heart rate fall, letting your circulatory system rest; your liver prepares for another day of detoxing your body and processing fats you digest, a vital element of your metabolism; your immune system kicks into overdrive; and your brain prepares storage space for everyday mental tasks—sleep matters. Creating a Sleep Routine is an excellent place to start if you have trouble sleeping.

  • Give your body proper fuel. Your body intakes calories and uses this to convert food to energy. The recommended calorie intake for males is 2,500 calories a day and 2,000 calories for women. (These numbers are based on an average and vary from person to person. Talk to your doctor about the correct caloric intake for you). Unfortunately, Americans eat far too few calories or far too many. You must give your body enough energy so it can run properly throughout the day. Remember, too, that the kind of food your calories come from is important too. A steady diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, fats, and proteins is vital to proper body functioning. The better you eat, the better you will feel, and the better you will be able to handle stress.

  • Take some time to chill. We mean this literally. Part of self-care is taking time to do relaxing activities. This could mean a whole gamut of things, from kayaking, biking, hiking, or doing a martial art if active rest helps you wind down. OR it could be lighting candles and taking a bath, reading a book, or watching a couple of episodes of a T.V. show. There is no right or wrong way to relax. But doing something that helps you chill out your mind, body, and soul is an important part of self-care.


Another aspect of self-care that helps alleviate anxiety symptoms is the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness can often get lumped together with self-care, especially in modern vernacular.

So what is mindfulness?

Head being filled with flowers, symbolizing mental wellbeing

The dictionary defines mindfulness as “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” For our purposes, mindfulness has come to mean a certain kind of meditation in which an individual practices becoming fully aware of the present moment, noting any thoughts, feelings, or sensations that may come without judgment.

This last bit is crucial. Much of mindfulness is coming to accept things as they are without assigning morality to them. Emotions such as anger, jealousy, sadness, and many others often get slated as “bad” emotions and, as a result, are repressed. Left unaddressed, these emotions can lead to bitterness, stress, and even blow-ups at work or home. In mindfulness, one learns to note these emotions as they come and trace them back to their source. Instead of judging yourself for feeling angry about a situation, you can understand why something makes you angry, and then you can calmly address the problem.

Mindfulness has been found to help individuals in a variety of different ways. It has so many benefits we can’t list them all! But here is a resource for those curious about how it can aid you in work and life.


How to practice mindfulness:

Start slow. Begin by taking 5-10 minutes a day to:

  • Pay attention to your breathing.

  • Try to become aware of what you are sensing. Note any sounds, sights, and smells that would typically pass you without conscious awareness.

  • Note your thoughts and feelings, but do not dwell on them. Let them pass on as the next one comes up.

Woman practicing mindfulness in the office.

As you adjust to this process, you can start doing this at any moment. Practice being aware of your body, your feelings sitting in your office chair, and the taste of your food, among other things.


Please note that this is a difficult thing to do. It takes time and practice. Be gentle with yourself, and don’t get frustrated if you judge your emotions or lose awareness. Keep practicing, and over time it will become second nature.



Set Realistic Goals and Manage Expectations:

To-Do list being checked off

Most people would say that their life has become more chaotic. Dr. Richard Fernandez notes in a speech that part of modern life is that the demands on individuals have increased dramatically. In contrast, the ability to meet these demands has not risen accordingly.

Hence why we are all so stressed out!

One way to handle this is to break down your tasks into manageable portions. Decide what needs to be done right now, and then decide what can wait. Doing this will allow you to prioritize your tasks and then focus on them one at a time instead of getting overwhelmed by the feeling that everything needs to be done.

Don’t be afraid to say no to new tasks if you already have a full plate. You cannot accomplish anything if you have too much to do!

And lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you have something on your “To-Do List” that you aren’t sure you can get done, it is okay to reach out to colleagues or supervisors for assistance.



Establish Work-Life Boundaries:

Man wearing one casual shoe and one business shoe.

As our lives get busier and the demands on our time increase, it is easier to let work sneak into your hours at home. But blurring the boundaries between work and personal life can exacerbate anxiety. It is crucial that you value your time, both at your office and away. Remember that you are a contracted employee hired to work certain hours. Your office does not have rights to your time after these contracted hours.

It is important to remember that you are a whole person who has a life outside of the workplace. You can disconnect from work-related communication and enjoy your time outside of the office.

This may feel easier said than done. It takes discipline and dedication to ignore that Friday evening or Sunday morning email from your boss. But it can wait. Your friends and family will thank you!



Seek Professional Help:

Man in a therapy session

Part of the reason why Mental Health Awareness Week is so critical is that there is a very real stigma surrounding issues of mental health. For much too long, people have been afraid to admit feelings of depression or anxiety to catastrophic effects.

Let us say this as strongly as possible: IT IS OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY! And it is okay to seek help. Seeking help does not mean you are weak or broken. It means you are willing to address something that is causing the quality of your life to diminish, just like seeing a doctor when you have strep throat or a twisted ankle.

Trained therapists can help you process your emotions and give you methods and systems to handle your anxiety. Sometimes this includes practices such as mindfulness, detailed above, or it may include medication to assist you as you learn to manage anxiety.

Here are some ways you can find a therapist near you:


Mental Health Awareness Week is all about normalizing the conversation around mental health. If you are experiencing anxiety, you are not alone! Anxiety and other mental health disorders can be incredibly isolating, making you feel as if you are somehow broken or misguided, which can cause you to hide your symptoms from loved ones and not seek the help you may need. Let us repeat it:

Mental Health Awareness green ribbon with works "You Are Not Alone"

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