Work is the one place you want to be calm and in control, and yet maybe your anxiety is at its worst! You might be struggling to cope with your anxiety at work.
- Perhaps your anxiety means you avoid work tasks, like presentations?
- Or, maybe you sweat profusely and frequently go red in the face in front of your boss?
- What about if your anxiety causes you to opt out of social catch ups, like work lunches or drinks, or even going into the lunchroom?
In this article, we discuss some small steps you can take towards improving the way you deal with anxiety in the workplace.
First thing first though, I am not sitting in front of you, able to understand the nature of your anxiety and how intense it can sometimes be. Therefore, it is important to first discuss your anxiety with a GP or psychologist, as they will be able to recommend the best approach to dealing with your anxiety.
Now for the fun part…. Small steps you can take towards improving how you deal with anxiety at work.
The silent player in anxiety.
There is a silent player in anxiety: “silent” because it creeps up on you quietly and pretends to be helpful, and “player” because it plays a huge role in anxiety. This “silent player” is what us psychologists call “avoidance behaviours”. For example, you might avoid speaking to your boss, as last time you went red in the face. Or, perhaps you avoid doing work presentations, as you fear feeling anxious.
The rule of thumb goes: the more you avoid situations that may make you feel anxious (e.g. doing a presentation, going into the lunchroom, talking to your boss), the more anxious you will feel!! We discuss other factors that reinforce anxiety in blog post, Anxiety: What Makes It Worse?
That is, by avoiding your fears at work, you have avoided opportunities to see that everything will be OK. And, we know that 99% of the time, everything will be OK, because anxiety is mostly irrational*. Thus, your body and mind misses out on learning that these feared work situations are safe and harmless. So, while you continue to avoid anxiety-provoking workplace situations, you will continue to fear these situations.
*NB: if you are experiencing anxiety in the workplace due to other reasons, like a workplace bully or stressful job situation, then your anxiety may be rational. Please consult a professional for help and advice if you’re in this situation.
Here are some simple steps for gradually reducing your avoidance behaviours, and therefore improving the way you deal with your anxiety at work:
- Write down two things you are avoiding at work, which you feel you could face without too much anxiety. Think about tasks that may be mildly anxiety-provoking, which would sit at about a 2/10 in anxiety (10 being “off the dial” anxious). For example, entering the lunchroom in non-peak times may be 2/10 in anxiety, as opposed to entering the lunchroom in peak times when your anxiety is a 6/10 -> pick the task that is 2/10. Be specific with the tasks. For example, ‘talking to teammates more often’ is too broad and not measurable, so choose something like ‘talk to teammate, Sarah, in the morning when I arrive and ask how her evening was the night before’
- Now time for action… Repeat your chosen tasks everyday, ideally more than once per day. Continue to repeat until you barely feel anxious anymore doing them. This may take a few days, perhaps weeks. Take your time, and enjoy feeling a sense of mastery as your anxiety gradually decreases in these situations.
- Pick your next two challenges, once again, things that you can face, which are not too scary.
- Repeat step 2 and so on… you get the picture.
These small steps towards improving how you deal with anxiety at work will hopefully increase your confidence. A psychologist can also guide you through these steps using a therapy called Exposure Therapy. A psychologist can also equip you with coping skills to help you manage your anxiety at work using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for Anxiety. In another blog post, we also discuss Five Tips on How to Cope with Anxiety at Work, which incorporates some techniques from CBT.
Can Peaceful Mind Psychology help with my anxiety at work?
Yes. We are warm and empathic psychologists based in Melbourne, who are experienced and trained in delivering Exposure Therapy and Cognitive-behavioural Therapy (CBT) for anxiety. If you would like some professional assistance contact us at Peaceful Mind Psychology.