10 Effective Strategies to Manage Anxiety at Work

Do anxious feelings tend to bubble up suddenly while you’re at work? Do you get nervous just thinking about your job? Does your mood change come Monday morning, or Sunday evening, for that matter?

If your anxiety revolves around work, you might be experiencing workplace anxiety, also known as work stress. And you’re most certainly not alone.

According to Mental Health America’s 2021 Mind the Workplace report, almost 83 percent of respondents felt emotionally drained from their work. And 85 percent — or nearly 9 in 10 workers — reported that job stress affected their mental health.

Of course, you don’t need to go into an office or job site to experience workplace anxiety. You can experience these feelings when working from home, too. (Zoom anxiety, anyone?)

But the situation is far from hopeless. Here’s everything you need to know about workplace anxiety, along with practical strategies for reducing and managing work stress.

First, it’s not always easy to tell whether you’re experiencing workplace anxiety or symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

Annia Palacios, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with Tightrope Therapy, offers a few key signs of workplace anxiety:

How do you know when your symptoms might relate to generalized anxiety disorder or another anxiety condition?

Anxiety disorder symptoms are “persistent, consistent, and negatively affect several aspects of your life,” says Emme Smith, a licensed psychotherapist and CEO of GraySpace Counseling Group.

The key difference between the two, explains Alexandra Finkel, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist and co-founder of Kind Minds Therapy, is that workplace anxiety generally develops in response to stress at work. An anxiety disorder, on the other hand, tends to develop, and persist, regardless of your work circumstances.

You might also experience a sense of dread when you think about going to work and feel overwhelmed once you get there, says Boone Christianson, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) and author of the book “101 Therapy Talks.”

A number of factors can contribute to workplace anxiety, and these can vary from person to person.

According to Kimberly Wilson, PhD, LMFT, an organizational psychologist and therapist, you could also develop workplace anxiety if your job:

In some cases, your work stress can also have a deeper, more subtle underlying cause or contributing factor.

For example, says Christianson, maybe you’ve had negative experiences in the past with making phone calls, or your boss reminds you of your dad. Maybe your college professor’s harsh criticism sharpened your sensitivity to any kind of feedback on writing-related tasks.

As Palacios also points out, “being an anxious person or having a pre-existing anxiety disorder can make us more likely to experience workplace-specific anxiety.”

For example, she notes, if you already live with anxiety you might go straight to the worst-case scenario. Consequently, your workplace might become a significant source of stress if you (mistakenly) assume:

Workplace anxiety can feel overwhelming and unrelenting. But with a few small steps, you can successfully overcome or manage your work stress.

The triggers of work stress aren’t always obvious. “Writing out moments when you feel nervous throughout the day will help you find patterns or triggers,” says Smith.

Maybe you regularly feel nervous and nauseous before weekly team meetings, or you have trouble concentrating on anything after you encounter one specific co-worker.

Identifying specific situations that increase your stress levels can help you figure out the best strategy to handle them going forward.

Feeling anxious at work is common, whether it stems from heavy workloads, demanding bosses, or presentation jitters Ongoing anxiety can harm your productivity and health

Learning to manage anxious thoughts and feelings in your workplace is crucial Here are 10 tips to minimize anxiety and thrive at work

1. Plan and Prioritize Your Tasks

Getting overwhelmed by a sea of tasks is a recipe for anxiety. Combat this by taking time to properly plan and prioritize your to-do list each day or week.

  • Identify 3-5 must-do priorities that align with your broader goals.
  • Cluster related tasks to work on them efficiently.
  • Leave time for unexpected tasks and interruptions. Don’t overschedule yourself.
  • Use calendars and project management tools to organize and sequence tasks.

Planning ahead alleviates anxiety by creating a clear roadmap for what to focus on. Tick tasks off your list as completed to build a sense of control.

2. Break Large Projects into Smaller Pieces

Big complex projects can seem daunting. This often elicits anxiety overwhelm. Avoid getting frozen by dividing the work into smaller, specific action steps spread over time.

For example break a new product launch plan down into tasks like

  • Conduct buyer research by Friday.
  • Outline product features and benefits by next Wednesday.
  • Develop project plan and timeline by end of month.
  • And so forth.

Checking smaller tasks off bit-by-bit creates momentum and a feeling of progress. This helps calm anxiety.

3. Set Realistic Deadlines for Yourself

Self-imposed unrealistic deadlines are a common source of work anxiety. Over-estimating what you can achieve in a day sets you up for failure.

Take an honest look at how long tasks truly take you. Set deadlines and goals accordingly. Also build in some wiggle room for the unexpected.

Say no if assigned unreasonable deadlines by others. Push back politely with a realistic timeline focused on quality over speed. Managing expectations goes a long way.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Many of us hesitate to ask colleagues for help or clarification when needed. But forging ahead alone can ratchet up anxiety quickly.

Reaching out at the first sign of feeling overwhelmed helps diffuse anxiety. Simply say, “I could use some help on X when you have a moment.” Most people are happy to assist.

Collaborating with others builds confidence and often yields better results than struggling solo. Don’t let anxiety make you isolated.

5. Accept That Some Anxiety Is Normal

Some days you may feel anxiety at work, even with the best coping strategies. Accept this as normal rather than fighting it or getting down on yourself.

Anxiety is not a reflection of failure or weakness. High achievers often feel some anxiety, which can even help motivate preparation.

Notice anxiety, acknowledge it, then purposefully shift your focus to your strengths and abilities. This helps prevent anxious thoughts from spiraling.

6. Take Good Care of Your Overall Health

Eat nutrient-rich foods, exercise, get quality sleep, and care for your mental health outside of work. Caring for your whole self equips you to handle anxiety triggers when they arise.

Make sure to take full lunch breaks to rest and recharge as well. Don’t just work through them at your desk. Prioritize self-care routines that calm and center you.

7. Seek Professional Help If Needed

See your doctor if anxiety persists over time and interferes with your work and life. Ask for a referral to a psychologist for counseling or therapy.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy in particular can help identify and modify anxious thinking patterns. Medication may also be warranted in some cases to restore balance.

Getting appropriate professional treatment enables you to take control of anxiety’s impact.

8. Reflect on Past Successes

When anxious thoughts take hold, reflect on your previous successes and accomplishments. This helps restore perspective and confidence.

Anxiety thrives when we fixate only on future uncertainties. Redirect your mind by reminding yourself “I have done this before” or “I have the skills for this.”

Look back at tasks you completed well despite being anxious. Use these past wins as proof you can handle challenges.

9. Make Time for Fun and Relaxation

All work and no play leads to burnout, which amplifies anxiety. Counteract this by scheduling regular activities that bring you joy and contentment.

Socialize with friends, pursue hobbies, move your body, play with pets, read fiction – anything unrelated to work to give yourself a mental break.

Pleasant distractions broaden your focus away from anxious thoughts. They also boost your mood and ability to manage stress.

10. Limit Caffeine and Refined Sugar

Caffeine and sugar provide quick bursts of energy but actually worsen anxiety over time. Limit intake of items like coffee, soda, chocolate, and sugary snacks.

Stay hydrated with water throughout your work day to support consistent energy levels without the crashes. You may be surprised by how much this small tweak helps reduce anxiety.

Don’t Let Anxiety Hold You Back

Left unchecked, anxiety can negatively impact your productivity and advancement at work. But you have more control than you think over how much you let it hold you back.

Start applying these strategies and look for small daily progress. Consistency builds emotional resilience over time so anxiety cripples you less and less. You’ve got this!

tips to manage anxiety at work

Create a safe, soothing space

If you have a workspace, you can create a mini sanctuary or retreat that offers solace during stressful or anxiety-provoking situations, says Smith.

For example, she says, you might:

  • hang family photos
  • keep a few fidget toys
  • add a diffuser with essential oils, like calming lavender

Be gentle with yourself

When you get anxious and stress levels soar, your natural inclination might be to respond with self-criticism.

Instead, try to be patient and understanding with your reactions.

How? You can start by labeling and leaning into your feelings. You might simply say, “I’m feeling frazzled right now, and that’s okay.”

Similarly, you can also think about treating yourself like you’d treat a close friend or family member, says Maisel.

You might say something like, “It’s OK to feel overwhelmed. You’re doing a lot. But you’re doing the best you can.”

You can recalibrate your emotions by taking small, short breaks throughout the day, according to Palacios. For instance, she suggests:

  • walking away from your desk or task to recenter yourself
  • practicing box breathing, where you inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, and hold for a count of 4

When anxiety pulls your mind elsewhere, you can also try the 54321 technique to ground yourself in the present moment, says Finkel.

To practice, she says, simply name:

  • 5 things you see
  • 4 things you hear
  • 3 things you feel
  • 2 things you smell
  • 1 thing you taste

During and after exercise, the body releases calming neurotransmitters that create an overall feeling of well-being, says Karlene Kerfoot, chief nursing officer at symplr.

“Exercising before work can help your body cope with workplace situations that may cause anxiety, and exercise after work can help place you in a different mindset where you can better cope with such feelings,” she says.

When big projects and presentations produce anxiety, getting organized can help reduce feelings of overwhelm, says Finkel.

She suggests:

  • breaking down large tasks into smaller steps
  • assigning each step a completion date and time

In other words, try to use your anxiety to propel you to accomplish tasks instead of putting them off.

Could some boundaries help keep your work-related stressor in check?

If your stress relates work-life balance or work relationships, Finkel suggests:

  • setting a specific time to start and end your workday
  • engaging in one or two activities each week that honor your physical, emotional, and mental well-being
  • identifying specific behaviors and tasks you will or won’t accept and communicating these boundaries to colleagues and clients

Finding something to laugh about can release tension, shift your perspective, and stimulate positive neurotransmitters, says Kerfoot. Humor can even help you take yourself, not to mention your workplace, less seriously.

To give yourself a good laugh:

  • talk or text with your funniest friend
  • watch a comedy special or funny film
  • take yourself to an in-person comedy show
  • reminisce about silly memories

10 Tips to Manage Workplace Stress and Anxiety

How do you deal with workplace anxiety?

Workplace anxiety is common, but it’s very manageable. Small steps, like understanding your triggers, setting boundaries, and taking restorative breaks, can go a long way. That said, if your work stress becomes difficult to cope with alone, don’t hesitate to seek professional support.

How can I handle anxiety?

Learning how to handle anxiety is an important part of its treatment. Some methods are used to alleviate your symptoms. It is important to identify your triggers and learn how to manage them, limiting your exposure to them. When triggered, try to practice focused breathing or go for a walk. Eating healthy and exercising regularly also help with anxiety. Psychological therapy is an effective form of therapy for anxiety. If it is affecting your daily life, you should seek assistance and talk to your doctor about how you feel.

How to reduce anxiety at work?

Personal items such as your favorite plants, family photos or artwork can make you feel more comfortable and at ease, which can reduce anxiety. You can also customize a work environment by listening to music while performing tasks to promote focus, motivation and relaxation.

Can you control anxiety at work?

You can’t control everything in your work environment. But putting energy behind factors you can control could reduce stress levels and help you regain a sense of empowerment and enjoyment at work. It’s not uncommon for anxiety at work to become all-consuming.

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