12 Hacks to Help You Get Through the Workday When You Have Anxiety
Work has always been a big trigger for my anxiety about my performance or how I’m perceived. This is partly because I take a lot of pride in my work, and have often derived much of my self-worth from my productivity or output. I’m working on that, but sometimes it can still be tough to get through the day.
Sometimes I wake up and I’m just having an anxious day, even if there’s nothing at work or in my personal life to be anxious about. Since I feel like I have to be consistently performing every day (or most days, at least), I’ve had to come up with some hacks to get me through the workday when I’m feeling really anxious. Whether it’s work anxiety, personal life anxiety, or any kind of anxiety, these can make it a tiny bit easier.
1. Basic needs: food, water, and meds.
Chances are if I haven’t eaten enough or had any water, I’m going to feel anxious. A great first step when I start feeling anxious is to try and grab a bite or a glass of water. I try to keep a protein bar and a bottle of water by my desk for busy days. If you take medication for your anxiety, don’t forget to take that too!
2. Watch out for caffeine.
I used to drink three cups of coffee a day because I would get groggy if I didn’t, but I found it made me so anxious and jittery. I eventually cut out caffeine from my diet and have decaf instead, which has really helped with my anxiety.
3. Confide in a coworker.
Whether it’s your boss or someone on your team that you trust, it can be helpful to share your anxiety. I’ve always found it helpful to have someone I can go to when I’m anxious about a certain meeting or task because it helps calm me down. Often they give me a pep talk or help me with my work, but sometimes it’s just nice to talk it out.
4. Book shorter meetings.
If a meeting is usually 30 min, I’ll shorten the invite to 25 min. This gives me a few minutes in-between back-to-back meetings to collect myself or my notes and take a deep breath before the next call.
5. Ask clarifying questions.
I often experience anxiety around if I understood someone’s request properly. Whether you have questions in the moment or think of them later, it’s OK to ask for clarification! I’m always anxious my coworkers will think I’m incompetent or annoying if I ask questions, but it’s much better to ask if you’re doing it right versus having to redo it later.
6. Manage your schedule to reduce anxiety.
My anxiety is always at its worst in the morning when I first wake up. Knowing this, I try not to book meetings that will make me nervous, such as ones where I have to present or have to speak to senior leadership, at the beginning of the day. Booking them mid-day when I’m sharpest reduces my anxiety about messing up or saying the wrong thing.
7. Set boundaries for working.
Protect your time, and don’t answer messages during off-hours or on weekends. Disconnect when you’re on vacation, and don’t agree to consistently work overtime for free. It’s OK to say no and be assertive if too much is being asked of you. We need downtime so we can perform better and avoid burnout.
8. Ask for a meeting agenda, or set one.
Another source of anxiety for me is the unknown — if I don’t know what I’m going into in a meeting, I get nervous that I will be unprepared. It’s best practice to include an agenda if you’re planning the meeting, and it’s acceptable to ask for one if you are attending it.
9. Know your preferred communication style, and understand others.
I like sounding excited in my emails, and using exclamation marks! To me, this shows I’m more friendly and relaxed! Other folks have different ways of communicating and 99% of the time there are no issues, but my anxiety can get triggered by more blunt communication styles. Once I understand someone’s style, I can try to ease my anxiety by reminding myself of that. I had a coworker that used “k” and “…” — I thought he was constantly irritated with me, but he was just being quick with communication and really liked ellipses!
10. Consider different communication methods.
Virtual communication such as emails or IMs can be especially anxiety-inducing because you don’t have tone or body language to use and go off the words and punctuation alone. If I find an email or IM is causing me anxiety, it can be helpful to jump on a call to chat about it instead. Sometimes I find that when I’m really anxious, I’m not as articulate and stumble on my words. In those moments if I’m on a call, I find it helpful to say something like: “I have some further thoughts on this, I’ll organize them into an email and we can discuss more later.”
11. Take breaks when they suit you.
Whether it’s a lunch break or coffee breaks, taking a few minutes to step away from work can be immensely helpful for dissipating anxiety. Find something that gives your brain a break – maybe it’s going for a quick walk or meditating at your desk.
12. Take a mental health day (if you can).
If you’re really having a hard time managing anxiety, see if you can take a vacation or personal day. Sometimes it’s exactly what you need to reset, and while I recognize not everyone has the privilege to be able to do this, if you can, don’t feel bad about taking care of your mental health.
Being anxious at work sucks, and sometimes nothing we do helps. There are times when my usual coping tips and tricks don’t work, and I’m still an anxious ball at the end of the day. On those days, I try to just take it minute by minute, and make my life easier where I can. Whether it’s rescheduling a meeting or asking for an extension, sometimes we have to give ourselves that grace and compassion. I hope that we can normalize more conversations about anxiety at work because when we spend so much of our day at work, we deserve to feel good while we’re doing it.
Getty Images photo via Deepak Sethi