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6 Things I Literally Just Did to Relieve Anxiety at Work

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Hey! My name is Sarah, and soon I’m going be The Mighty’s new mental health editor. Like most people who are interested in mental health issues, it’s something that affects both my family and my personal life

So here’s a not-so-secret, secret: I have a lot of anxiety. While some people work through an afternoon slump, I often get a daily dose of confidence-crushing, sometimes hard-to-work-though anxiety. It’s as if something inside of me is holding a cement block above my stomach, and whenever it feels like it, it lets go. It would be nice to at least get a heads-up. 

Sometimes I can work through it. Today, I couldn’t. Here’s what I literally just did to relieve anxiety at work.

1. I changed locations.

I have the luxury of working from home and was sitting in a crowded coffee shop when I started to feel anxious. The noise usually doesn’t bother me, but suddenly feeling hyper-sensitive, my brain couldn’t handle it. My body went into flight mode, and I felt like if I didn’t get out of there ASAP, something horrible would happen. So I didn’t fight it. I left.

Even if you don’t work from home, changing locations, at least for me, can sometimes be the re-set your brain needs. Walking into a break room for a few seconds, pretending to use the bathroom, stepping outside anything to remove yourself from your current environment. If you can see your anxiety triggers staring you in the face (sudden influx of people, lots of noise), get out of there, at least for as long as you can. It’s not running away, but recognizing something isn’t quite right. It’s OK to remove yourself if that’s what your brain needs. 

2. I told my boss I was taking a break.

You don’t need to be specific, but telling your boss, supervisor, or whoever’s accountable for your work you need a break is always a good idea. First of all, it relieves the extra anxiety that comes when you’re having anxiety at work — that you’re not doing your work well enough because of your current anxiety. If you communicate with your boss that you’re stepping out or taking five, that expectation is temporary relieved. Instead of producing sub-par work, explain your work will be even better after you take some time. I messaged my head editor: “Is it OK if I take 30 and stay until 7 (my time)? I’m not doing 100% right now, and I’ll be much more productive if I give my head some time.”

And then the best part is, you actually do get to take that time! I wisely used my 30 minutes to:

3. Cry in the bathroom.

Could be a great opportunity to bond with co-workers! Unfortunately, since all my co-workers are across the country, the only person I bonded with was an old lady who told me she was a nurse and asked if I was hurt. I didn’t come out of the stall, just said, “No, but thank you,” but I’m still sure we have a bond that will last a lifetime.

Also, crying just feels good. I was holding in a lot this week. It’s nice to let it out.

4. Phone a friend.

I’m also lucky enough to have a friend who’s practically on speed-dial for these kind of occasions. I got off my chest some family issues that were bothering me, worries about my new position, general questions about my self-worth. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter what he says (But you did a great job today, thanks Adam!), it’s just nice getting some stuff off my chest. If you brought baggage into the workplace today, it’s OK to take some time to let it out. With out-of-work issues out of your system, it’s much easier to focus on the task at hand.

5. Eat something.

Have you taken care of all your basic needs today? It was 3:30 EST and I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. It seems silly, but since anxiety is often so physical for me, taking care of your body often helps relieve the symptoms. I’m currently working my way through a roll of crackers and I feel much better.

6. Write this piece.

For me, writing is therapeutic. I’m lucky that my job includes doing something that’s inherently stress-relieving for me. 

But even if you don’t have something like that at work, there are probably some things you can do to be productive while reducing your anxiety. Sometimes this is hard to figure out. I know my anxiety wears blinders: I cannot do this one thing I’m working on, and therefore I cannot do anything.

But what else could you be doing? Step back and look at your day as a whole. Are there some easy emails you can answer? A task that’s mindless to give your brain some time to breathe? A task you actually enjoy doing? It might involve some thinking outside the box, but you don’t have to be completely unproductive when you’re feeling this way. Even taking a task slowly (after you take a break!), is better than freezing and doing nothing at all.

I’m extremely lucky. I work in a place where mental health issues are talked about regularly, and therefore are more accepted than probably a lot of other work places. That’s why self-advocacy is so important. When you know yourself, and know your triggers, there are things you can do to make your workspace a safer place. Being open about your anxiety will not only educate others about the issue, but also make your workspace a better place for anyone else who might be experiencing anxiety. 

And when you see your fellow anxiety-fighting co-workers in the bathroom, give them a high-five. You’re both taking time to take care of yourself, and that’s something worth so much more than a cashing in a paycheck.

Originally published: July 10, 2015
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