How To Cope With Anxiety in a High Stress Work Environment

“Work is supposed to be fulfilling…why do I feel so anxious?” Some 85% of workers said that job stress negatively affected their mental health.

According to Mental Health America’s 2021 Mind the Workplace report, almost 83% of respondents felt emotionally drained from their work.

Research from the American Psychological Association (APA) supports these findings. Its annual Stress in America survey consistently cites work as a significant source of stress.

Stress at work is normal. Managing relationships, performing well, developing new skills and problem-solving are sources of discomfort all present an element of workplace stress that is healthy; stress is an essential component of intellectual and emotional growth.

Stress becomes harmful, however, when it interferes with your functioning and affects your physical and mental health. Warning signs of toxic work stress include:

  • Anger and irritability.
  • Fatigue.
  • Digestive troubles.
  • Disrupted sleep.

Anxiety is a person’s specific reaction to stress. It’s defined by persistent, excessive worries. Symptoms of workplace anxiety include:

  • Feeling physically ill when thinking about work.
  • Procrastinating on work-related tasks.
  • Avoiding meetings, new projects, or work events.
  • Poor productivity and work performance.
  • Constant worrying.

Triggers such as an excessive workload, lack of support, control over job-related decisions, and challenging relationships can lead to anxiety in the workplace. Here are four ways to cope with anxiety in a high-stress work environment:

1. Reassure Your Brain.

“Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important.” – Natalie Goldberg.

Our brain follows the rules of the motivational triad; its job is to (1) seek pleasure, (2) avoid pain, and (3) be efficient.

Anxiety flares when a part of the brain, the amygdala, senses trouble.

In the workplace, “trouble” can manifest in situations that challenge us, like preparing an important presentation or receiving performance feedback. When the amygdala perceives a threat, real or imagined, it releases cortisol (the “stress hormone”) and adrenaline to make the body stronger, faster, and more powerful.

The amygdala is considered the “emotional” part of the brain. Neuroscientists explain that we feel anxiety when signals from the emotional brain overpower our cognitive brain – our prefrontal cortex – where our higher-level thinking occurs.

The first step to managing anxiety is recognizing its symptoms and understanding that our brain is only trying to help us stay safe. Pausing to acknowledge this triggers the rational, cognitive portion of our brain. This can be as simple as saying:

“Thanks, brain. I’ve got this.”

Or –

“I see what you’re doing, brain, and appreciate that you’re trying to protect me. Everything is under control.”

Consciously calling upon rational thought can rein in feelings of anxiety as you face challenges at work.

2. Identify Your Thoughts.

“If you listen to any thought long enough, it becomes part of your playlist.” – Jon Acuff

Anxiety stems from thoughts playing on “repeat” in our heads. In his book, Soundtracks: The Surprising Solution to Overthinking, Jon Acuff stresses the importance of documenting the thoughts that create feelings of distress. He then suggests examining each thought and asking:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it helpful?
  • Is it kind?

This exercise puts the rational, analytical portion of your brain in control. It helps “dial down” the negative thoughts that trigger anxiety.

Tracking your negative thoughts – writing them down – helps remove the emotional component so you can treat them as data and examine them with curiosity.

3. Set Boundaries.

“Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.” – Dolly Parton.

Job-related anxiety won’t dissipate if you work around the clock. The solution: don’t bring work home with you. This may be easier said than done in today’s work environment, where boundaries between home and office blur in hybrid and remote office scenarios.

Try these boundary-setting strategies:

  • Determine your “off the clock” time and do not check or respond to voicemail or email past this time.
  • Do not work on your days off.
  • Use your vacation time.

Establishing clear boundaries creates room for fulfilling experiences outside the workplace and diffuses the pressure of work obligations.

4. Call Your Support System.

“Ask for help not because you’re weak, but because you want to remain strong.” – Les Brown.

You don’t have to face anxiety alone. Talk to your close friends and family about what you’re experiencing. They may be able to give you the support you need. If you’ve determined the origin of your work stress, meet with your supervisor to discuss potential solutions. Your organization may also have resources to help you cope with stress.

Career strategists can often identify and rectify sources of career stress, particularly if your role conflicts with your strengths or core values.

Seek the support of a therapist, psychologist, or another mental health professional if your anxiety is crippling your physical and emotional health.

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This article was produced by FairyGodBoss and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.