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  • Writer's pictureEric Gilbert

Effective Techniques To Reduce Your Anxiety At Work Or School

If you're prone to anxiety like me, you are likely experiencing it at work and the moments where you want to perform your best. Maybe it feels like when your performance matters most, you just can't seem to be calm and in control of your thoughts or emotions.

Here are the most effective techniques found to reduce anxiety when it matters most. Many I use myself on almost daily, and many clients have experienced significant results when they develop these habits. The more you practice these the greater your ability to gain control even in new and difficult situations.

Start A Self Check-In Ritual

If you do just one thing from this list, let this be it. This is the game changer.

For the longest time, I would drive into work thinking about all the things that need to get down and arrive feeling like I was already behind even though the day just started. Stop and think for a second.

Do you think you can ever feel 'caught up' on work if this is how you start each day? When I work with clients with anxiety, I've noticed a common trait is often negative self-talk. People say things to themselves like, "How have you not done that yet?" "What's wrong with you?" "Why can't you be more like ____ from the office?" "I'm never going to be able to do that."

The words they say to themselves are a heavy weight to carry throughout the day. It only builds the pressure as they struggle to perform at a level to convince themselves and others they are good at their job.

As I started to study various work environments, something significant I noticed is that the people who were most productive long-term were often the people who were most positive about themselves and their work. People who driven by anxiety or pressure to perform often produced results, but eventually grew bitter or burnt out.

So, what's a better approach? If you want to be more productive and satisfied, you need to develop a positive self-check process. This means talking to yourself as the kindest person you have ever worked for. Or if you are a person of faith like myself, you check-in with God first at work.

So before you start your work for the day, take a moment to appreciate yourself for making it into work and the value of having employment. Ask yourself, "What have I been doing well in my work lately?" Write the answer down. Then ask yourself, "Why am I so good at the work I do?" Write that answer down too. Writing down these answers puts your brain on a mission to find evidence of the work you are doing well and that you are in the right place. These answers are more effective than worn out affirmations about how you are "the best." Also, writing it down makes you actually see and appreciate the answer. It can even create gratitude to God and others for what is going right.

Next, Make Yourself a List

If you often feel overwhelmed and fearful at the start of the day, take the simple step of setting a list of the essentials for the day. Limit the list with only one to five of the important things of the day. Why? This helps you to prioritize and also feel less overwhelm. When you have the physical list, you’ll have better concentration and the sensation of crossing it off gives you back the feeling of control that anxiety strips from you.

If you know you have more than 5 things to do and can't stop thinking about them, you can write them down too, but on a separate sheet of paper or document. If you struggle with a mixture between anxiety and ADHD like me, when you make a long list, instead of feeling accomplished or clear on your mission, suddenly it feels like, "How in the world am I going to get all this done?" On days where I am really struggling to stay on task, I will take a sticky note and write down the one task I'm working on. And I will even set a timer for 3 to 10 minutes to see if I am still concentrated on that same task or if I have started to wonder into something else.

Take It One Thing At A Time - Chunking

Multitasking was once heralded as a fantastic way to maximize one’s time and get more done in a day. Then people started realizing that when they had a phone in their ear and were making calculations at the same time, their speed and accuracy (not to mention sanity) suffered. There is a certain kind of frazzled feeling that comes from splitting one’s focus that doesn’t work well for most people. Rather than multitasking, try a new strategy known as chunking.

Breaking down tasks into shorter time increments shrinks them to a size you can manage and helps you realize that you’re capable of working. Go in increments of 15 minutes to an hour, and then re-evaluate. Kindly tell yourself, "I just need to get through this hour; then I can think about something else.” When that hour is over, take a break and validate what went well and how you made it through. Try to stretch, drink some water, and have a clear moment of relaxation.

When you are feeling anxious at work, check in with your breathing and your body.

Have you noticed that we tend to carry tension and anxiety in certain places in our body? When I'm anxious, I tend to tighten my jaw and my stomach feels like it's pushing up against my ribs. The power of knowing where we carry our anxiety in our body is that we can better recognize and soothe ourselves. When I feel my jaw tightening, I do a quick check-in to see what has me worried or uptight. Sometimes I even run my hands upward along the sides of my jaw to help relieve the tension. Taking a moment to validate how we're feeling helps to relieve the tension so that it stops building. If we ignore the signs from our body, then it can continue to increase to a full blown panic attack.

Slow breaths are a tremendous way to calm our mind and body. Breathe in through your nose and out through the mouth. Try to exhale longer than your inhale as this moves more CO2 out of your system. It may help to put your hands on your stomach so you can feel your breathe go in and out. As you start to relax more, you are ready to organize your work day.

Boundaries and Expectations

As you go about your day, you will have to handle the conversations and emotions that come with work or school. With anxiety, we have a tendency to be extreme in our boundaries and expectations.

We tend to be one of two types of people:

1. The "YES" person. We take on too much work because we are afraid of saying no or that something will go wrong if we don't do it ourselves.

2. The avoid-er. We are so anxious that we avoid others or situations as long as possible just to get around those requests.

If we want to get serious about decreasing our anxiety, we have to open ourselves to uncomfortable conversations and requests. It may be difficult in the moment to say you cannot take on another project because the quality of your other projects will suffer, but it beats burning yourself out or being unable to complete the work and looking incapable. Not every deadline is negotiable, but it will save you hours of anxiety if you can be honest upfront and work at a manageable pace. Asking for help at appropriate times communicates to your team that you genuinely care about doing a good job. Often it’s better to be honest upfront than to apologize later. And if you finish the job ahead of time, that will make you look even better.

The problem with avoidance is that it’s only a very temporary solution. That twisting feeling in your stomach or other work anxiety symptoms will only get worse over time the more you use distance as a way to manage disagreement, confusion, or other difficult emotions.

The more you approach problems and communication with courage and kindness, the less anxious it will make you over the long term. Great leaders have the ability to maintain contact with people who have different points of view or styles of work. Staying in contact can also help you improve on saying “no” to additional responsibilities that make you overworked and less effective in your job.

Decompress, Celebrate, and Process At End of the Day

Most people at the end of the day are either staring at the clock to hurry up or scrambling to get everything done. There's a better way. Take 5 minutes to process your day. Doing this puts your day in perspective to celebrate what was accomplished, why those things went well, and it crystallizes the top priorities for the next day. How amazing could it feel if you wrote a note so that you knew exactly what you want to accomplish tomorrow? Start this

habit and suddenly you will have clarity at the start of each day about what to do.

I like to listen to a song I really enjoy at end of day. It puts me in my 'happy place' and brings me a feeling of joy that I can associate with my work.

What are some of the biggest struggles you have right now with anxiety at work or school?

What are some of your favorite strategies?


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