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Imagine the following scenario: you have been feeling nervous ever since you woke up and yet, somehow, you managed to get up, force-fed yourself, took a shower, dressed and went to work. You might think it was a victory in itself, but there you are, seating on the chair, feeling on the verge of a panic attack, freaking out about some deadline or merely struggling with a task, which may not be that difficult to complete. Anxiety took its place in your head.
Whether you are worried about something extremely specific work-wise or
everything in your life that gives you a formless feeling of dread, you
absolutely know you cannot lose it in your workplace, because… what will people
think? What will they do if they see you crying or gasping violently for air?
What can they possibly say about your feelings of anguish for not being able to
handle an ordinary task? Something you have accomplished a million times
before, but someway now seems intolerable.
You recite to yourself the same lines as before: “don’t lose your shit; you’ve got to go back to work. Stop obsessing. Stop worrying and just focus”, and you run to the bathroom so no one can perceive your emotional state. Anxiety crept in and you feel ashamed for being like that.
Since anxious people are prone to catastrophizing (one of the several cognitive distortions researched by the psychiatrists Aaron T. Beck and his student David D. Burns. It refers to the irrational or exaggerated thought pattern and/or an inaccurate vision of reality by an individual), it is not a tremendous leap to pass from a panic attack into thinking you will get fired. Soon, your mind is out of control and you are trapped in the Mangekyō of feeling anxious about being anxious, which seems inescapable.
And then what? You run to the bathroom and cry or vomit, and afterward are you able to pull yourself together and go back to work? And why should you do that? Why wouldn’t you just go home and rest?
By now, you know these actions don’t work and it will only make it
worse. There are kinder ways to talk and treat yourself and soothe your mind.
Anxiety: an issue more common than you might think
“Most individuals operate with some anxiety at all times in order to be successful,” defends a clinical psychologist working at Stanford University to the Huffpost. However, intense and ongoing anxiety is altogether different. And it is not uncommon: 18% of people who responded to a survey made in 2017 by the American Psychological Association revealed “they had a difficult time completing their work due to anxiety” and other mental issues.
Indeed, work-related anxiety or general anxiety is a crescent problem worldwide and I truly recommend you seek professional help if your anxiety is becoming overwhelming.
When I had my first panic attack at a previous work due to its own toxic environment and overall abusive relationships, I felt ashamed because my anxiety made me weak and vulnerable, and no one seemed to have a similar problem. So, I lied to my boss and said I ate something foul, and therefore I needed to see a doctor. That was partially true since I actually vomited and those physical symptoms validated the mental ones, that were not as palpable and therefore, not as significant. Anything to make me feel less guilty and embarrassed.
It took me a long time to surpass these erroneous conceptions and
realize mental illnesses are as valid as physical ones. How I achieved that is
a topic for another blog post, though.
The most substantial part is that I put in the work and with therapy and help, I developed four small actions to help me through the worst days.
1. Change your mindset: accept your illness and learn how to deal with it
Speaking only regarding the workplace, a place where is expected to
perform and be at your utmost best, like perfect little robots, it is
burdensome to admit you have vulnerabilities, you are not perfect and thus cut
yourself some slack.
None of these matters. Anxiety is exactly as significant and valid as having diabetes and you have every right to treat it the best way you can. Employers and employees must grasp this at last.
2. Organize your own schedule
It is the beginning of the week and there is work for almost three weeks
encapsulated in one. This is time to breathe and take 10. Take 10 minutes to go
outside, drink tea or coffee and spent that time watching something you like.
My personal favorites are animal videos.
Then, return to the office and write your calendar: divide your week and
complete three to four tasks a day, always leaving room for breaks and doing
something to relax.
During the days, work in periods. In other words, divide your time to
work and relax. For example, set a chronometer for 45 minutes and complete your
task diligently during that time. As soon as you heard the beep, use the 15
minutes to stretch, go outside and do something you like.
I employ the Pomodoro technique to assist me with this.
3. Take breaks, as many as you need
It is useless to work forced since the outcome is not going to be good. Hence, you might as well take a break, go outside and try again later. In the same sense, when you are on a roll, it is important to follow a routine and work 45 minutes and relax for 15 (for instance).
Taking time out pro-actively sends a message to your brain, letting it
know it is time to relax. This lets it refocus and make you reenter the game
reenergized. It produces wonders in the end.
As can be seen, most of our days are behind a desk and a computer screen. This is not natural. Humans need sunlight and to move. So, go for a walk around the block or get up and walk around the office – this can be the physical and mental outlet you require to reduce stress and anxiety and not fall into the spiral.
Besides that, stretch your muscles often, take your eyes away from the screen for several minutes a day, drink plenty of water and eat.
Talk to your coworkers. Express verbally your concerns. Sometimes, just saying “I’m afraid I won’t have this done by the end of the week” and listening to other perspectives and ideas can relieve the pressure you need to endure the day.
Evidently, these techniques won’t work for everyone, since we all have distinct needs, fears and ways of thinking. The earnest advice here – from an anxious person to another – is the mindset: think about ways you can help yourself through the day and what you can to do deal with your own problems. Develop personal habits to calm yourself on business days and, in the end, create a safe and healthy work routine, which allows you to feel good and to do your work simultaneously.
And remember this: it’s just a job. If it is toxic and you can’t do anything to change that environment, it is not worth your mental health.