If you are like me, there are days when you truly dread going to work. Dealing with deadlines, making sure your performance is always up to par, and even the everyday commute can overwhelm you and make you develop anxiety.
If you’re one of the 40 million people living with anxiety, you know that common office situations—anything from talking to co-workers in the elevator to speaking up on a meeting—can take on heightened stress.
While it’s true that nearly everyone experiences some level of stress these days, living and working with anxiety is different. It can be crippling, but it doesn’t have to push you down. Beyond getting the right diagnosis and treatment, you might consider incorporating some simple coping strategies into your daily life.
1. Know Your Triggers
Pay attention to situations that spike your anxiety—whether that’s getting feedback, writing important emails, being put on the spot, or starting the day with a messy desk.
Keep a journal to document your observations and look for patterns. When you know what makes you the most uneasy, you can better anticipate challenges and create a plan to deal with triggers.
One tip that can help with preparing for meetings. Start by blocking off 15 minutes before the start of any presentations, jot down questions to ask, and make sure you grab a water for that dry throat. Also try to arrive early so that you are settling in and can address the other coworkers as they file in at your own ease.
2. Have Go-To Grounding Techniques
Anxiety activates the body’s fight or flight response, which sets off a number of uncomfortable reactions from sweating to tunnel vision. Calming yourself with grounding techniques—or ways to stay in the present moment—can get you back in control and feeling better fast.
Meditation, stretching, calling a friend, or going for a walk are all great options. You’ll have to find what works best for you depending on your personality and what’s acceptable in your office environment, but this list is a great place to start.
3. Create Conditions for Success
Make your well-being part of your daily to-do list. Simple changes like avoiding too much caffeine, working by a window with natural light, and controlling noise in your workspace with headphones can all help keep the racing thoughts at bay. While you can’t control most of your enviornment, make it a point to change what you can.
Prioritizing rest is huge. Studies have found that getting more sleep helps about 50% of people feel more at ease and less anxious. Outside of the office, focus on creating rock solid work-life boundaries. For instance, pick a non-negotiable time to put away your work—and stick to it.
Scheduling fun after-hours activities can help make that a reality.
4. Ask for What You Need
Know your rights when it comes to managing your mental health at work. You can ask for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, including a flex schedule, additional time for assignments, and more frequent breaks.
Consider also making reasonable requests that’ll help you enormously—things like soliciting questions ahead of a presentation or asking your boss not to send you late-night emails unless it’s absolutely urgent.
If you’re explicit about your needs, respectful of others’ time and schedules, and intentional about producing quality work, it’s likely your team will have no problem honoring your preferences.
5. Set Micro-Goals
Setting small, achievable goals is always smart, but it’s even more important when you struggle with anxiety. You want to expand your comfort zone, yes, but you also want to be careful not to overwhelm yourself.
For example, if you’re trying to grow your network and change careers, you might aim to go to one industry event a month—not one a week. Setting realistic expectations for yourself is key to not only building positive momentum, but also preserving your well-being.
Living and working with anxiety doesn’t have to be debilitating. While there may be setbacks in your journey, make sure you celebrate every little victory along the way. Rally a support team around you who you can lean on in good times and bad. And if you have an understanding boss, embrace that relationship and practice effective communication about what’s going on with you and when you might require a little flexibility.