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Butterflies and Deadlines, and Workplace Anxiety, Oh My!

Wish you could effectively calm down anxiety at work?

workplace anxiety

It’s Monday morning and Angie is filled with dread. There’s a looming deadline on the horizon, unresolved issues from last week looming in her inbox, and an uncomfortable conversation scheduled with her boss about booking time off for a medical procedure. A burning sensation rises up from her abdomen as she thinks about that meeting and she starts to tense up. She takes a sip of her coffee and plunges into the workday.

At the same time, only a couple of blocks away, Megan is also starting her Monday. She’s working towards a major milestone and knows she has a few tasks she needs to complete this week in order to move the project forward. Last week there were some unforeseen challenges that popped up, but she’s confident that the decisions made to address them will work out. Whether or not they were the best decisions will become clear in the coming weeks! Before opening her inbox, she takes a moment to center on identifying her priorities and activities for the day. Like Angie, Megan also has a challenging conversation scheduled with her boss today. So she makes a note to take a break a few minutes before that video call. She takes a deep breath and begins to focus on her first key task.

Which of these examples most closely resembles how you start your workdays? Is stress baked into everything you tackle or do you have structures in place to mitigate those stressors?

Workplace anxiety and stress is very common and accepted as the norm, unfortunately. A 2019 Wrike Study* found that 94% of employees said they felt stress at work and 54% said it negatively affected their home life.

Both stress and anxiety can affect your health and wellbeing, but are they the same? It might look that way on the surface but they feel and are different.

workplace anxiety

What does workplace stress look like?

(Note: It’s not limited to working hours and often permeates our daily life.)

  • Muscle tension

  • Irritability

  • Increased heart rate

  • Rapid breathing

  • Forgetfulness

  • Trembling

  • Insomnia

  • Headaches

  • Stomach issues

And what does workplace anxiety look like?

In addition to the stress symptoms listed above, it can also include;

  • Sweating

  • Feeling restless, wound-up or on-edge

  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry

Anxiety is both a mental and physical state of negative expectation. Stress is about dealing with current stressors while anxiety triggers the same sensations based on future projections of stress.

What causes workplace stress and anxiety?

  • Having to meet unrealistic deadlines and/or an excessively high workload

  • Workplace conflict and poor communication

  • Weak workplace boundaries

  • Experiencing a lack of perceived fairness

  • Low reward (not enough pay, benefits, recognition, etc.)

What are methods to reduce workplace anxiety?

  • Healthy habits. This includes getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, regularly moving your body (if you’re a desk worker, allow yourself to get up every hour!), and moderating consumption of caffeine and alcohol.

  • Appreciation. Before moving to the next task or project, take a moment to celebrate your wins (no win is too big or too small), recognize your hard work, and thank the people who helped you.

  • Clear expectations. Focus on the value, key attributes, and constraints of the work you’re doing. What are the time constraints and what does a good or great deliverable look like? Do you need any assistance to achieve your project or goal?

  • Clear boundaries. From a workplace perspective, time, as well as workload and spatial or physical boundaries, are great areas to focus on. For more on this topic check out our previous article on boundary setting.

  • Process emotions. Often when we’re experiencing anxiety, we haven’t heard or addressed an underlying emotion our body is trying to communicate to us. When we process our emotions, we can see the wisdom lying underneath the anxiety and are able to better assess and address our fundamental needs and desires. For more on this topic check out our Emotional Fluency workshops.

  • Assistance and Counseling. Most workplaces provide access to a confidential EAP (Employee Assistance Program) to help employees who are dealing with chronic stress due to work or personal factors (divorce, grief, financial/family/home crisis, etc.).

This list can feel empowering but let’s be frank: it takes conscious work to regularly implement these methods! The key discovery we’ve had at LARASAH is that what stresses us out or triggers anxiety is UNIQUE. Not all of these methods will be equally effective for everyone. When we can get to the root cause of our stress, we can start using the methods and tools that will be the most effective for us FIRST.

It’s possible to quickly assess your current stress profile in order to gain an understanding of the intensity of your stress as well as identify the primary root cause.

With that information, it’s easier to use techniques that reduce our stress and anxiety levels quickly and effectively. This is especially important for situations when anxiety is triggered because we don’t always automatically reach for the tools that bring us back to calm.

workplace anxiety

We live in a time when there are a plethora of apps meant to provide self-care with just the tap of a finger. Do you ever reach for that helpful app only to find yourself distracted by a notification or other dopamine sources like your email, or a news or social media app? Now, instead of activating our relaxation response (the parasympathetic nervous system) we actually move away from calm and our original intent is forgotten. We may find a numbing and temporary relief in that screen-time (which is actually stimulating to the body) but what we were really seeking was relaxation.

Often we’ll gravitate toward methods we feel most familiar with, which may or may not be the most effective at reducing our stress and/or anxiety. Instead, we can:

  • Assess, identify and gain clarity about our unique stress profile

  • Implement and use the tools that will help address our stress in the moment

  • Have a means to assess and reflect on what allowed us to quickly feel better

One source of frustration can be the cyclical nature of stressors. This is why a journal is a powerful, physical and tangible tool that can be used at any time to give us relief.

Did you know that journaling is one of the most effective ways to mitigate anxiety and depression?

workplace anxiety

But in this age of accelerating technology, how is a hardcopy journal relevant?

  • Physical material is more “real to the brain.” It’s better connected to memory because it engages with spatial memory networks.

  • We know that the area of the brain associated with spatial awareness and planning actions also plays a crucial role in decision making. Journaling allows you to make better decisions for yourself by helping you pause and connect with your unique needs. Like Megan, you can notice what key activities in your day might require additional support or attention in order to set you up for success.

  • Studies have found that physical material also involves more emotional processing. These unique pathways become useful for other things like creative or lateral thinking, problem-solving and emotional intelligence.

  • Studies have shown that writing also lights up parts of the brain that are active during meditation. Meditation has been widely shown to be effective in reducing stress.

  • A journal is a tool that grounds a regular stress reduction practice. It’s a simple way to build and adapt a routine to mitigate and reduce your stress in a way that’s uniquely adapted to you and your current situation. You can’t control the unknowns that appear in life, but with a regular stress reduction practice, you are better equipped to manage those unknowns.

  • Privacy. No one is tracking your data on this very private matter of stress management other than you! You can easily look back at which tools were most effective and objectively observe common triggers so that you can better support yourself in the future.

  • You’re empowered to know yourself in an intimate and profound way. When you need or desire further support, you have information that you can share with your healthcare practitioner to get more meaningful results.

Even when we love our job, we can experience workplace anxiety. It’s common to feel jitters before a major presentation, meeting with clients, or when traveling to a new location.

Both Megan and Angie are experiencing workplace stressors like upcoming deadlines, challenging conversations, and issues requiring potentially difficult decisions. How did it feel reading those two scenarios? Did one feel more calm? Did one feel more in control?

The main difference between Megan and Angie was the practice and approach to their stressful workday. One was actively planning and preparing to respond to potential stressors while the other was bracing herself for them. Starting our workday with a regular and simple stress reduction practice can really make a difference in reducing our stress levels. Yet unknowns will always arise! So having a structure to help mitigate them can truly change how we feel throughout the workday and our careers.

A powerful and complete solution to address workplace stress and anxiety includes:

  • A stress profile assessment

  • Identification of what key areas will provide the quickest relief

  • A variety of stress reduction tools

  • A means to track what tools work best

  • A place to process emotions in either a structured or freeform way*

workplace anxiety

The good news is our Five to Align journal is part of a system that includes all of the above! When you order a Five to Align journal, you access the assessment that identifies your stress profile and which key areas will reduce your stress. The journal includes powerful tools to reduce stress in each of these key areas and allows you to explore effective and curated resources that are sustainable and uniquely beneficial to YOU. Just a journal in itself is an effective stress reduction tool but with the additional elements mentioned here, you’re able to truly offer a solution to yourself or your staff that can create a more calm and collaborative workplace experience!

The reality is that management can offer the best workplace stress reduction tools in the world to their staff, but it won’t make a difference if there isn’t a simple and practical way to integrate them into their lives. The Five to Align system makes this integration possible. Ready to feel more energized, calm and confident every day? Sign up for the waitlist to access the Five to Align System launching this month.

Are you a manager or business owner? Did you know that every $1 invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of $4 in better health and ability to work? This is according to a WHO-led study that estimated both the health and economic benefits of investing in the treatment of the most common forms of mental illness globally.

*Journaling and Increased Engagement (Flinchbaugh, Moore, Chang & May 2011).

*Wrike Study.

Improved working memory ( Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005).

Journaling, Expressive Writing, Bibliotherapy, and Sustainable Depression Management

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