Too much anxiety kills performance. Yet anxiety is often ignored in the workplace or considered a sign of weakness that needs to be swept under the desk. So what can those who manage others do about it?
The right amount of anxiety can improve work performance. But if people’s anxiety levels become too high, anxiety can interfere with people’s ability to work effectively. Managers need to be attuned to the anxiety levels of their reports in order to create an environment that elicits employees’ best performances.
Anxiety originally evolved as a valuable survival mechanism. When early man heard a tiger rustling in the bushes, the rush of anxiety that he experienced geared him for action and helped ensure his survival.
In a world where most people are no longer threatened by tigers the utility of anxiety has diminished, but it continues to have an impact because people are extremely good at creating their own “mental tigers.” If these “mental tigers” are too vivid, people become flooded with anxiety and can no longer work effectively.
Anxiety typically arises when people feel that they are about to become victims of situations over which they have no control. Workplaces are particularly fertile grounds for generating such situations. Most jobs no longer come with long-term guarantees and companies can implode in a few weeks resulting in huge layoffs.
Company reorganizations, mergers and change initiatives are a common phenomenon. Current efforts by companies to pare their workforces to a minimum by overloading employees with more work than they can handle are another great source of anxiety.
To monitor employees’ anxiety levels managers need be aware of the various ways in which people manifest anxiety. The stereotypical picture of a person in the grip of anxiety is someone who is tense and agitated. This is misleading and overly simplistic.
Anxiety has many faces. It has physiological, cognitive, emotional and motor effects. Physiological effects can include a pounding heart, sweaty hands, headaches, muscle stiffness and soreness, tightness of breath, indigestion, excess blood sugar, and frequent urination or diarrhea.
Cognitive effects impact people’s memories and ability to focus and process information. People forget names of people they know or forget what they need to do. They have trouble concentrating on their work and often don’t process information well.
For example, when people are anxious, they have trouble understanding and following instructions. No matter how carefully you explain what you want them to do, they can’t seem to get it right. Because cognitive effects directly interfere with the ability of knowledge workers to do their jobs, it is easy for managers to mistake these effects for signs of incompetence or a lack of motivation rather than being the byproduct of high anxiety levels.
Anxiety can also elicit strong emotional reactions. When people are anxious, they are more likely to lose their temper or become impatient with their fellow workers which can lead to damaging office conflicts. Other emotional symptoms are more internal. People become socially withdrawn, eat compulsively, magnify problems, engage in endless checking behaviors or just become too overwhelmed to do their work.
Even motor skills are affected by anxiety. People drop and break things, trip over things, and have trouble performing fine motor movements.
If anxiety is a problem in your workplace, how can you reduce it? One of the best ways is to identify the underlying fears that drive it.
Are there situations in the workplace that are activating people’s anxieties? Is your company going through a lot of changes? Are earnings dropping? Have new policies or initiatives been introduced which employees find threatening? Have there been layoffs? Is there something in your own behavior as a manager that inadvertently raises employees’ anxiety levels?
Once you’ve identified possible sources, you should sit down with your employees to determine if you are on the right track. Listen to their fears and find out what you can do together to help minimize them.
Can you make changes in the way that work is allocated or shared? Do they need more resources? Do work schedules need to be changed? Do they need more feedback and training? Do they simply want to be kept up-to-date on what is happening within the company and how it will affect them?
Even if there are no easy answers, just by bringing people’s fears out into the open and showing that you care and support them will help to reduce employees’ anxiety levels. It is always the unknown rustling in the bushes that is most likely to raise our anxiety levels.
Having an anxiety disorder can make a major impact in the workplace. People may turn down a promotion or other opportunity because it involves travel or public speaking; make excuses to get out of office parties, staff lunches, and other events or meetings with coworkers; or be unable to meet deadlines.
In a national survey on anxiety in the workplace, people with anxiety disorders commonly cited these as difficult situations: dealing with problems; setting and meeting deadlines; maintaining personal relationships; managing staff; participating in meetings, and making presentations.
Tell Your Employer?
It’s your decision to tell your employer about your anxiety disorder. Some people do so because they need accommodations, others want to educate people about their condition, and some do not want to hide their illness.
If you have a physical or mental disability and are qualified to do a job, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) protects you from job discrimination. Being qualified means you must satisfy an employer’s requirements for the job and be able to perform essential functions on your own or with reasonable accommodation. An employer cannot refuse to hire you because your disability prevents you from performing duties that are not essential to the job. Find out more about employment rights.
Tips to Manage Stress and Anxiety at Work
Getting stressed out at work happens to everyone, and it’s perfectly normal. But stress that is persistent, irrational, and overwhelming and impairs daily functioning may indicate an anxiety disorder. Keep these ideas in mind to keep your work life manageable:
- Work! In addition to financial reasons, working can be important for your self-esteem and it adds to your social identity.
- Tell a trusted coworker. Knowing that someone accepts your condition can be comforting and it may reduce any anticipatory anxiety about having a panic attack at work.
- Educate yourself. Learn to recognize the symptoms of your disorder and how to handle them if you experience any at work.
- Practice time management. Make to-do lists and prioritize your work. Schedule enough time to complete each task or project.
- Plan and prepare. Get started on major projects as early as possible. Set mini-deadlines for yourself. Anticipate problems and work to prevent them.
- Do it right the first time. Spend the extra time at the outset and save yourself a headache later when you have to redo your work.
- Be realistic. Don’t over commit or offer to take on projects if you don’t realistically have enough time.
- Ask for help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask a coworker for help. Later you can return the favor.
- Communicate. Speak up calmly and diplomatically if you have too much to handle. Your supervisor may not realize you’re overextended.
- Stay organized. Filing and clearing your desk and computer desktop may rank low on your priority list, but they can save you time in the long run and may prevent a crisis later.
- Avoid toxic coworkers. Try to ignore negativity and gossip in your workplace.
- Take breaks. A walk around the block or a few minutes of deep breathing can help clear your head.
- Set boundaries. Try not to bring work home with you. Don’t check your work e-mail or voice mail after hours.
- Savor success. Take a moment to celebrate your
- good work before moving on to the next project. Thank everyone who helped you.
- Plan a vacation. You’ll be rejuvenated and ready to work when you come back.
- Take advantage of employer resources and benefits. Your workplace may offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), discounts to gyms, or skill-building courses. Learn what’s available to you.
- Be healthy. Eat healthfully, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and limit caffeine and alcohol. Try to keep your body and mind in shape to handle challenging situations.
It’s important to find help for anxiety, stress, and related disorders. Find a therapist near you.
With treatment, most people find significant improvement. Several standard approaches have proved effective. Your health care professional will use one or a combination of these treatments:
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She’s also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.
Research has indicated that the percentage of Americans who are stressed at work is high—and it’s only getting higher. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, 29 to 40% of Americans report being “extremely stressed at work.”
Work stress has significant health consequences that range from relatively benign (like getting more colds and flus) to potentially serious (such as heart disease and metabolic syndrome).
While stress at work is common, finding a low-stress job is hard (if not impossible). A more realistic approach is to adopt effective coping strategies to reduce stress at your current job. Here are some stress management techniques you can try if you are finding it hard to cope with work stress.
Start Your Day off Right
After scrambling to get the kids fed and off to school, dodging traffic and combating road rage, and gulping down coffee in lieu of a healthy breakfast, many people arrive to work already stressed. This makes them more reactive to stress in the workplace.
You might be surprised by how affected by workplace stress you are when you have a stressful morning. When you start off the day with planning, good nutrition, and a positive attitude, you might find that the stress of your job rolls off your back more easily.
Be Clear on Requirements
A factor known to contribute to job burnout is unclear requirements for employees. If you don’t know exactly what is expected of you, or if the requirements for your role keep changing with little notice, you might become extremely stressed.
If you find yourself never knowing if what you are doing is enough, it may help to have a talk with your supervisor. You can take the time to go over expectations and discuss strategies for meeting them. This can relieve stress for both of you!
Stay Away From Conflict
Interpersonal conflict takes a toll on your physical and emotional health. Conflict among co-workers can be difficult to escape, so it’s a good idea to avoid conflict at work as much as you can.
Don’t gossip, don’t share too many of your personal opinions about religion and politics, and steer clear of “colorful” office humor.
When possible, try to avoid people who don’t work well with others. If conflict finds you anyway, make sure you know how to handle it appropriately.
Even if you’re a naturally disorganized person, planning ahead to stay organized can greatly decrease your stress at work. Being organized with your time means less rushing in the morning to avoid being late as well as less hustling to get out at the end of the day.
Keeping yourself organized can also mean avoiding the negative effects of clutter, and being more efficient with your work.
Another surprising stressor at work is physical discomfort, often related to where you perform most of your daily tasks (such as your desk).
You might not notice you’re stressed if you’re sitting in an uncomfortable chair for just a few minutes, but if you practically live in that chair when you’re at work, you might have a sore back and be more reactive to stress because of it.
Even small things like office noise can be distracting and cause feelings of low-grade frustration. Do what you can to create a quiet, comfortable, and soothing workspace.
Multitasking was once heralded as a fantastic way to maximize one’s time and get more done in a day. However, people eventually began to realize that if they had a phone to their ear and were making calculations at the same time, their speed and accuracy (not to mention sanity) often suffered.
There is a certain “frazzled” feeling that comes from splitting your focus and it doesn’t work well for most people. Instead of multitasking to stay on top of your tasks, try another cognitive strategy like chunking.
Walk at Lunch
Many people feel the ill effects of leading a sedentary lifestyle. You can combat the physical and mental effects of work stress by getting some exercise on your lunch break.
If your schedule allows for it, you might try taking short exercise breaks throughout the day. This can help you blow off steam, lift your mood, and get into better shape.
Keep Perfectionism in Check
Being a high achiever might make you feel good about yourself and help you excel at work, but being a perfectionist can create problems for you (and those around you).
You might not be able to do everything perfectly, every time—especially in a busy, fast-paced job. A good strategy to avoid the perfectionism trap is always striving to just do your best and making time to congratulate yourself on your efforts. You may find that your results are better and you’ll be much less stressed at work.
Listen to Music on the Drive Home
Listening to music offers many benefits and can be an effective way to relieve stress before, during, and after work. Playing an uplifting song while you make breakfast can help you start the day off feeling better prepared to interact with the people in your life. Likewise, combating the stress of a long day with your favorite music on the drive home can help you wind down and feel less stressed when you get there.
Working hard should not be confused with overworking at the expense of relationships and physical health.
- Healthy Workplaces
Everyone who has ever held a job has, at some point, felt the pressure of work-related stress. Any job can have stressful elements, even if you love what you do. In the short-term, you may experience pressure to meet a deadline or to fulfill a challenging obligation. But when work stress becomes chronic, it can be overwhelming—and harmful to both physical and emotional health.
Unfortunately, such long-term stress is all too common. In fact, APA’s annual Stress in America survey has consistently found that work is cited as a significant source of stress by a majority of Americans. You can’t always avoid the tensions that occur on the job. Yet you can take steps to manage work-related stress.
Common sources of work stress
Certain factors tend to go hand-in-hand with work-related stress. Some common workplace stressors are:
- Low salaries
- Excessive workloads
- Few opportunities for growth or advancement
- Work that isn’t engaging or challenging
- Lack of social support
- Not having enough control over job-related decisions
- Conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations
Effects of uncontrolled stress
Work-related stress doesn’t just disappear when you head home for the day. When stress persists, it can take a toll on your health and well-being.
A stressful work environment can contribute to problems such as headache, stomachache, sleep disturbances, short temper, and difficulty concentrating. Chronic stress can result in anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system. It can also contribute to health conditions such as depression, obesity, and heart disease. Compounding the problem, people who experience excessive stress often deal with it in unhealthy ways, such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes, or abusing drugs and alcohol.
Taking steps to manage stress
- Track your stressors. Keep a journal for a week or two to identify which situations create the most stress and how you respond to them. Record your thoughts, feelings, and information about the environment, including the people and circumstances involved, the physical setting, and how you reacted. Did you raise your voice? Get a snack from the vending machine? Go for a walk? Taking notes can help you find patterns among your stressors and your reactions to them.
- Develop healthy responses. Instead of attempting to fight stress with fast food or alcohol, do your best to make healthy choices when you feel the tension rise. Exercise is a great stress-buster. Yoga can be an excellent choice, but any form of physical activity is beneficial. Also make time for hobbies and favorite activities. Whether it’s reading a novel, going to concerts, or playing games with your family, make sure to set aside time for the things that bring you pleasure. Getting enough good-quality sleep is also important for effective stress management. Build healthy sleep habits by limiting your caffeine intake late in the day and minimizing stimulating activities, such as computer and television use, at night.
- Establish boundaries. In today’s digital world, it’s easy to feel pressure to be available 24 hours a day. Establish some work-life boundaries for yourself. That might mean making a rule not to check email from home in the evening, or not answering the phone during dinner. Although people have different preferences when it comes to how much they blend their work and home life, creating some clear boundaries between these realms can reduce the potential for work-life conflict and the stress that goes with it.
- Take time to recharge. To avoid the negative effects of chronic stress and burnout, we need time to replenish and return to our pre-stress level of functioning. This recovery process requires “switching off” from work by having periods of time when you are neither engaging in work-related activities, nor thinking about work. That’s why it’s critical that you disconnect from time to time, in a way that fits your needs and preferences. Don’t let your vacation days go to waste. When possible, take time off to relax and unwind, so you come back to work feeling reinvigorated and ready to perform at your best. When you’re not able to take time off, get a quick boost by turning off your smartphone and focusing your attention on nonwork activities for a while.
- Learn how to relax. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and mindfulness (a state in which you actively observe present experiences and thoughts without judging them) can help melt away stress. Start by taking a few minutes each day to focus on a simple activity like breathing, walking, or enjoying a meal. The skill of being able to focus purposefully on a single activity without distraction will get stronger with practice and you’ll find that you can apply it to many different aspects of your life.
- Talk to your supervisor. Employee health has been linked to productivity at work, so your boss has an incentive to create a work environment that promotes employee well-being. Start by having an open conversation with your supervisor. The purpose of this isn’t to lay out a list of complaints, but rather to come up with an effective plan for managing the stressors you’ve identified, so you can perform at your best on the job. While some parts of the plan may be designed to help you improve your skills in areas such as time management, other elements might include identifying employer-sponsored wellness resources you can tap into, clarifying what’s expected of you, getting necessary resources or support from colleagues, enriching your job to include more challenging or meaningful tasks, or making changes to your physical workspace to make it more comfortable and reduce strain.
- Get some support. Accepting help from trusted friends and family members can improve your ability to manage stress. Your employer may also have stress management resources available through an employee assistance program, including online information, available counseling, and referral to mental health professionals, if needed. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by work stress, you may want to talk to a psychologist, who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behavior.
The full text of articles from APA Help Center may be reproduced and distributed for noncommercial purposes with credit given to the American Psychological Association. Any electronic reproductions must link to the original article on the APA Help Center. Any exceptions to this, including excerpting, paraphrasing or reproduction in a commercial work, must be presented in writing to the APA. Images from the APA Help Center may not be reproduced.
Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in weight management and eating behaviors.
If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
Anxiety involves feelings of worry, fear, and apprehension. Anxiety is typically experienced on cognitive, emotional, and physical levels. For instance, when feeling anxious a person may have negative or disturbing thoughts.
On an emotional level, one may feel scared or out-of-control. It is also common to experience severe anxiety through somatic sensations, such as sweating, trembling, or shortness of breath.
These symptoms are common for people who have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. People with panic disorder are typically familiar with the struggle of managing feelings of anxiety. It can feel as if the anxiety is taking over or completely out of one’s control.
Does anxiety have an overwhelming pull in your life? Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to manage your anxiety. Listed below are 4 tips to help you cope with your feelings of anxiety.
Stop and Breathe
When anxiety flares, take a time out and think about what it is that is making you so nervous. Anxiety is typically experienced as worrying about a future or past event.
For example, you may be worried that something bad is going to happen in the future. Perhaps you continually feel upset over an event that has already occurred. Regardless of what you are worried about, a big part of the problem is that you are not being mindful of the present moment.
Anxiety loses its grip when you clear your mind of worry and bring your awareness back to the present.
The next time your anxiety starts to take you out of the present, regain control by sitting down and taking a few deep breaths. Simply stopping and breathing can help restore a sense of personal balance and bring you back to the present moment. However, if you have the time, try taking this activity a little further and experiment with a breathing exercise and mantra.
Practice this simple breathing technique:
- Begin by getting into a comfortable seated position.
- Close your eyes and inhale slowly through your nose. Follow this inhalation with a deep exhalation.
- Continue to breathe deeply and fully, in and out of your nose. Allow your breath to be a guide to the present.
- Use the mantra, “Be Present” as you breathe. With each breath in, think to yourself “be” and with each breath out, focus on the word “present.”
Breathing exercises are powerful relaxation techniques that can help ease your body and mind of anxiety while turning your attention towards the present.
Figure Out What’s Bothering You
The physical symptoms of panic and anxiety, such as trembling, chest pain, and rapid heartbeat, are usually more apparent than understanding just what is making you anxious. However, in order to get to the root of your anxiety, you need to figure out what’s bothering you. To get to the bottom of your anxiety, put some time aside to exploring your thoughts and feelings.
Writing in a journal can be a great way to get in touch with your sources of anxiety. If anxious feelings seem to be keeping you up at night, try keeping a journal or notepad next to your bed. Write down all of the things that are bothering you. Talking with a friend can be another way to discover and understand your anxious feelings.
Make it a habit to regularly uncover and express your feelings of anxiety.
Focus On What You Can Change
Many times anxiety stems from fearing things that haven’t even happened and may never occur. For example, even though everything is okay, you may still worry about potential issues, such as losing your job, becoming ill, or the safety of your loved ones.
Life can be unpredictable and no matter how hard you try, you can’t always control what happens. However, you can decide how you are going to deal with the unknown. You can turn your anxiety into a source of strength by letting go of fear and focusing on gratitude.
Replace your fears by changing your attitude about them. For example, stop fearing to lose your job and instead focus on how grateful you are to have a job. Come to work determined to do your best. Instead of fearing your loved one’s safety, spend time with them, or express your appreciation of them. With a little practice, you can learn to dump your anxiety and pick up a more positive outlook.
At times, your anxiety may actually be caused by a real circumstance in your life. Perhaps you’re in a situation where it is realistic to be worried about losing your job due to high company layoffs or talks of downsizing.
When anxiety is identified as being caused by a current problem, then taking action may be the answer to reducing your anxiety. For example, you may need to start job searching or scheduling interviews after work.
By being more proactive, you can feel like you have a bit more control over your situation.
Focus on Something Less Anxiety-Provoking
At times, it may be most helpful to simply redirect yourself to focus on something other than your anxiety. You may want to reach out to others, do some work around your home, or engage in an enjoyable activity or hobby. Here are a few ideas of things you can do to thwart off anxiety:
- Do some chores or organizing around the house.
- Engage in a creative activity, such as drawing, painting, or writing.
- Go for a walk or engage in some other form of physical exercise.
- Listen to music.
- Pray or meditate.
- Read a good book or watch a funny movie.
Most people are familiar with experiencing some anxiety from time-to-time. However, chronic anxiety can be a sign of a diagnosable anxiety disorder.
When anxiety affects one’s relationships, work performance, and other areas of life, there is potential that these anxious feelings are actually an indication of mental health illness.
If you are experiencing anxiety and panic symptoms, talk with your doctor or other professionals who treat panic disorder. They will be able to address any concerns you have, provide information on diagnosis, and discuss your treatment options.
How to handle anxiety effectively.
- What Is Anxiety?
- Find a therapist to overcome anxiety
In celebration of the release of my book, The Anxiety Toolkit, I’ve put together a cheat sheet of 50 strategies you can use for beating anxiety and feeling calmer. The book expands on many of the following techniques, and includes tons more tools, strategies and ways to help anxiety. But this cheat sheet will give you a very solid start if you’re searching for ways to reduce your anxiety and de-stress effectively today.
How to Beat Anxiety: The Self-Experiment Approach
Not all of these strategies will work for you. Self-experiment to find out which techniques you prefer. Context is important, too; you may find that some strategies work in some circumstances but not in others. Experiment to observe what works best, and when.
Also: Try thinking about the strategies in three categories: behavioral, cognitive (thinking-related), and physical. Aim to find some strategies that appeal to you from each category.
Anxiety Relief Techniques
- Take a slow breath. Continue slow breathing for 3 minutes.
- Drop your shoulders and do a gentle neck roll.
- State the emotions you’re feeling as words, e.g., “I feel angry and worried right now.” (Aloud, but to yourself.)
- Massage your hand, which will activate oxytocin.
- Put something that’s out of place in its place. (Physical order often helps us feel a sense of mental order.)
- Take a day trip somewhere with natural beauty.
- Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Then, ask yourself, “How would I cope if that happened?” Now, answer those questions.
- Take a break from actively working on solving a problem and allow your mind to keep processing the problem in the background.
- Take a bath.
- Forgive yourself for not foreseeing a problem that occurred.
- Throw out something from your bathroom. (The order principle again.)
- Take a break from watching the news or reading newspapers.
- Make a phone call you’ve been putting off.
- Write an email you’ve been putting off.
- Take another type of action on something you’ve been putting off.
- Throw something out of your fridge.
- Try a guided mindfulness meditation. (Use Google to identify free resources; there are some good ones out there.)
- Take a break from researching a topic you’ve been over-researching.
- Cuddle a baby or a pet.
- If a mistake you’ve made is bothering you, make an action plan for how you won’t repeat it in the future. Write three brief bullet points.
- Ask yourself if you’re jumping to conclusions. For example, if you’re worried someone is very annoyed with you, do you know for sure this is the case—or are you jumping to conclusions?
- Ask yourself if you’re catastrophizing, i.e., thinking that something would be a disaster, when it might be unpleasant but not necessarily catastrophic.
- Forgive yourself for not handing a situation in an ideal way, including interpersonal situations. What’s the best thing you can do to move forward in a positive way now?
- If someone else’s behavior has triggered anxiety for you, try accepting that you may never know the complete reason and background behind the person’s behavior.
- Recognize if your anxiety is being caused by someone suggesting a change or change of plans. Understand if you tend to react to changes or unexpected events as if they are threats.
- Accept that there is a gap between your real self and your ideal self. (This is the case for pretty much everybody.)
- Question your social comparisons. For example, is comparing yourself only to the most successful person you know very fair or representative?
- Think about what’s going right in your life. Thinking about the positive doesn’t always work when you’re anxious, but it can help if anxiety has caused your thinking to become lopsided or is obscuring the big picture.
- Scratch something off your to-do list for the day, either by getting it done or just deciding not to do that task today.
- Ask a friend or colleague to tell you about something they’ve felt nervous about in the past, and to tell you what happened.
- If you’re nervous about an upcoming test, try these quick tips for dealing with test anxiety.
- Do a task 25 percent more slowly than usual. Allow yourself to savor not rushing.
- Check if you’re falling into any of these thinking traps.
- Try gentle distraction; find something you want to pay attention to. The key to successful use of distraction when you’re anxious is to be patient with yourself if you find you’re still experiencing intrusive thoughts.
- Go to a yoga class, or do a couple of yoga poses in the comfort of your home or office.
- Get a second opinion from someone you trust. Aim to get their real opinion rather than just reassurance seeking.
- Allow yourself to do things you enjoy or that don’t stress you out, while you’re waiting for your anxious feelings to naturally calm down.
- Go for a run.
- Find something on YouTube that makes you laugh out loud.
- Lightly run one or two fingers over your lips. This will stimulate the parasympathetic fibers in your lips, which will help you feel calmer.
- Look back on the anxiety-provoking situation you’re in from a time point in the future, e.g., six months from now. Does the problem seem smaller when you view it from further away?
- Imagine how you’d cope if your “worst nightmare” happened, e.g., your partner left you, you got fired, or you developed a health problem. What practical steps would you take? What social support would you use? Mentally confronting your worst fear can be very useful for reducing anxiety.
- Call or email a friend you haven’t talked to in awhile.
- If you’re imagining a negative outcome to something you’re considering doing, also try imaging a positive outcome.
- If you rarely back out of commitments and feel overwhelmed by your to-do list, try giving yourself permission to say you can no longer do something you’ve previously agreed to do.
- Do any two-minute jobs that have been hanging around on your to-do list. It’ll help clear your mental space.
- Jot down three things you worried about in the past that didn’t come to pass.
- Jot down three things you worried about in the past that did occur, but weren’t nearly as bad as you imagined.
- Do a form of exercise you haven’t done in the last six months.
- Allow time to pass. Often, the best thing to do to reduce anxiety is just to allow time to pass, without doing the types of activities that increase anxiety.
Put a letter B, C, or P next to each item to practice identifying whether a strategy is primarily behavioral, cognitive, or physical.
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She’s also a psychotherapist, the author of the bestselling book “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” and the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast.
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Interview anxiety can be an obstacle for those looking for work. For those with social anxiety disorder (SAD), job interviews can be even more difficult. Meeting strangers in a position of authority, talking about yourself, being evaluated and judged on your appearance, demeanor, and ability to sell yourself—these are all triggers for social anxiety.
If you suffer from SAD, it is important to seek formal treatment, such as medication or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). However, there are also strategies that you can use to help alleviate anxiety before an interview. Whether you have a diagnosed social anxiety disorder or are simply nervous about a job interview, the following tips may help you to cope.
1. Treat Yourself Well
Avoid caffeine, get enough sleep and exercise regularly. Keeping yourself in good health is paramount when facing potentially stressful situations.
2. Visualize Success
Find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed, close your eyes and visualize yourself being successful in your interview. Visualizing success is more than just positive thinking. When done correctly, it prepares your brain to behave in a certain way. This technique is used by elite athletes before competitions to improve performance.
In the future, virtual reality might help you prepare for an interview. A small study investigated the effectiveness of using virtual reality (VR) to improve job interview skills, reduce fears, and increase confidence about job interviews. The results showed that the VR program lessened anxiety. Features such as ongoing feedback and being able to review a transcript of the interview were cited as helpful.
3. Reduce Stressors
Reduce stressors unrelated to your actual performance in the interview, such as uncomfortable clothing, getting lost, or showing up late. Well in advance, choose an outfit that is comfortable and that looks good on you. If you aren’t familiar with the location of the interview, give yourself plenty of time to find it or do a trial run a day or two before.
4. Do Your Research
Being well-prepared is a good anxiety-reliever. Before the interview, research your potential employer and prepare answers to common interview questions. Every bit of preparation that you can do will help to increase your comfort level and make you feel more confident and capable in the interview.
5. Don’t Succumb to Pressure
Once in a while, you may be interviewed by someone who grills you to see how you handle stress. As a person with SAD, it may be tempting to spiral into negative automatic thinking, such as “They know I can’t handle this job; I should never have applied” or “They don’t really like me; I’ll never get the job.”
Stop. If you find yourself in this situation, realize what the interviewer is trying to accomplish and don’t let them upset you. Know that the other candidates have been treated the same way and that it is not a reflection of you or your capabilities.
6. Interview the Interviewer
Interviews are also a chance for you to evaluate a potential employer. You are deciding whether you want to work for them just as much as they are deciding whether they want you to work for them. Try putting yourself in this mindset and see if it changes your focus. Ask questions that show you are curious as to how the organization might fit with your goals and ambitions for your career.
7. Release Anxious Energy
Anxiety has a way of leaking out even when you think that you have it well-hidden. If you find yourself fidgeting, do something to release anxious energy that will be less noticeable, such as wiggling your toes.
8. Take Your Time
You don’t have to answer questions immediately. Pause before answering and collect your thoughts. If you worry about drawing a blank during interviews, take notes as everyone talks. This takes the focus off of you and allows you to refer to your notes after a question has been asked. If you draw a blank, keep making notes and say that you want to collect your thoughts before responding.
9. Be Prepared
A well-prepared interviewee has an immediate advantage in an interview. In addition, being well-prepared and proactive will reduce your interview anxiety. Bring everything that you think you might need:
- Cover letter
- Business cards
- Pen and notepad
10. Congratulate Yourself
Regardless of how you felt that the interview went, congratulate yourself afterward for taking the chance. Do something that you enjoy as a reward. Finally, avoid ruminating about how the interview went or what could have gone better. While it’s important to take note of what went well and how you could improve, dwelling on negative parts of the interview will only sap your confidence.
Accepting Your Anxiety Helps
A 2015 study found that strategies involving reappraisal and acceptance were more effective than suppression to regulate anxiety during a simulated job interview. This indicates that learning to accept you will be anxious, and reframing anxiety in your mind, will be more helpful than trying to ignore your anxiety.
A Word From Verywell
If you have interview anxiety and can’t seem to manage to get through a job interview, it could be that you require something more than a bit of self-help, such as treatment in the form of medication or therapy. Meet with your doctor to discuss your symptoms and devise a plan based on your situation.
We regularly hear the word ‘anxiety’ but do we fully appreciate what anxiety is? Here we take you through the symptoms and offer our five top tips for coping.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, nervousness or fear that we all experience from time to time. It may leave you feeling physically uncomfortable or tense, and when it’s more severe, the physical sensations can be very strong such as feeling sick, or feeling tightness in your chest.
It can also affect the way we think about things. When we are anxious, the world can seem like a frightening place, every situation can feel fraught with danger and your mind can take you to the ‘worst case scenario’ on a regular basis. With all this going on in your body and your mind, anxiety may start to affect your behaviour, for example you might avoid seeing people or going to certain places, you might start working late because you are anxious about completing tasks, or checking your emails late into the evening just in case you miss something.
How to cope with anxiety
Sometimes anxiety can become severe and it can take many different forms such as social anxiety, health anxiety, specific phobias, anxiety attacks, panic attacks and generalised anxiety to highlight a few, so if you are affected by anxiety don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Below are some tips for helping to cope with anxiety:
1) Breathe deeply
When we get anxious the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response is activated. This response is the body’s way of protecting you in a threatening situation. It is a series of changes in the body including the release of adrenaline and an increase in heart rate which are designed to help you be stronger (fight) or help you move faster (flight), all very useful if we are under attack, but not very useful if you are going to the supermarket for example. So just breathing deeply can help the body settle down to its more natural equilibrium. I think it is useful to imagine you are blowing up a balloon of your favourite colour. Take a deep breath in and notice how your stomach rises as you inhale which allows your lungs to take in maximum air, then let a long, slow, breath out as if you are filling your balloon with air, and do this three times.
2) Question your thoughts
Our mind can play tricks on us when we are anxious and our thinking can become distorted. For example, an abrupt email from your boss may lead you to think that you have made a mistake, or a friend failing to return a text may lead you to think that they are not talking to you. Before you accept the thought, which will undoubtedly fuel your anxiety, ask yourself is that anxious thought a “fact or an opinion?” If it is an opinion, you may be getting anxious for nothing.
3) Test it out
Often, when we get anxious about things, we are making a negative prediction about what will happen, for example I can’t go to that party on my own because no one will talk to me. If you make negative predictions, be like a scientist and test it out or how will you ever know if your prediction was right?
4) Don’t fall into the avoidance trap
Anxiety is an uncomfortable emotion and many people fall into the trap of avoiding the thing or situation they fear so that they don’t experience the anxiety, for example avoiding driving on a motorway because they fear being hit by a lorry. However, when you avoid situations, you are not dealing with the anxiety so life can become more and more difficult as you work hard to avoid all the things you fear, and eventually you may end up in a situation where you are trying to avoid more and more situations. Because you haven’t dealt with the fear, the anxiety feels even worse. So face your fear. You will feel anxious but if you repeatedly face it, your body adjusts to the thing you fear and your physical anxiety reduces. If facing your fear is daunting, try breaking it down into small steps, for example drive on a motorway for one junction, do this repeatedly until you notice your anxiety reduce, then increase it to two junctions etc.
Anxiety, although uncomfortable, is a normal emotion and no matter how much you want to get rid of it, we all feel anxious from time to time. Accepting anxiety, can be just like accepting that sometimes we feel angry, or sometimes we feel sad and sometimes we feel happy, and just like those other emotions, anxiety will pass. However, if your anxiety is long term and affecting your day-to-day life you shouldn’t just accept it in order to feel better, you should seek support.
We have now resumed face-to-face therapy at some of our hospitals and wellbeing centres, as well as continuing to offer this remotely. We continue to offer access to inpatient services where this is required. For more information on our online therapy service, please visit our Priory Connect page. For the latest information on how Priory are responding to coronavirus, and keeping our patients and staff safe, please visit our COVID-19 preparedness blog.
For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here
Coping skills for anxiety are actions we can take and ways we can think in order to keep going despite anxiety. Sometimes, anxiety is really strong in a particular situation, and coping skills help us get through it. Anxiety can be a long-lasting experience, so coping skills give us ways to move forward while we are simultaneously learning ways to reduce stress and anxiety in the long run.
As you gather methods and strategies to cope with anxiety, consider these guidelines for choosing the right ones for you:
- Use coping skills that you love; they’ll be more effective than things that don’t grab you.
- Eliminate “shoulds;” don’t choose a coping skill because you think you “should” like it.
- Avoid comparisons; focus on what works for you without worrying how it measures up to what others are doing.
- Pair your coping skills with your life goals to give them greater meaning and purpose, and thus effectiveness.
- Choose anxiety coping methods that suit your personality.
Sorting coping skills into categories allows you to choose from a variety of ideas suited to your needs of the moment. The following coping methods for anxiety are a sampling of skills to get you started.
Anxiety Coping Skills that Help Thoughts and Outlook
Anxiety interferes in our thinking, making our thoughts race and causing us to overthink almost everything. This impacts our outlook, putting a negative slant on how we view ourselves, others, and life in general. Because this is unpleasant, we naturally tend to fight our thoughts, but struggling against them only feeds them and increases anxiety. Rather than struggle with yourself, your thoughts, and your anxiety, accept things as they are in the moment.
- Gently give yourself permission to be anxious.
- Replace harshly negative self-talk with acceptance of who you are as a human being.
- Be a passive observer, noticing your anxiety symptoms without fighting them; resistance increases anxiety while just observing induces calm.
- Use positive affirmations to remind yourself of your positive qualities, your accomplishments, and your life goals.
Think of anxiety like a Chinese finger trap. When you put your fingers into the trap and then try to remove them by struggling and yanking hard against it, the trap tightens and you become more stuck. However, when you relax, accept the trap’s presence, and calmly slide your fingers out, you get rid of the trap’s hold on you.
Anxiety Coping Skills that Soothe and Inspire
Anxiety causes tension and can make us feel agitated and unsettled. Some ways to cope with anxiety include soothing yourself to feel calm in the moment. Connecting to something greater than ourselves and feeling inspired also helps us cope with anxious feelings. Try these techniques:
- Get out into nature;
- Appreciate beauty/cultivate a sense of awe;
- Get lost in something you love such as reading, crafting, running, etc.;
- Keep a positivity journal to acknowledge the good in your life and enhance a sense of gratitude;
- Slow down;
- Practice mindfulness, a way of reigning in your anxious thoughts and centering yourself;
- Pause now and then during your day to acknowledge that you are “Awake. Active. Alive” (Imparato, 2016, p. 46).
Anxiety Coping Skills That Release Energy
Anxiety can agitate. Sometimes it can be hard to sit still because we are wired, feeling as though we might jump out of our own skin. When this happens, coping skills for anxiety that allow us to release this pent-up energy and tension are extremely helpful. Some such anxiety coping methods include:
- Any movement, such as a brisk walk up and down flights of stairs;
- Deep breathing exercises; while it can be hard to stop and breathe when you’re worked up, doing so calms our body’s physiological response to anxiety, thus reducing tension (Lejeune, 2007);
- Journaling to release bottled-up thoughts and emotions.
Other Anxiety Coping Skills
Additional coping skills for anxiety are:
- Music that fits your anxiety-reducing needs in the moment, calming to soothe or peppy to release pent-up energy;
- Distraction techniques to shift your thoughts away from anxiety and onto something else. Consider carrying a small object to manipulate, wearing a rubber band to snap, chewing gum, doodling, etc.;
- A running list of your strengths and accomplishments;
- Acupressure, or using your fingertips to release muscle tension and energy.
Anxiety coping skills come in many forms because people are so different. What works for one person might not work for the next; to be sure, though, everyone has the ability to find or create ways to cope with anxiety. It’s a good idea to stockpile many different coping strategies because what you need varies from day to day. With a host of tools at your disposal, you’ll be able to cope with—to keep going despite—anxiety.