Your day starts off normally. You arrive at the office, settle in, turn on your computer and get started on the projects you intend to tackle today. But as the morning wears on and your afternoon presentation looms closer on the horizon, you start to feel it: that sensation as your heart races, your stomach twists into a knot, and your whole body feels jittery. It’s that old anxiety at work creeping in . . . again.
Maybe you have a few tried and true methods for tackling your anxiety, like going for a run, doing yoga, journaling, or sitting down for a long meditation. But guess what? You’re at work, so a lot of those tactics aren’t possible. That begs the question: What should you do in the moment when these anxious feelings come up?
Here are five tips from experts about how to handle anxiety at work:
Sheila Tucker, a licensed associate marriage and family therapist and the owner of Heart Mind & Soul Counseling, mentioned that anxiety often results in shallow breathing or holding one’s breath. When anxiety arises, take note of your breath and try sighing as a way of exhaling.
“This will help to ground you in the present moment,” she said.
Try a mantra.
In addition to breathing, another expert suggested making use of a positive mantra. A lot of times, our anxious thoughts are about things we can’t control, Ashley Chambrello, a licensed marriage and family therapist, pointed out. Instead, we should focus on what is within our control.
“Repeating a positive mantra such as ‘I can only worry about what I can control’ can help you move past any negative and anxious thoughts,” she said.
Use grounding techniques.
Dr. LaQuista Erinna, a licensed therapist with a doctorate in behavioral health and the founder of THRIVE Behavioral Health & Consulting, suggested the 5-4-3-2-1 method.
“Using your senses, pick out 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, [and] 1 thing you can taste,” said Erinna.
If possible, get up from your desk and walk around.
“A change of scenery and removing yourself from the possible trigger is often a good way to hit the reset button,” said Tucker. “The act of walking will also help move that anxious energy through your body instead of forcing it to be still.”
If you can’t take a long walk, even heading to the copier or the bathroom can help, she added.
Make a worry list.
If you don’t have time to do some in-depth journaling, Chambrello recommended jotting down anxious thoughts as they pop into your head, then coming back to the list later. It ensures that you’re not pushing your anxious feelings aside and expecting them to disappear.
“This technique may work for you because you are giving your anxious thoughts somewhere to go (onto the worry list) so they can stop taking up your mental energy, and it allows your anxious thoughts to be heard and not dismissed,” Chambrello said.
If you find that your anxiety is persistent, consider seeking therapy. Meeting with a professional on a regular basis can help you find additional concrete ways to cope with anxious feelings.