Four ways to manage anxiety

Editor’s note: Sasha Platt is the marketing coordinator, Jen Gezhen is the junior behavioral consultant and Sam Shand is the senior behavioral architect at Cowry Consulting. This is an edited version of an article that  originally appeared under the title "Managing Anxiety in the Workplace: supporting yourself and your colleagues."

Anxiety is a common experience for many people but there are instances where it may spiral out of hand and develop into a concern for our mental well-being. Recent findings have shown just how prevalent anxiety is in our workplaces. According to the Workplace Health Report by Champion Health (2023), 60% of employees in the U.K. report currently experiencing anxiety. Among other life stressors outside of the workplace, the pressures and deadlines that come with work have the potential to trigger anxiety and can significantly impact how we feel and subsequently show up to our day-to-day roles.

This article will share some knowledge on where anxiety comes from, how to recognize the signs in yourself and others and subsequently, what you can do to manage it.

Understanding anxiety

Anxiety is a persistent fear about what's going to happen in the future. Historically, fear was an essential protective response for humans who frequently faced physical danger, requiring fast and forceful reactions also known as the fight or flight response.

While our current ways of life generally don’t pose the same threats, our bodies haven’t changed much over time. As such, we haven't adapted psychologically and physiologically to our modern, safer surroundings; we still react to today's fears (such as financial concerns or social situations) in the same way as our ancestors. 

Anxiety can manifest in several ways including physical symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, muscle tension and fatigue. Emotional symptoms include feelings of apprehension, dread or panic and behavioral symptoms like avoidance, compulsive behaviors or aggression. Anxiety can have a profound impact with the potential to decrease concentration, motivation and productivity. Individuals with anxiety may struggle to make decisions, complete tasks on time or interact with colleagues. It's important to recognize the signs of anxiety in yourself and others to be able to provide adequate support.

Managing anxiety in workplace settings

If you're feeling anxious at work and aren’t sure what actions to take, here are several things you can do today to help it feel more manageable.

Identify the source 

Attempting to identify the source of your anxiety is an important first step. You could do this by keeping a diary or thought record to note down when it happens and what it feels like when you begin to feel anxious. Once you understand the source of your anxiety better, it'll often become easier to take the next steps to address and help to ease it.

Take a break when needed

In the context of the working day, taking regular breaks to give your mind and body a rest and using those breaks to stretch, meditate or simply focus on your breath, can help reduce anxious feelings.

Practice a healthy lifestyle

Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables in the day and avoiding excessive sugar or caffeine intake can also help. Exercise is another great way to take your mind off your fear and anxiety as it requires your concentration. Not only this, but the neurological positive impact of exercise is profound and can really boost your mood.

Practicing mindfulness by being present in the moment and focusing on this presence is another great way to alter your focus from the future back into the present. There are many great mindfulness apps or videos that can be accessed free of charge.

Seek help

If you wish to seek more professional support, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) could be an option. Unlike other therapies, CBT is a talking therapy that can help to manage your worries by altering perhaps unhelpful thought and behavioral patterns. In the U.K., you can refer yourself directly to an NHS talking therapist service without a referral from a GP. 

“The first time I had a panic attack was in 2018 in the middle of a work call. It felt horrible – I couldn’t breathe and the more I tried the harder it was. It was months of anxiety bubbling up from within. It was a real reckoning for my mental health and how I take care of it, particularly at work. Not long after, my GP diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

One thing I’ve learned from experiencing and managing acute anxiety is to spot the symptoms early. For me, this can be physical signs like elevated heart rate or moving more quickly/erratically than normal, a feeling I start to become aware of my mind telling me that I feel anxious or even behavioral signs like avoiding contact or following up with people at work. The benefit is that if you spot your tell-tale signs early, your coping strategies will be more effective at keeping anxiety at bay.” – Sam Shand, Cowry Consulting

How to support colleagues

Not only is it vital to pay attention to our own mental health, but it's important to pay attention to the mental health of those around us too. It can be tricky to know how best to help, but here are a few ways you could help an anxious colleague/s:

Practice active listening

Listen to your colleague actively and without judgement. Allow them to express their feelings and concerns. Active listening involves paying attention to what your colleague is saying, summarizing their words and reflecting on their feelings to show that you understand them.

Be empathetic

Show empathy and understanding towards your colleague. Acknowledge their feelings and let them know you're there to support them. Don’t make assumptions about their feelings or offer solutions unless they've expressed the need for them. 

Have regular check-ins

Check in regularly with your colleagues and offer support when needed. It's essential to ensure that your colleagues feel supported and valued. You can do this by scheduling regular one-on-one meetings or simply asking how they're doing at a time that feels appropriate.

Offer resources

Provide resources and information about mental health support services available in your workplace or community. This can include counselling services, employee assistance programs or mental health hotlines. Ensure that your colleagues are aware of the resources available to them and how to access these.

Encourage self-care

Encourage yourself and your colleagues to practice self-care such as taking breaks, eating well, exercising and more.

We know it’s all well and good suggesting self-help methods such as a walk outdoors or a balanced diet to help ease feelings of anxiety. In some instances, these things can really help. However, we recognize it’s often not as straightforward as this and reaching out for help can feel monumental and daunting. Thankfully in the age of the internet, there are a multitude of accessible help services and perhaps through your employer too. Know that if you’re feeling this way, you aren’t on your own. And if you sense somebody might be feeling this way, we hope this piece aids in your efforts to offer support. 

Through managing anxiety and supporting our colleagues who might be anxious too, together we can create a healthier and happier work environment. Let's continue to talk about and prioritize mental health awareness in the workplace and beyond.


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