How to Deal with Anxiety in an ever increasingly Complex World

By Kirstie Shapiro

“We can live our present lives as if we are somehow protecting the past. Not the real past as it actually happened. But a fantasy of the past, that we have come to believe it to be. “ Kirstie Shapiro

Anxiety and Stress in the Workplace

We often hear people talking about anxiety, but what exactly is anxiety; what causes anxiety and how do we combat it?
Anxiety can be described as a sense or feeling of worry, tension, fear, nervousness and/or unease, especially about things that haven’t happened yet. Although anxiety is a completely natural response to being under threat, it can also be triggered by our thoughts, emotions and physical sensory perception.

Causes of Workplace Anxiety

There are an array of workplace issues that may contribute towards a build up of anxiety, these might include uneasy colleague interaction and/or conflict, work performance, work load, or even perception of self-worth within the workplace.
Factors outside of the work may also contribute to workplace stress, these shall be referred to as ‘life stressors’. Life stressors may include difficult family and personal relationships, debt, grief, depression and loneliness.

Stress can be rather debilitating and embarrassing for many people, unfortunately there still seems to be a stigma attached to admitting that one is not coping, when the raw truth is that possibly most of us need some support in one form or another at some stage of our journey through life.
Work places need to make it easy for staff members to approach and communicate with their managers or have a well-being team available for them for this type of support and guidance. Managers also need to be trained to look for signs to evaluate whether their staff members are under stress or experiencing anxiety.

Some common signs of anxiety which may be of interest to those of you who are responsible for your teams in the workplace are:
• Absenteeism
• Being unusually emotionally sensitive to colleagues’ comments, suggestions or feedback
• Isolation
• Low mood or mood swings
• New and unusual behaviours
• Restlessness
• Lack of ambition and reduced concentration
• Fear and concerns are out of proportion to situation

The relationship between anxiety and other long-term physical health problems has been extensively researched which has revealed that there are correlations between those suffering with anxiety, developing other health issues such as diabetes, stomach ulcers and heart conditions.
Research conducted through Mind (UK based charity for mental health awareness), found that silence and fear around mental health can be extremely costly for a company, their statistics revealed the following:

When asked how workplace stress had affected them:
• 21% of employees asked, revealed that they had called in sick to avoid work.
That is 1 in 5 people!
• 14% had resigned and 42% had considered resigning due to work related anxiety & stress.
When asked to agree or disagree with the following statement: “I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed.”
• 30% disagreed

It was revealed that employees felt that they would like to improve their staff wellbeing and didn’t feel that they had the relevant training or guidance.
• 56% agreed

Organisations are built on their values, and any company who takes care of their staff when they are experiencing health problems send out a very positive message. Being supportive of staff when they are experiencing difficulty is about more than simply keeping a valued member of staff, it also creates a company culture of due care and support for one another. All employees need to know by experience that their company lives by the values they spout. This type of organisational behaviour cultivates a sense of trust and loyalty which are fundamental drivers in commitment and retention staff.
Mental health is a level playing field in that we all have a state of mental health, sometimes we experience good mental health and sometimes not so good, we are all shifting constantly up and down the spectrum, which is affected by a variety of factors both in and out of the work place. The important thing within a company or organisation is to allow it to be an easy conversation to be had, allowing increased interaction, encouragement and productivity.

Here are 8 tips on how to combat anxiety in the work place:

1. Talk it out
There is nothing like a good old-fashioned yarn to someone not involved in your life to sort all your woes. Find a sympathetic colleague, or friend without opinions and let rip, don’t hold back, tears, outside voices, trembling and anger are all permitted… get that anxiety and all the internal voices outside of yourself. Sometimes when you hear yourself speaking out loud it can aid with mental clarity and allow things to fall into place and settle.

2. Walk it out
When the mind is on overdrive, get into your feet! Take a long walk, focusing the attention on each footfall. When the mind goes back to the thoughts, bring it straight back to the feel of the feet hitting the ground, the shape of the shoes against your feet, the sensations of the ground beneath you and the texture of your socks or shoes. Stomp if you have to at first and then overtime come to think of yourself massaging the earth with your feet.

3. Write it down and prioritise
Writing down all your anxieties and worries will help to get them out of the internal loop in your head and/or heart. Once they are all on paper, put them under the headings “Things I can do something about” and “Things I can do nothing about”. Once you have your list of things you can do something about, prioritise them from the most urgent to the least urgent. Then take each one in turn and make a flow chart of creative ways to solve the problem at hand. Then one at a time you deal with each one until you find that you have life totally under control.

4. Bye-Bye Caffeine – hello dark chocolate
Caffeine, found in many products these days including… gulp… dairy chocolate!… is anxiety inducing. Slowly cut back on your intake and choose Camomile Tea to calm the nerves and Dark Chocolate to increase your levels of serotonin.

5. Bedtime Routines are not just for Children
We need sleep, and there are no prizes for burning yourself out and landing up in a rehab clinic due to over work. Set yourself a cut off time for reading emails and receiving calls, texts and messages and create a bedtime routine, so that both body and mind know that sleep is about to come. Have a bath/shower, read a book (not tablet), have a cocoa drink.

6. Just say “No!”
There is only so much a person can do in a day, and there is no need to take on other people’s problems… when you have enough of your own. Doesn’t matter if it someone else’s work load they want you to sort, or their kids to pick up, when your plate is full, you have GOT to learn to say NO! Try this polite rephrase:
“I understand your situation, and I am certain you can appreciate how hectic my life is too, so on this occasion I will have to say no.”

7. Defeat the sugar slump & hydrate
This does not mean stuffing your face with cakes, crisps and candy! This means planning your day and making sure that your blood sugar levels never slump. Skipping meals causes the stress hormone cortisol to be released which can make anxiety worse. Try to eat a well balanced diet with lean proteins, fruit, vegetables and healthy fats and slow release carbohydrates.

8. Good Exit Strategies – good for business, good for anxiety reduction
Anxiety is often caused due to a feeling of not being in control of a situation, yourself or another person. The trick to coping with this is to learn to notice your triggers and develop coping strategies to cope with situations that either trigger you or you can see are about to trigger you. One coping strategy is to cultivate effective “exit strategies”, that will still allow you to enjoy life and all it has to offer, but without the triggers. An example in a social setting may be to drive yourself to a party or event, so that you don’t have to wait for others to get home.

9. This is it – This Moment is all you have!
Anxiety is usually crated when we project into the future and our imagination doesn’t make the future look that enticing! I suggest make a list of things you can control and or influence and a list of things you can do nothing about. With the list of things you can do nothing about right now, put it in the bottom drawer of your desk and forget about them. For the list you can do something about or influence then make a flow chart with actions you can begin taking now. Live in this moment, for your tomorrow’s are made up of each moment we live now.

Written by Kirstie Shapiro