Anxiety can affect work in a variety of ways: Anxiety from outside work can impact concentration; work stress itself can be a source of anxiety; and people feel more easily overwhelmed when they’re feeling anxious. This can mean that tasks that usually feel well within your capacity can feel overwhelming.
People sometimes misinterpret anxiety they feel about work. They see feelings of anxiety as a sign they must be less competent than their peers. Try these practical, non-intimidating tips for how to manage anxiety at work.
1. Set reasonable expectations for yourself
When people are anxious they sometimes respond by increasing their expectations. For example, you’re working on a long-term project. You’re nearing the end. You begin to get anxious about how it will be received. You know your concentration span is typically two hours per deep work session. Because you’re anxious, you tell yourself you need to try to do four hours in a stretch.
When you increase your expectations of yourself due to anxiety, you make it more likely you’ll procrastinate. Or, you’ll feel unnecessary dread about getting your work done. Trying too hard can even backfire, such as you overwork small elements but miss the big picture.
2. Directly tackle what makes you anxious
Imagine you have ten core tasks on your to-do list for the week. One of them you feel extremely anxious about. You need to get assistance from a coworker you find gruff or prickly. Or perhaps you’ve been mulling over an idea for weeks. You need to finally present it to other people. You’re nervous they won’t think it’s promising and you will have wasted all that effort thinking about it.
Anxiety tends to grow like a snowball. If you put off handling the source of your anxiety, it will gradually grow until you do. Feeling anxious can also wear you down. All your other tasks will feel more exhausting if a task you’re anxious about is hanging over you.
For these reasons, it’s usually a good idea to fully complete whatever has you worried. To do this, you don’t need to convince yourself it will go brilliantly. You only need to believe you can cope successfully, however it pans out.
3. Ask for help to make an action plan
When people are anxious, they sometimes find it hard to plan. Let’s say you’ve been asked to teach a workshop. You’ve never done it before. Because you’re anxious, deciding how to prepare it makes your head spin.
If you feel like this, you might need some support to break down the task into manageable steps. In the case of preparing a workshop, sit down with a coworker, friend, or even your spouse. Ask for some support to create an overview of all the steps you need to complete.
When you can see the concrete steps, and see a path to getting it done, you’re likely to feel much less daunted.
This tip also applies if anxiety from outside work is making you more anxious about your work tasks than you’d typically be. If you’re feeling off your game due to anxiety from outside work, getting support to plan out a complex task might be enough to help you get it done.
4. Learn not to fear anxiety
When I write about managing anxiety, I often make the point that people become anxious about feeling anxious. Feeling anxious isn’t a sign you’re incompetent. The subjective feeling of anxiety doesn’t mean you will do a worse or a better job.
If you’re prone to anxiety, you need some go-to methods for handling it. When you have these and know they work for you, you’ll be able to tolerate feeling anxious without fear that it will overwhelm you.
Methods for handling anxiety can be simple physical or behavioral strategies, such as going for a run after work. Or, they can be cognitive strategies like reminding yourself of times that you’ve felt nervous about a new challenge but succeeded.
Understanding your patterns of anxiety is critical. For example, your pattern might be that you tend to feel anxious about tasks you’re doing for the first time. Once you know this, develop strategies specifically for managing that pattern. In this scenario, you might always start a new-to-you task by spending your first ten minutes picking between two approaches to the task. If you make this strategy a habit, starting unfamiliar tasks will become easier.
5. Treat yourself kindly
Anxiety can lead to people feeling outsized emotions about tasks that objectively aren’t difficult. For instance, you’ve been asked to supply a headshot for a panel you will be speaking on. You have body image anxiety so you put it off. Or, you are prone to imposter syndrome and the idea of having a professional headshot taken is triggers that.
If you get very self-critical for feeling anxious over a “simple” task, that won’t help your anxiety. Give yourself some extra care instead. You might need to clear an hour to think about how you’ll approach it. Or, you might need emotional space to recover, such as planning a relaxing evening after you’ve done it.
Anxiety can negatively impact productivity, if you don’t manage it well. However, if you have go-to strategies you feel confident using, you can still be very effective even when you’re feeling anxious.