Have you ever spent a day feeling completely scared at work, but you’re not sure why?
We all experience anxiety at work from time to time, but a heightened sense of fear that occurs daily and on an ongoing basis can have a highly uncomfortable impact in the workplace.
Linda Geddes, explains in New Scientist Magazine two different cases of anxiety:
The first case is about a man who withdrew from answering phone calls at work. He feared that his words would be incoherent, and he might mess up his sentences. This type of anxiety is driven by true insecurity and lack of practice speaking on the phone.
In the second case, a woman had such intense fear that she felt agitated and lightheaded every morning right after waking up. Her anxiety had her thoughts swinging in a pendulum between two choices: What accidents could happen while traveling to work? And, what horrible unplanned consequences might happen if she stayed at home? There is no rationale for these beliefs, there is an underlying anxiety that may require a therapeutic intervention.
Sound familiar? While you may not experience anxiety to the degree described in these examples, anxiety isn’t fun and can massively impact your work life.
Is anxiety always bad?
Believe it or not, anxiety does serve a purpose. In reasonable amounts, feeling the sensation of anxiety can alert you to danger and will keep you vigilant and aware, more productive at work.
But if you find that feeling anxiety influences and interferes with your day-to-day life, then you may be experiencing too much anxiety and should seek the help of a trusted medical professional, explains Nick Grey, Clinical Psychologist at King’s College in London.
What causes anxiety?
Maladaptive Beliefs. According to Grey, maladaptive beliefs can cause anxiety. They are beliefs that work against you and are not accurate representations of how a situation will pan out. For instance, let’s say you take a ride on a roller coaster; you may fear that your heart’s increased rate will cause a heart attack.
While a heart attack is a possibility for someone with a heart condition, for most, believing that you will have a heart attack is a maladaptive belief that hinders your ability to appreciate the moment.
Chronic Worrying. Maladaptive beliefs can spiral into chronic worrying about various events or activities for about six months, explains Grey. Two chronic worry examples caused by maladaptive beliefs might look something like:
- Feeling you are responsible for everyone around you, all your colleagues.
- Feeling that your responsibilities at work matter more than your health and emotional wellbeing.
With all of this in mind, what causes the symptoms of anxiety?
When severe unease takes over, you can feel as though there is no way out. And this debilitating fear is linked to the amygdala, an anatomical part of our brain.
Our amygdala has two main roles:
- Processes emotions
- Triggers the release of hormones and neurotransmitters responsible for our fight-flight-or-freeze responses
Imagine you are in a meeting and your boss opens the door and asks you to step out. Most people will feel some response in this situation. You could feel intrigued waiting for unforeseen news, or the sight of your boss could trigger a powerful fear.
You might be tempted to leave the meeting and confront your boss (fight). Or stay seated and tell your boss to wait until the meeting is over (freeze).
In either case, your body is receiving stimuli and signals from a place of stress.
Studies suggest that those with post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, store fearful memories within the amygdala and can bring an exaggerated response to stimuli.
However, for a person who functions in an usual fashion, when fear arises, he or she can temper a learned response with new memories, explains Geddes.
How can you tackle anxiety?
Exercise. It turns out that going for a walk, biking, doing yoga, or any other physical activity that you enjoy can be extremely helpful in battling anxiety.
Have you ever felt emotionally ‘off’ and gone for a long walk through your favorite park? You are sure to experience the calming effects from being in nature, breathing more deeply, and a general lift in mood.
When you exercise, the experience releases mood-boosting endorphins that help you feel happier. Concentrating on a physical activity removes your focus from fear and allows your mind to zero in on the task at hand.
Remember, you don’t need to start a new or expensive sport. Yes, surfing or joining a posh gym can help, but start with something that feels approachable and affordable.
Diet. A study led by Phil Burnet (at the University of Oxford) found that increasing fiber intake encouraged the growth of beneficial gut bacteria which helped people pay increased attention to positive messages on computers (and less to negative ones).
When the volunteers of the study woke in the morning, they had lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in their blood.
The study showed that the volunteers experienced seemingly small, but significant effects on the underlying psychological conditions that contributed to anxiety, notes Burnet.
Between full-time jobs, maintaining various relationships, and balancing health, modern life has us busier than ever.
Therapies. Certain medications given to a person with severe anxiety (and under the care of a professional) can reduce the perceived threats in a person’s experiences.
Benzodiazepines, for example, includes medications such as Valium. These treatments can filter out unthreatening stimuli. However, it’s worth noting that benzodiazepines can be highly addictive and should be given and observed under the care of a doctor.
Once someone’s maladaptive beliefs are determined, CBT seeks to challenge them so that fears can be overcome.
Self reflection. Spending a few minutes each day reviewing the triggers of your anxiety and focusing on the present moment through mindfulness or mindful framing, will serve several purposes:
- Develop a framework to assess unexpected experiences and thoughts
- Develop natural routines and habits that will impact your mental wellbeing
- Develop emotional intelligence and empathy towards yourself and others
- Develop a comprehensive approach towards physical wellbeing
If you suffer from anxiety, be brave and tackle your anxiety head on, seek help inside and outside. Your mind has the key to a top-notch hospital and fully stocked pharmacy with safe and efficacious solutions. Anxiety can be transformed into vital energy.