Dr. Melanie Badali, R.Psych. is a Leadership and Workplace Consultant with MyWorkplaceHealth. Dr. Badali helps leaders clarify their vision and put their values into action using effective psychological strategies.
It’s an hour before your big presentation at work when a thought pops into your head… “What if it does not go well?” Your heart rate speeds up and your breathing gets shallower. The clock is ticking and so is your body. You have butterflies in your stomach, your mouth is dry and you start sweating. Some more thoughts intrude. This time, a one-two punch of “You won’t be good enough” and “You can’t handle this” in quick succession. You start wondering how you can get out of doing this presentation….
Sound familiar? Most of us have gotten caught in the vicious grip of anxiety at one time or another. Anxiety sneaks in when we are thinking about the uncertain future – especially when we are thinking about things that are important to us. When we are in an anxious frame of mind, we overestimate threats and underestimate our resources and coping ability. The anxious thoughts feed the anxious feelings, and vice versa. Engaging in anxious behaviours such as avoidance will increase the anxiety even more because you will not get a chance to learn that you can* manage.
Managing Anxiety at Work
So – what can you do if anxiety starts taking over at work? Fortunately, there are numerous strategies for dealing with anxiety. Here are a few of my favourite tips to help you manage anxiety like a BOSS:
Body Knowledge & Reappraisal. Learn what’s happening in your body when you feel anxious or stressed and use that knowledge to your advantage. When your brain detects threat, it sets in motion a set of changes in your body that will help you run, fight or freeze. Although it may feel uncomfortable to you, your body is mobilizing resources to meet expected demands. Research shows that viewing these internal changes in a more positive way such as excitement (e.g., “I’m excited for the opportunity of showing my boss what I know”) or challenge response (e.g., “My body is gearing up for the challenge ahead – I’m amped and ready”) can improve performance. Reappraising or reframing arousal or anxiety as excitement and threat as challenge can help you succeed.
Objectives and committed action. Figure out what is important to you and then go for it. Avoid avoidance. Running away from something truly dangerous is helpful. Running away from something attainable is not helpful. Committed action does not mean easy or comfortable. It means moving toward your goals even when it is hard.
Self-talk. Observe the words in your head (your thoughts!). How are you talking to yourself? What meaning are you giving to your thoughts? Reminder – not all thoughts are facts. Self-talk can be used for reappraisal of situations, performance, internal states, and even other thoughts. Focus on opportunities instead of threats. Instead of imagining all the things that could go wrong (…what if?), talk to yourself about what could go right. Balance out overly negative or catastrophic thoughts (e.g., “I will blow it”) with more balanced, realistic thoughts (e.g., “I will show what I know”). While you are at it – show yourself some self-compassion. Beating yourself up does not help you manage anxiety. Talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend.
Self-care. Good quality, restorative sleep. Healthy eating. Exercise. Time to recharge. All that good stuff. You know the drill but it’s easier said than done. Investing in your health will pay dividends in performance once you make it a routine. Getting health habits started is harder than keeping them going –pick one area to try to improve and start small.
Learn what tools work best for managing anxiety and try them out. Having a vision for your career, focusing on the opportunities, and strategically (if not anxiety-free) working toward your goals will help you manage your anxiety – like a BOSS!
To learn more about the training Dr. Melanie Badali offers or about other MyWorkplaceHealth service offerings, get in touch!