Anxiety or worry can be a normal reaction to stressful life events.
Few people will experience life without going through a period where they are anxious. Thankfully for most people, periods of worry or anxiety are short lived and manageable. We tend to find a way towards a solution, by considering the issues as less important and as less challenging/or less urgent. We get help, we talk things through, we take a break, and the issues usually fade away.
We often become anxious as a means of understanding and mastering an issue which is troublesome to us. We can then become very focused on it over time, entering a downward spiral leading to feeling caught with no way to escape. That’s when anxiety becomes an issue which needs attention. We make ourselves ill by continuing to ‘over think’, instead of stopping to assess the problem and focus on positive solutions or positive ways to make ourselves feel better. Only when we feel better and think clearly will we really be able to solve the original problem. It’s ironic that trying too hard can make us less able to resolve the issue.
Anxiety or worry is a little like a survival instinct gone awry. Many issues can arise when worry becomes the routine way of thinking. A negative thinking pattern causes more anxiety rather than solving anything. It’s not all about perspective, but perspective does feature largely in the problem. We bring our own perspective and if ours is one which is anxiety prone, everything we place within that frame will be worrisome and cause more anxiety. The anxiety experienced or the act of worrying is then potentially the bigger issue than the initial cause of the worry.
During COVID19 many people, who had never before experienced or been aware of their own anxiety, started to feel it. This is entirely normal. Elevated levels of anxiety go hand in hand with uncertainty, fear, change and breach of social contract. These were all brought on to varying extents by the pandemic and the associated rapid and enormous social change globally.
Recovery, however, is a normal part of the anxiety cycle: it takes time but worry goes away when the cause goes away. We can then become more resilient and have better coping patterns and habits built up for future challenges.
Some people can become trapped in the worry cycle i.e. worrying becomes a cognitive habit. It acts as a defence against new catastrophic life events. It is not a healthy strategy as it locks us in negativity. In this instance seeking out support around your anxiety will help and you will better understand your triggers and how to manage potential trigger.
You can reduce anxiety by
- seeking and getting increased levels of support,
- reducing demands on our time and energy,
- having increased levels of control over events, and/or
- introducing novelty to daily tasks.
For some people, extra-long work hours, highly stressful work activities, a lack of support from managers and co-workers can lead to someone developing anxiety at work. COVID19 and working from home and the need to adapt to changing situations can all be sources of valid worry and anxiety.
Anxiety can have a devastating impact on our personal and professional lives. The first place to start is to look at yourself and your lifestyle and see where you can alter your approach to reduce your patterns of worry. If the anxiety is playing out at work, see if a work issue is causing or making it worse, and try to again address that, in a consultative, solution-focused way.
Key questions to ask yourself that may assist in addressing anxiety
- Within the work context, consider your anxiety and its real cause – when, where and why does it occur?
- Is there is ambiguity in the environment? If so, you should seek guidance and ask for clarity or further details.
- Is there an Occupational Health or EAP service you can use?
- Can you prioritise your worries at work and see if you can discuss the top two with your manager or a colleague?
- Have you considered what other colleagues feel around these issues – is this an issue particular to you, or generally experienced?
- What can you do to reduce your exposure to the anxiety?
- Where you cannot reduce your exposure, can you reduce your reaction to it through preparation or post exposure support?
- What are the solutions you employer can put in place? Are these reasonable/do-able?
Where these do not improve your wellbeing, you may need to seek assistance from a medical professional, GP or Psychologist/Counsellor.
Some symptoms of anxiety include:
- Avoiding friends or family.
- Constant negative thinking.
- Crying for ‘no reason’ that you can identify.
- Feeling irritable, tired, or tense/snappy.
- Feeling incompetent.
- Having trouble sleeping.
- Having trouble concentrating or remembering things.
- Losing interest in work.
- Overeating or undereating.
Some Physical Manifestations
- Tiredness – aching limbs.
- Dry mouth and/or difficulty swallowing.
- Difficulty getting to and staying asleep.
- Headaches and poor concentration.
- Muscle tension and headaches.
- Rapid heart rate and breathing.
- Sweating or trembling.
- Digestive complaints.
- A flare-up of another health problem or illness (for example, dermatitis, asthma).
The first thing to realise about anxiety/worry is that it does not solve a problem; it merely focuses our mind on it, so you have the illusion of control; the sense that you are ‘on it’. Many of us have gotten into bad habits around worry- we may have learnt to worry early in our lives (as a childhood coping style), and we feel we must worry if we are to be ‘serious’ or grown-up about things. Consistent or persistent worrying is not a method of living that is reasonable and cannot sustain us in the long term. So, we all need, from time to time, to re-assess our habits and slowly shift towards a more fulfilling and positive way of dealing with painful or problem issues.
- Reduce the time spent focusing on any problem. Only allow yourself a set amount of time to worry and then make yourself stop by doing something else. Just ‘deciding’ to not think about a thing does not work; in fact, it can often make us more focused on it. Ideally, a person who is over-worried should pre-identify three or four things they like doing. These can be physical activities as well as mental activities, active things and passive things. Then, when worry hits, engage in a set time focused on the problem, but after that (say, 15 minutes) insist on doing any one of the activities and do that for 30 minutes.
- Another coping method is to make yourself see the problem from the perspective of others. Constantly rethinking repeatedly using your own set of criteria and your way of seeing is merely repeating a negative thought pattern. Rather than helping, it makes things worse. Stop. Sit down. Rearrange the problem - see it first from a good friends’ perspective and then see it from a professional perspective - your GP/coach/teacher/nurse or someone else of your acquaintance. Try to imagine how they would perceive it. Usually, the catastrophising you are doing will not be reflected in how you judge others would see it. Take a few notes. Highlight the differences in how they might see it, and reflect on those elements.
- Think of solutions – even if the solutions are not doable, not practical or not available. Think up at least five solutions and let your mind run through each of them, imagine how these would solve the problem and how you would then feel. Research shows that focusing on solutions elicits other more doable solutions, gets our mind-set positively skewed and alleviates the secondary distress of negative thought patterns. Prioritise the solutions, from one through to five. Then see if you can further look at the top solution and start making that happen.
- Talk the problem through with someone trusted. Outline the problem, solutions, and barriers as you see them so that the other person is given a sense of how to help you, rather than just being someone on whom you want to dump your problems. Research shows that if you share a problem, and share your solution orientation, others are motivated to invest in ways to help us sort things out and even help us sort them, once we bring the enthusiasm and can-do attitude with us.
All of the above should, if planned and given forethought, help us to develop better habits around those aspects of our lives, which regularly cause us anxiety. Anxiety is mainly the result of fear of uncertainty and a sense that something bad is going to happen. These are old fears, born out of past experiences but our ‘treatment’ – to keep thinking in circles, has outlived its usefulness. It’s a trap we easily fall into in the face of new challenges.
Remember, for all mental health issues, social connections, talking and listening to others, exercise, being in or looking at nature, fresh air and new experiences are all-important to keep us motivated and energized. Exercise, diet - fresh, healthy sit-down meals (ideally cooked by you), as well as sleep, relaxation, other positive people, and doing things you enjoy every day, should also help to remove you from worrisome episodes.
If you are struggling with anxiety at work you should talk to your manager or employer. You can also seek support from your local GP or medical practitioner.
Further supports are available at:
Pieta House – www.pieta.ie / Freephone 1800 247 247 every day 24 hours a day / Text HELP to 51444 - standard message rates apply.
Samaritans - www.samaritans.org / Contact firstname.lastname@example.org / Freephone 116 123 every day 24 hours a day