This last week I lost sleep over stress from a work project. I also let the stress infiltrate my home time a couple of evenings in a row and snapped at Jake saying, “I just don’t want to talk about it anymore!” When my friend Shanna suggested this topic, she shared that she had been going through some work-related stress and that the inability to let it go ended up ruining what should have been a fun weekend of barrel racing. I can completely relate to Shanna’s situation (except for the barrel racing) and when I started to draft this piece, I found myself wondering, should I really be writing anything on this? You’re not an expert at it yourself! However, after thinking about it a bit, I do have some tactics I use to try to get over the stress and anxiety that I think helps me through it faster. I decided to share what I know but I would also love to hear any tactics that you have found successful below in the comments.
The first thing to acknowledge is that it isn’t always possible to completely shut work off when you leave the office. Some days I can do this but when I’m working on a problem that requires a lot of thinking, I come up with the best solutions in my off time. My best thinking and ah-ha moments happen while lying in bed, taking a shower, going for a walk or even driving. The idea that you won’t ever need to think about work outside of office hours may not be the best thing to strive for. The topic I’m addressing here is work-related anxiety, not work-related problem solving. Anxiety is stress, not problem solving. I’m making this painfully clear because if I said I leave all work at the door; I would be lying.
Anxiety is letting workplace stress overwhelm you. If you keep thinking about the same thing, over and over, it is probably anxiety. Symptoms can include trouble sleeping, a feeling of your heart racing, headaches, stomach aches or a lack of appetite. These symptoms can lead to you not being the best person at home, succumbing to irritability, anger and even depression. There have been a couple of times in my adult life when I let work get to me and it took a toll on my marriage and my relationship with my kids. It took me longer than I’m proud to say, but eventually when I thought about the kind of wife and mother I was being, I was ashamed that I had let my anxiety get so out of control. The good thing about unconditional love is that if you can find the courage to admit you’re wrong, your loved ones can forgive you if you change your behavior.
Work related anxiety is usually a result of circling the victim loop. I wrote a blog in October regarding the victim loop, made famous by the book, The Power of Personal Accountability by Mark Samuel and Sophie Chiche (2004). If you already read it, you know we all go there (the victim loop) but you can’t stay there! Are you taking accountability for whatever is stressing you out? If you truly are and there really is nothing else in your power you can do, you need to LET IT GO. If you are not being accountable, you need to TAKE ACTION to improve the situation.
This week I found myself feeling anxious about a really important project at work. I could feel the stress. I was short with Jake for a couple of evenings after reading emails late from the client. I felt like the customer was being unreasonable and it was making me feel angry. I could get to sleep but then would wake up at 2:00am and my mind would start racing. I kept thinking about the same thing over and over again – the client is being ridiculous and at the same time I felt a lot of pressure to land this new business. I was stressed out because I care, and I want to be successful. I don’t want to lose the opportunity. These are all ok feelings to have unless they start to negatively affect how you feel. What I had to do in this case was back up and think about whether there was anything else in my control that I could do. I quickly realized that it was out of my hands and that I needed to do two things. First, I needed to have positive assumptions about all involved, including the customer. I also needed to allow our team the time to do their job, without micromanaging them and making them feel additional anxiety. Once I recognized this, I was able to park the concern in the future, telling myself that I don’t need to waste any more headspace on it until I receive the next update.
Trying to “park” the anxiety somewhere else isn’t that easy. There are several tactics that I use to try to break my mental cycle once I realize that thinking about it more is not going to help anyone. Here are some ideas to try:
If you have trouble sleeping or worse yet, wake up in the middle of the night with your head racing, I have tried to shorten the time I lay awake by capturing any thoughts I have on my phone or on a notepad by my bed. Getting it out of my head seems to help me stop worrying about forgetting the thoughts I’ve had if I fall back asleep. Sometimes this helps me to stop my brain from racing and circling.
Fill your mind with something else.
- Listen to music. I have some favorite playlists that are my go-to’s when I’m stressed. One is a spiritual album called Peace from Bethel Music. It is calming and soothing. I’ll be honest though, sometimes I need some angry rock, so I’ve got one of those playlists too. Find something that allows you to lose yourself in it. I also like to combine music with activity like listening while I go for a walk, or a run, or dancing my butt off in the kitchen with the kids watching and laughing at me. Be silly, change your mindset.
- Call a friend or loved one. Call someone that makes you happy when you hang up. Do not call someone to tell them about the stressful situation. One of my favorite people to call is my grandma. I don’t tell her my troubles. I tell her what is going well with me, the kids and Jake. I ask her what she is doing that day and we reminisce over days gone by – sweet memories.
- Take a workout class. Make it a challenging one that requires you focus both physically and mentally so you’re forced to let other thoughts go.
- Work on your hobby. My favorite is gardening. Be careful that your hobby doesn’t provide more time for your brain to circle the victim loop. Gardening can be that way sometimes, like when I’m weeding. However, if I’m planting new things or moving plants round, the creative side of my brain has to kick in and shut off the negative thought pattern.
- Find things that make you laugh and smile. Favorite activities on my list include going out for breakfast with my son, watching shows like America’s Funniest Videos or a comedy with my family.
The workplace anxiety that causes me the most angst are those situations that are people related. Situations that probably need to be solved through having a vital conversation. While you’re trying to figure out why you are stressing, ask yourself if there is a vital conversation that needs to be had? If there is, the longer you wait, the longer you will live in this state of misery. You must find the courage to have that conversation to set you free. Check out one of my posts on vital conversations if you need help with how to prepare for it.
Lastly, does it seem that your workplace is the cause of a lot of anxiety? Are the things causing it out of your control? If the answer to these two questions is yes, your workplace may not be the best environment for you. It may even be a toxic culture. I have worked in a couple of these in my career and in both cases I had to recognize it and start to take action to get out. Be honest with yourself and decide if it’s time to make a change.
I hope these ideas help in reducing work-related anxiety and allowing you to live a life you love. I would also like to hear from you if you have things that help you put anxiety in its place and get back to living a happy life. Comment below!