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Work anxiety: 12 easy ways to tackle anxiety at your desk in under 10 minutes

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Megan Murray
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Work anxiety: 12 ways to deal with panic and anxiety at work.

It’s not uncommon to experience anxiety at work, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. Here are 12 tried and tested ways to manage feelings of anxiety from your desk, to get your day back on track. 

In 2019 we’re finally waking up to the issue of mental health in the workplace.

There’s no denying it: workplaces are stressful places. And while, in an ideal world, we’d all be super chilled out and living our best lives at work, sometimes the pressure will inevitably get to us. There’s also the fact that any mental health issues we may be dealing with outside of the office will, inevitably, follow us to work too.

Of course, the best thing we can do to address mental health in the workplace is speak to people about what we’re going through – take a look at our guide on how to talk to your manager about your mental health here. And as more workplaces adopt mental health first aiders and introduce more wellbeing initiatives, it’s great to know things are slowly getting better.

While these signs of progress are great news for the working environment, in the short term there are things you can do to address periods of anxiety from the relative comfort of your desk. 

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If you’re experiencing some of the symptoms of anxiety, which can include nervousness, feelings of panic, tenseness, difficulty concentrating, panic attacks and tiredness, here are 12 easy ways to deal with it and keep your anxiety under control at work.

Work anxiety: if you're dealing with mental health issues in the workplace, there are things you can do.
Work anxiety: if you're dealing with mental health issues in the workplace, there are things you can do.

1) Doodle

The fears in our head always feel much bigger when they don’t have a face. Give yourself a focus by grabbing some of that spare photocopy paper and a pencil, and start doodling about whatever is giving you anxiety. Not only will it help you realise what it is you’re actually worrying about when you’re forced to try and express it, but it gives you something to do instead of sitting motionless and flailing in your mind. Pop your doodle paper in the middle of work notebook and no one will guess what you’re doing.

2) Try the Stress and Anxiety Companion app

This NHS approved app is designed to help you combat anxiety “on the go”, so it’s perfect for using at work. Log in and you’ll find cognitive behavioural therapy techniques to work through if you’re suffering a particularly bad spell of anxiousness.

3) Drink a glass of water

It’s one of simplest things you can do, but by drinking a glass of water you are forcing your mind and body to focus on something different to the hurricane of thoughts spinning around your mind. If you’re experiencing a common side-effect of anxiety, hyperventilation, sipping water will help to ease this and calm your breathing.

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4) Listen to your favourite song

When anxious thoughts become overwhelming we can often look for escapism and comfort, both of which can come in the form of a favourite song. Despite being in a busy and buzzing office, if you can close your eyes for five minutes and listen to a few of your favourite tracks, it can take your mind away to somewhere entirely different – and help you to calm down.

5) Do a crossword

Easily done from a desk, filling out a crossword or solving a puzzle (suduku anyone?) helps you order your mind by going through the motions of methodically putting things where they need to be. The satisfaction of ordering things can help you feel in control and calm your anxious thoughts.

Work anxiety: try taking deep breaths to stem feelings of anxiety.
Work anxiety: try taking deep, controlled breaths to stem feelings of anxiety.

6) Tidy your desk

This one tends to be down to personal preference, but many believe that it’s easier to clear your mind when the environment around you is tidy. As the old saying goes, ‘tidy house, tidy mind’; if your desk is cluttered it can subconsciously give you the impression that your work load is overwhelming or out of control. Even the act of taking a few minutes break to organise your things can feel therapeutic.

7) Listen to meditation music

Popping in your headphones and opening a sneaky YouTube tab is a quick and easy way to seek some solace in the office. To target feelings of anxiety particularly, tune in to meditation music and try to focus on the calming sounds instead of the chaotic chatter around you.

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8) Meditate for 10 minutes

Better yet, actually pop your ‘out of office’ for ten minutes and take some much needed me time. Find a quiet space where you can sit comfortably, close your eyes and centre your thoughts on the present moment. The idea is to focus on your breath and nothing else, slowly eliminating your stressful thoughts.  

9) Breathe deep, controlled breaths

This sounds like a typical solution – the sort of thing that someone who doesn’t have anxiety would tell you to do. But research shows that there is a direct correlation between the way we breathe and our mental health. The advice from Mark Krasnow, a professor of biochemistry at Stanford University, who lead the research is to take deep, slow breaths.

He told TIME magazine that “if we can slow breathing down, as we can do by deep breathing or slow controlled breaths, the idea would be that these neurons then don’t signal the arousal center, and don’t hyperactivate the brain.

“If you can calm your breathing, you can also calm your mind”.

10) Use the Self-Help Anxiety Management app

This anxiety focused app helps connect you to a closed community of users who can offer support to each other at the touch of a button. Anxiousness can be an isolating feeling, so when surrounded by co-workers who aren’t privy to what’s going on in your mind, speaking to people who understand you can feel like a life-saver.

Work anxiety
Work anxiety: step away from your desk to give yourself time to breathe.

11) Write down what you’re feeling

When anxious feelings spiral out of control your brain looks for a way to quantify them. A way of streamlining your thought process is to write down what you’re thinking, as you think it. This will help you to define your thoughts enough to form them into a sentence and create one narrative in your mind.  

12) Go for a walk

Stepping away from your desk to take a walk has several benefits that can calm the anxious thoughts you might be having during a stressful day at work. Removing yourself from the situation will help to give you some space, while exercise is proven to help improve cognitive function and elevate mood. Taking a brisk walk around the area of your work place releases neurohormones in your brain which help you think more clearly and process information more effectively, which conflicting anxiety ridden thoughts can stop you doing.

Want insider tips on happiness, health, relaxation and more? Sign up for the Stylist Loves Wellbeing email

If you suffer from anxiety, experts advise that you visit you GP to explore the number of treatments available.

You can find out more information – including a series of approved self-care tips – on the Mind website.

Images: Getty

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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a digital journalist for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.

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