Do these words from an anxiety-ridden client resonate with you?
“I feel like I’m working 24-hour days! Sometimes I even dream about work! How can I switch off? How can I ease my anxiety?”
I hear similar complaints and questions from people almost daily.
These are people who either don’t know how to switch off from work, or have taken on more than they can reasonably cope with.
With employers often under pressure to deliver more without the benefit of more resources, that pressure is often transmitted to their staff, via increasing workloads and extra responsibility.
It’s no wonder people avoid promotion and more responsibility
Intensive international research shows that, far from working fewer hours we now work more. And more responsibility often translates to more stress and longer work hours. It’s therefore easy for talented people who still want a life outside of work, to reject promotion and more responsibility, choosing to remain where they are.
Yet it doesn’t have to be like that
More and more forward-thinking organisations recognise the importance of balance. Employers understand that when people feel safe and comfortable at work, and have the opportunity to spend quality time with friends and family, they’re more productive.
And, let’s face it, if you’ve had a productive day and achieved a lot, you probably feel like you’ve well and truly earned a relaxing evening or weekend.
What happens if you can’t switch off your brain when you switch off the office computer?
Problems with work-related anxiety seem to have reached epidemic proportions. Or does it just seem that way because I’ve had a lot of clients who want to learn how to do it? A visit to the doctor often results in a drug prescription. But drugs don’t address the cause of anxiety or help people deal with it.
There are better ways to deal to anxiety and develop more ease
These 8 techniques will give you more ease and productivity at work, and enable you to switch off anxiety inside or outside of work. Remember they only work if you actually use them. Just reading about them won’t make any difference whatsoever! Practice your favourites until they become habits.
Here’s a overview of the 8 practices to ease your work anxiety
- Establish some ‘switching off’ anchors.
- Get it out of your head.
- Get organised.
- Move your body.
- The 30-second stress buster.
- Realise you’ll never get to ‘the end’.
- Say ‘No’ — and mean it!
- Visit The Calm Spot.
1. Establish some ‘switching off’ anchors
People who are successful at separating their work from their non-work life, have ways of signaling the ‘switch off’ to themselves. Here are some examples you might adopt.
- Take a shower when you get home and change into casual clothes. This sends a message to your body that you’re washing the cares of the day away, and changing into casual mode. It’s also invigorating and refreshing, signaling the start of a new part of your day.
- At the end of your workday and before you leave work, check your diary and your desk and make sure everything is as up to date as you can make it. Ask yourself “What’s the last thing I need to do now, so that I can switch off for the day?” You’ll get an answer — I promise. Then do it. So, when you switch off your computer and/or the light in your office, mentally switch off your work mind as well! Leave your desk, office or workplace tidy — there’s nothing worse than facing a mess at the start of your work day.
- Put on some music in your car or on your phone to listen to on the way home. Make sure it’s something that will provide a change of pace. Maybe something upbeat if you’re feeling low on energy. Relaxing music helps if you’re feeling particularly ‘wired’.
- Learn how to anchor yourself into a relaxed state using a gesture.
2. Get it out of Your head
Do you have a tendency to get totally overwhelmed and anxious with tasks or assignments that seem enormous — you know — those projects that are way past ‘challenging’? A piece of work where even thinking about the various aspects makes your head spin so much, you need to lie down for a rest?
Follow these tips to start feeling back in control:
- Grab a piece of paper and a pen.
- Think of an all-encompassing name for the task or assignment using a couple of keywords, for example, ‘Project Everything.’ Now, write those keywords in the centre of your paper. Then start mind mapping all the tasks associated with that project, moving from the centre outwards to smaller and smaller details.
- Then identify the order in which tasks need to be done and assign each one a number. Get started with number one! You’ll find that each element can be easily handled and you can just tick them off as you do them. And remember to add them to your accomplishment list when you have! (see below)
- The beauty of this method, compared to writing a list, is that you can see all the components of your project at once. It’s easier to see connections between tasks and the best order in which to complete them.
- The best part of this exercise is that it gets the information out of your head, allowing you be be objective about the whole operation.
3. Get organised
Disorganised people cause themselves and others untold stress and anxiety. I know this from personal experience and my gradual evolution into a better-organised person. I used to spend endless time looking for information I’d ‘filed’ in some specially devised and unique system. it was so unique even I couldn’t remember how it worked!
You’ll know if you are also afflicted with disorganisation because your office looks like the aftermath of a recent tsunami and you can’t even find your diary, let alone use it.
And yet countless creative people seem to wear disorganisation as a badge of honour. Disorganisation saps your creative energy and distracts you from what you want to create. When your workspace is tidy, your whole concentration will be on what or you want to create. Nuff said!
There are countless books, articles and systems available to help you be better organised.
Learn how to use it, practice it and stick to it. You need to use a system consistently for several months before it becomes a habit.
So set up a system and then work it
Your blood pressure will thank you for it as you start to feel less anxiety and more in control of your life. Keep your diary with you — whether a phone app or a paper version — so whenever you think of something that you need to do or remember, you can write it down immediately and, more importantly know where to find it again.
4. Move your body
Exercise sends positive chemicals to the brain and leaves you feeling great. You don’t need to go to the gym necessarily; a walk, a run, a bike ride, yoga or whatever other activity you enjoy will help you relax and feel at ease.
5. The 30-second stress buster
This is short exercise is particularly useful to refocus if you’re feeling a bit distracted or anxious about tasks or information competing for your attention. Go on— do it now!
- Keeping your head still and facing forward, find a point in front of you and slightly above normal eye level, or focus your attention on the centre of your forehead.
- Fix your gaze on that point. Notice whatever details you can about that particular point.
- Loosen your jaw.
- Allow your mind to relax and let your awareness expand out to the sides of the room while still gazing at the spot in front of you.
- Notice what you can see, hear and feel in the outside edge of that space.
- Continue to expand your awareness all the way out to the sides of the room, while you continue to gaze at the spot.
- Once you notice your breathing has changed, lower your eyes to normal level and notice your new sense of calm and ease.
6. Realise you’re never going to get to ‘the end’
There will always be more to do — unless you’re dead — then you won’t need to worry anyway! We’re often so used to looking at all the things we’ve yet to complete on our ‘to do’ list, that we forget to take the time to acknowledge our achievements.
Make a list of the things you’ve achieved each day
Take just a moment to write in your diary (remember that?) the things that you have accomplished or progressed each day. Not only does it build your confidence to notice achievements, it helps you relax about the things still on your list — or mind map.
7. Say ‘No’ and mean it!
In my experience, being unable or unwilling to say ‘no’ can be a major cause of anxiety and inability to achieve ease both inside and outside of work. You might worry that if you say ‘no’ that something untoward will occur; maybe you’ll be turned in a pumpkin or a black toad.
But that’s because you’re probably not thinking it through clearly!
So let’s just look at the two options here; Yes and No, and at the ramifications of each as it applies to taking on extra work.
Let’s say your boss asks you to take on a new project
If you have the capacity to take on more then it’s probably not an issue.
But, let’s say you don’t have that capacity, and you know that taking on extra work will mean putting in untold work after hours.
In scenario one, you say ‘yes’
What does this signify to your boss? Perhaps:
- That you’ve got more capacity (whether you have or not is irrelevant at this stage — this is the signal you’re sending). Therefore maybe you weren’t working at full capacity to start with. Which probably means that when you’ve finished the current project, you’ll be given another to take up the ‘slack.’
- That you’re willing to take on more. Not a bad thing – if you had the time.
- Because you said yes to this, you may say yes to other tasks if your boss can’t find another way to delegate/off-load them. She may think you’re a pushover.
- You’re not being truthful or true to what’s important to you. (E.g. Not feeling anxiety and having some relaxing time to yourself outside of work)
In scenario 2 you say ‘no’
You explain to your boss that you cannot take on another project and the reasons for this. (If you worry about this creating conflict, read this post first.) What does your response signify to your boss?
- If she wants you to take on extra projects she will need to remove some of your current responsibilities.
- That you’re willing to take on more if something else can be offloaded.
- That you’re not a pushover.
- You’re being truthful and honest and backing yourself to have a life away from work.
People will treat you how you’ve taught them to treat you, based on your past behaviour.
What do you teach people by your behaviour?
If you want to get different responses from people, you need to behave differently. If you don’t respect your own out-of-work time — why should other people?
8. Visit The Calm Spot
If you can find 7 minutes alone in front of your computer (and let’s face it, it’s a bit sad if you can’t) visit The Calm Spot and I’ll have you relaxed, refreshed and anxiety-free, ready to face the world (or at least work) again! Find more ways to create a state that will help you get into flow.
If the company you work for has a culture where everyone works long hours, and this intensity of work is expected or demanded, you have three options as I see it:
- Put up and shut up (a very stressful option I might add).
- Try to change the culture (not always easy depending on your position and the influence you have) or
- Change your job.