Overcome Workplace Anxiety
By Amy Lemley
But it’s not that simple. Avoiding doesn’t take away the stress. Instead, it puts you constantly on edge and your underlying worry only grows.
Break the Avoidance Habit and Beat Your Anxiety
It takes 21 days to instill a new habit. Set a goal and stick to it, and you can overcome your addiction to avoidance and triumph over workplace anxiety.
Begin with Small Challenges. Returning phone calls, for example. Lily’s throat tightened and her breath got shallow whenever she saw that blinking red light on her desk phone that meant she had voice mail. She created a challenge: “Check my messages three times a day; call back within an hour.” After 21 days, she realized the energy she spent avoiding calls and then feeling bad about doing so was much more exhausting than the anxiety symptoms she experienced while handling calls.
Build up to Larger Challenges. Learning to prioritize, for instance. As a paralegal, Sandra handled both long-term projects and quick requests. She avoided the longer projects by blaming those short tasks. Yet she often “forgot” to handle those interruptions promptly. She worried obsessively that her bosses would let her go.
For 21 days, she adopted the mantra of “Do it now.” She attached to deadlines—rather than putting them out of her mind or rehearsing an excuse for missing them. Anytime she was interrupted by a task that would take less than two minutes to handle—e-mailing someone with a quick question or checking the calendar to confirm an appointment, she did it. Right then. After 21 days, she not only felt less nervous, she actually looked forward to the energy rush her adrenaline gave her as she completed a project.
Take a Good Hard Look at Yourself
Your workplace anxiety is not your fault. But it’s not your boss’s or co-workers’ fault either. Don’t cut yourself slack by saying, “This is just the way I am.” Instead, realize that avoiding is something you do, not someone you are.
Think about it: If you have learned to avoid doing those things that make you nervous at work, then you can condition yourself to accomplish those things. Will you still feel anxiety? Yes, especially at first. But practice makes perfect. And the paradox is that nobody is perfect. Confront that fact and you’re on your way to a more balanced outlook.
“Balancing your mind states is the key to overcoming workplace anxiety,” says Jonathan Berent, LCSW, coauthor of Work Makes Me Nervous: Overcome Anxiety and Build the Confidence to Succeed. “When you can turn down the volume on that inner critical script that makes you nervous, you can turn up the volume on more productive and encouraging messages to help you handle whatever comes along.”
How can you balance these “mind states”? Nurture yourself with the same words of encouragement you might offer a friend. Remind yourself that you’re lucky to have a job. Be objective about what tasks you need to complete and how long they will take. Give yourself credit when you do what you were supposed to do and did it well. And be willing to experiment with new and better ways to do what you do—ask questions, learn new skills, change perspectives.
Your new friend—adrenaline—will thank you.
Amy Lemley considers herself a recovering “avoidance addict.” She is coauthor with Jonathan Berent, LCSW, of Work Makes Me Nervous: Overcome Workplace Anxiety and Build the Confidence to Succeed (Wiley, 2010) as well as their first book, Beyond Shyness: How to Conquer Social Anxieties (Simon & Schuster, 1993) and five other titles. She is also an entrepreneur and a senior editor at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business Administration. For more information on workplace and performance anxiety, visit www.socialanxiety.com.
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