According to Mental Health First Aid England, 1 in 6 people at work will experience anxiety or problems related to stress at any one time. Feeling overwhelmed at work is a stress response when we feel the demand on us outweighs our resources. This can take us into survival mode where we are unable to think clearly or concentrate and we constantly worry and feel out of control. To others we may appear defensive or irritable and it can cause difficulties with working relationships. As well as the emotional toll anxiety can manifest in unpleasant and debilitating physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, headaches, not being able to relax or sleep well.
I spent over 20 years in the fashion industry where overwhelm and anxiety are commonplace due to the pressure of excessive workloads and long hours. Although fashion may appear exciting and glamorous from the outside it is a demanding lifestyle, fast paced and highly competitive. Many well-known designers and entrepreneurs in the industry have suffered from burnout and worse but it is evident throughout the industry at all levels.
Having experienced burnout myself when I began my career as a young designer, I understand how hard it is to ask for help, but having eventually found the courage to do so it was life changing. With the right support I was able to make positive and transformational changes to the way I was working and living. It enabled me to reclaim my motivation to enjoy and succeed in the career I loved. I was healthier and happier knowing I was more resilient and had the tools to manage and respond to challenges when faced with them.
The most important step is to take action and seek help if it is interfering with our everyday living. We can learn strategies and routines that will help reduce overwhelm. It is crucial to understand what is at the root of our anxiety and build a personal toolkit so we can have more than one strategy to implement when stress and anxiety kick in.
Here are 8 ways to help manage anxiety
1. Become more self aware
Self awareness is paramount when it comes to managing stress because if we know ourselves well enough then tuning into our feelings, thoughts and behaviours daily allows us to recognise any early warning signs of stress. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling now?” Reflect on how you are feeling physically and emotionally. Have you noticed any changes in the way you behave or respond to situations or other people? Someone else may notice change in your behaviour so rather than being in denial or defensive consider the benefit of taking a moment to reflect. This may be a gift that can help you to acknowledge the early warning signs of stress when you can reduce the risk of longer-term health issues.
2. Identify your triggers
If you are experiencing overwhelm and anxiety at work it is important to identify why you are feeling that way. Be self aware and honest about what is causing you stress. Is your workload too great? Are there not enough hours in the day? Is your boss putting excessive pressure on you? Do you lack the resources needed to complete the task in hand? Knowing your personal triggers is the first step to dealing with your anxiety. Keep a journal of your thoughts, feelings and actions and what causes you to feel stressed. Writing them down helps to clarify the issues.
3. Don't suffer in silence
If your workload is unmanageable it’s a good idea to speak to your boss. This might seem really difficult to do but if you do nothing then nothing will change and it will only get worse. If you plan ahead for the meeting and remain calm and professional, you are more likely to get a positive response. Be clear about your job description and identify what you are doing, how long the tasks are taking and what resources you need and why your workload is challenging. Take some control by suggesting practical solutions that would help to alleviate the problem.
4. Change your view
Putting things into perspective can be difficult at work especially when it feels all-consuming. Remember to focus on the important things in your life. It’s not just about work. Recognise what you have control over and try to consciously let go of those things that you can’t control. Even when you can’t control circumstances you can control how you respond to them.
"Life is ten percent what you experience and ninety percent how you respond to it."
Dorothy M. Neddermeyer
5. Nurture yourself and your wellbeing
When you are overwhelmed the tendency is to just keep going even though you are exhausted. However when things are tough at work it is important to remember that prioritising your health and wellbeing is more important than ever. Set boundaries between work and the rest of your life. Commit to include other activities outside work into your day and stick to them. Ask a friend or someone you trust to make sure you do the things you decide to do. Don’t isolate yourself, enjoy time with a friend, get involved with an activity you love or help someone else so you take the focus away from yourself. Even a short walk during the working day outside in a different environment helps to break the cycle of overwhelm. Listen to a relaxation or mindfulness app or make some time just to relax and do nothing to reclaim your energy.
6. Live in the present
Focusing on the future is unproductive and stress inducing so focusing on the present is more helpful. Take each day as it comes. Focus on your life, connecting with friends and finding enjoyment and gratitude for everyday simple tasks and events. Laugh and smile, humour can help break a negative stream of thought.
7. Stress is not all bad
It is important to recognise that you need positive stress (eustress), to motivate you and help you achieve your goals. Stress is inevitable but rather than seeing it as all bad try finding ways to embrace it and use it for good. Building resilience and mental toughness will help you learn how to control your mind rather than letting your mind control you. Kelly McGonigal’s book, The Upside of Stress: Why stress is good for you (and how to get good at it), is well worth a read.
8. Take action
If you have difficulty managing stress and it impedes your ability to carry out your normal daily activities then don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Asking for help is not a weakness, taking action will help you to reduce your anxiety, increase your resilience and build a happier and healthier life. You can learn how to master your mind and create the life you want. Do something about it today. It really helps to talk.
Kelly McGonigal - The Upside of Stress: Why stress is good for you (and how to get good at it)