Tucked in shirt, polished smile. Check inbox, respond to emails, refresh inbox. Repeat.
Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself incredibly lucky to have found myself here. A place with a stable job and coworker-turned-friends. However, when deadlines pile on deadlines, and it feels like the work that’s on my plate involves a 2-for-1 version of myself, I can’t help but find myself feeling a bit overwhelmed. That, plus the constant voice in my head that tells me I’m not good enough, smart enough, quick enough, and any other thing that is running through my mind that can sometimes feel like a constant to-do list of where I am going wrong.
It’s especially intense when I am in an environment where I am surrounded by people left and right, who seem like they have it all figured out, with no room for privacy unless you count the public restroom.
I needed advice about coping with my anxiety at work, and I thought maybe you would want some too. Just know, even when it feels like there’s no way out, there is. This will pass and we will be above and beyond this anxiety wave, and the next one after that.
Living in New York City, there is no such thing as privacy, which is something I always seek when I am feeling anxious. If I feel like I need a way out yet but can’t get one, I will do everything in my power to tune out the environment around me. I’ve downloaded meditation apps, such as Simple Habits and Headspace, that I will listen to with headphones as I take a walk or a bathroom break to clear my head and breathe. If I am needed at my desk, I will Google music and panic attack remedy videos that are specifically designed to help calm you down.
If I can, I will brew myself a cup of peppermint tea and rub lavender oil in the palms of my hands. Additionally, I will breathe in through my nose for four seconds, and out through my mouth for seven.
And if nothing else, I will text a friend and be honest. I am no psychiatrist, so I can’t say these solutions are the end-all, be-all fix to anxiety. But for me? They give me a safe space and a reminder to slow down and listen to myself when I need to the most.
I try to be as proactive as possible when I comes to my anxiety as I find preventing an anxiety attack is far easier to recover from than an actual anxiety attack. Of course, this means you have to become aware of the signs of an oncoming anxiety attack as well as any triggers for it.
I’ve found that the Breathe app on my AppleWatch is fantastic for anytime I get a little anxious outside the comforts of my home. You merely have to step away to a quiet place (like the bathroom) and follow its guided breathing. It also tells you your heart rate at the end. If you don’t have a smart watch with these capabilities, any kind of guided breathing app can be a lifesaver. Buddify is another go-to for me.
Caffeine is a major anxiety trigger for me. Of course, I’m not going to give up my travel mug of Earl Grey tea, so I opt instead to make sure I pair my mass quantities of tea with food. Too much caffeine and too little food is a recipe for disaster in my experience, so make sure you’ve got access to some snacks when these moments arise.
Taking a walk outside or spending your lunch break with your pet are also great things to help your mental health in general. I know this isn’t a possibility for everyone, but if you can opt for an hour lunch break to spend some time with your pet and get a break from your office and workload, this can be a major refresher. Being able to step away from an anxiety-inducing situation in some way or form is valuable. Likewise, getting away from your desk is what makes a break truly a break in my book.
I like to focus on prevention, too, and one of my biggest triggers is feeling unorganized. I feel as though I have a million things to do and no idea where to start. Since I spend so much time on my phone, I hopped on the productivity app bandwagon, and it has been a life changer.
I use Todoist. On this app you can list every task you can think of that you need done, color code them based on level of priority, have it set up task reminders on your phone when you want the task done, or when it’s nearing the deadline you set for yourself, and even assign the task to someone else in your network (if it’s a task that’s related to work, etc.)
This makes life seem less overwhelming. I can recognize through it that life is busy, but that I can do things so long as I tackle one project at a time.
On that note, the Forest app is a fun way to stay on task during the day. It has you set a time limit for whatever task you’re about to begin, and then starts a countdown. During that time you’re not receiving notifications and are discouraged from checking social media or email. If you completed your task without distraction, a cute cartoon tree grows on your screen. If not, the tree gets sad and dies. Perhaps a little gruesome, but it gets the job done, and I’m competitive and want the most trees in my forest.
Other than that, I’m a firm believer in eating foods high in antioxidants and Vitamin C, such as blueberries, because there is evidence that it helps regulate and prevent spikes in cortisol level. I avoid caffeine when I can, and I always make sure I’m keeping myself full. It’s impossible to think rationally and organize on an empty stomach.
If I do find myself panicking at work, I use the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. It circulated through Tumblr and Facebook for a while, but it’s been great for easing or completely stopping an anxiety attack. It’s simple. You look around you and find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
I think the original idea for this strategy was to distract your mind for minute or two and help regulate breathing. I find that it grounds me. I recognize that life is going on like normal around me, I’m still alive and well, and that anything I’m concerned about will be there after I’ve calmed down.
Most importantly I make sure I’m breathing through my diaphragm, and staying hydrated.
Having a panic attack is nothing to be embarrassed about, and even though it’s stressful to experience it in the workplace, it’s normal, and I try to remind myself and others suffering around me that we’re not alone.
I hope you have found these suggestions to be helpful! If you have any recommendations or ideas on how to relieve panic attacks at work, or if you would like to start a conversation about your relationship with anxiety, please feel free to reach out by either commenting below or tweeting us @litdarling.
Breathe in, breathe out, and know moments of panic don’t take away from the work you’ve put forward into being grounded.
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