Almost everyone has experienced some form of stress or anxiety at work. It’s completely normal. In fact, stress can even be healthy, motivating us to go further.
But when that pressure becomes too overwhelming, the consequences can be severe.
According to the Center for Workplace Mental Health, workplace stress results in nearly $190 billion in health care costs each year. More concerning, it also causes approximately 120,000 deaths each year.
Science behind stress
We all understand the concept of stress, but how does it actually work?
Whenever we’re in a moment of high-pressure, like presenting during an important meeting or starting the first day on the job, our nervous system releases stress hormones. These include adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. Each one affects how we perceive the threat, as well as how we formulate a response. This is also known as the stress response, or “fight-or-flight”.
As your brain processes a response, there is a struggle between the emotional brain and your rational brain. The emotional brain, also known as the limbic system, is a set of structures in your brain that deals with emotion and memory. Your rational brain is the part that can think clearly and logically to solve problems.
So whenever you feel stressed, your brain is trying to figure out what to do based on your experiences and your knowledge. But too much stress can lead to more serious problems, such as fatigue, headaches, chest pain, and more. It can also lead to anxiety, which is an unexplainable fear of something about to come. Prolonged periods of stress can lead to anxiety disorder.
Sources of Anxiety at Work
From dealing with difficult customers to managing a team, there is an endless list of reasons to feel under pressure. Here are a few of the most common causes of anxiety.
– Workload – Long working hours or large projects can grind a person down. The feeling of always having something to do while never getting anything done is common within the workplace.
– Workplace conflicts – Sometimes the best-intentioned coworkers can still butt heads with each other. When the argument turns from professional to personal, it can be even more stressful. But it isn’t just one’s relationship with coworkers— conflicts with customers, partners, or vendors can bring great stress.
– Problems at home – It’s possible to feel anxiety at work, even if it isn’t work-related. Sometimes, your mind can be elsewhere, worrying about family, pets, unfinished chores, or something else entirely unrelated.
– Uncertainty with the business – From the top executive to the new employee, everyone at a company has some concern about the future success of the business. The less certain its path, the more anxious its workers.
Tips to Reduce Anxiety
– Find and develop hobbies – Work is just one part of your life, remember to take the time to do other activities you enjoy. Pick up a sport, learn a new skill, or make something for yourself. That side activity may be just what you need to do after work.
– Taking breaks at work – Give yourself time to breathe and recharge between major work tasks. Use the pomodoro technique to stay productive while preventing burnout. You can’t do your best if you constantly feel overworked.
– Meditation – Mindfulness can help you in accepting anxiety. It all boils down to focusing on your breath and the thoughts cloud your mind. Consider Healthline’s list of breathing techniques if you’re feeling anxious.
– Exercise – Physical activity is one of the most effective ways to get your blood flowing and to get motivated for the day. Whether you’re weightlifting or running, it seems impossible until you finish your set, and then you’re ready to take on the day.
– Healthy eating – There’s a saying that goes: “you are what you eat”. If you tend to dine on take out and junk food, you’ll start to feel pretty bad about yourself over time. Develop a balanced diet by taking the time to buy your own ingredients and cook for yourself (or meal prep during the weekend if you don’t have time).
– Speaking to others – Talk to others, your family, your coworkers, and your friends! Bottling up your thoughts and feelings won’t serve any purpose except to bring you more suffering. Having someone listen to us can feel transformative.
Apps to Reduce Anxiety and Stress
Out of all the meditation apps online, Calm is undoubtedly the most popular. The app won Apple’s App of the Year in 2017, Google Play’s Editors’ Choice in 2018, and has consistently earned the #1 spot in the Apple app store’s Health and Fitness category. Listen to guided meditations, relaxing music, video lessons on mindful movement and stretching, and even audio classes from experts.
You can get Calm as a 7-day free trial, $69.99 billed annually, or $399.99 billed once to keep forever.
Headspace is similar to Calm in that it offers videos, podcasts (called Sleepcasts), music, and guided meditations, but presented in a more simple and colorful app. Each day, a new meditation gets added, so you’ll never have to worry about running out of things to listen to. Check out this mini-meditation provided free by Headspace:
Headspace is available for free for two-weeks, after which you can get it for $69.99 per year or $12.99 per month.
While the first two apps focus on mindfulness with sections for stress and anxiety, Sanvello (previously known as Pacifica) is designed specifically for improving self-care and mental health. The app was started by Chris Goettel and Dale Beermann after realizing how difficult it was for people to find genuine mental health relief. The app offers daily self-care, cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques, and a community of users willing to support each other.
Get Sanvello for $8.99 per month, $53.99 per year, or free with your insurance (although your coverage may vary).
Although it isn’t as sleek or attractive as its peers, Breathe2Relax offers a useful suite of tools to help you manage your stress. Developed by the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, Breathe2Relax offers visual aids for diaphragmatic breathing, body scanning, stress evaluations, and even heart rate tracking through HealthKit integration. The best part of this app? It’s totally free.
Stress may be common in the workplace, but it doesn’t always have to turn into anxiety. The workplace is where we spend most of our lives, so cultivating a positive and nurturing environment should be both an individual and collective responsibility.
Note, these apps are not meant to be replacements for professional medical help. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please consider calling the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (988) or the 24/7 crisis text line (Text “HOME” to 741741). Your life matters.