The average adult will spend a cumulative 13 years (at least) working, but this doesn’t account for the many hours of overtime or working from home that have become routine for us. What’s more, thanks to the internet, smartphones, and e-mail, many of us feel the pressure to be contactable and accountable at all times. A recent study in Canada found that, on average, we spend 5.3 hours a week checking our e-mails at home. And then there are financial pressures, time spent away from family, work-related travel, and that promotion to chase. It’s no wonder then that so many people are reporting high levels of work-related stress and anxiety.
But that’s not all; work-related anxiety can also be caused by your professional environment. For example, workplace bullying or harassment can be extremely anxiety-provoking experiences and are often quite hard to deal with, especially if the bullying is perpetrated by a senior colleague. Concern about performance can also be a significant source of anxiety for people in the workforce and, at its most extreme, can present as something that has been labelled “imposter syndrome”. This is when an individual begins to doubt their ability and performance despite having no legitimate feedback or evidence to support this belief. They may worry that they are going to get “caught out” and seen as “fraud”. This kind of anxiety can be extremely distressing and hard to manage.
The average adult will spend a cumulative 13 years (at least) working.
As a result, a staggering number of work days are lost each year to mental health problems, which are the leading cause of sick leave above any physical health condition.
So how do we tackle work-related anxiety?
First of all, work at putting boundaries in place to protect time outside of work and to manage the demands of the work environment. This will allow you to find the time to do things that are important to you, and it will help with making positive lifestyle choices that are important for reducing anxiety.
One of the first things a psychologist will ask people struggling with anxiety about is their lifestyle. Crucially, are they getting enough sleep, regular exercise, and good nutrition? Often, when people are anxious, they work harder and longer to try and compensate, but this can get in the way of good self-care. They may also rely on unhelpful coping strategies such as drinking a lot of caffeine to fuel the long hours and overeating or undereating. And so, a vicious cycle emerges. Speak with your manager and HR about your workload and the company’s expectations to ensure that they are clear, realistic, and achievable, and update these discussions regularly.
Workplaces can also tackle anxiety from within. Providing an environment and information that encourage mental wellbeing, such as walking breaks at lunch time, flexi-time options, and compassionate communication around mental-health issues, will help employees get well and stay well. Structured review processes that clearly lay out expectations and pathways to pay rises and promotions, and provide opportunity for professional and career development, will not just assist employees but are likely to have a positive impact on things like productivity and retention rates. Having workplace policies, training, and awareness about mental health is a great way of supporting the workforce and the business.
Here are some top tips for managing work-related anxiety.
Make (and keep) time for you.
This might be time out, time in, time for meditation, or spending quality time with your family.
Set (and keep) times for checking work e-mails during non-work hours.
Do this only if you absolutely must and then turn your work e-mail or messages off. Another tip is to get a work phone that is separate from your personal one, if you can, so that you avoid falling into a dark hole of e-mails every time you want to open WhatsApp.
Take a screen detox or at least reduce screen time.
Many smartphones come with time-monitoring functions now, which means that you can limit the time you spend on any one app.
Ensure you get adequate sleep.
If you’re not sure what that looks like, download the Sleep Better app for a more data-backed approach.
Spend time with animals.
This has been proven to support the release of oxytocin, the love hormone, in your body. If you don’t have a pet, visit a shelter. K9 Friends Dubai provides you with the opportunity of sponsoring dogs, spending time with them at the shelter, or simply taking them on a walk.
Alternatively, reach out to Katherine Winny of Equus, who uses horses for therapy, life coaching, and de-stressing in Dubai.
You’ve heard it before, but self-care is not selfish. In fact, it’s a crucial step in surviving the demands of modern life. Click here for Goodness’ guide to self-care.
Find a new hobby.
Whether it’s learning to play a new instrument, cooking, or taking a dance class, this can help uplift your mood.
Gather friends for a night of painting.
Artist Pals holds weekly painting sessions all around Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It’s a great way to meet new people and learn a new skill.
Experiment with essential oils.
Lavender, geranium, sandalwood, neroli, and bergamot are commonly used to soothe and relax. You can use them in spray form, put them into a roll-on bottle or diffuser, or add some drops to a bath.
In Dubai, Goodness contributor Melany Oliver runs regular essential-oil workshops. Contact her here.
Connect with loved ones and friends.
Make a fun plan with people whose company you enjoy, and don’t discuss work.
Maintain a regular exercise routine.
This can just be getting out for a walk in the evenings or it might be a class or yoga practice that you enjoy. High intensity is not a pre-requisite. In fact, if you are experiencing a lot of stress, you’re better off with a slower workout that is less taxing on your hormones.
Ask for regular feedback from your colleagues.
This will allow you to accurately evaluate your performance and set realistic goals and targets.
Turn to someone you trust or to a counsellor or psychologist if you feel you cannot manage the anxiety alone. The Lighthouse Arabia offers a team of trained experts who are there to help.
Dr. Rose Logan is a Consultant Psychologist at Dubai’s The Lighthouse Arabia.