For many of us, the current period is providing unprecedented levels of work anxiety. Not only do we have to protect ourselves (and worry about our loved ones), the pandemic has led to millions of redundancies and forced the vast majority of office staff to work from home.
The shift to virtual working has its advantages, such as bringing us more time with kids and pets and removing the hassle of the daily commute. However, it has also left many of us feeling disconnected from our peers and forced us to take ownership of our work schedules – a task that can be fraught with problems.
The Spacehuntr team has felt the full effects these past few months. We’re all now working remotely, something which can be rather tricky when you’re trying to manage events venues from Stockholm to Barcelona! But it’s also given us a priceless insight into how to handle stress at work and enabled us to put strategies in place to maintain our mental health.
In this post, we’re going to share some of the strategies that have helped us manage our collective work anxiety and rebuild our company for the new, remote reality. We hope they prove useful.
Get the Right Tools
To truly understand how to deal with anxiety at work, we need to look first at time management, a problem millions of people struggle with. Our homes are filled with distraction. So it’s easy to get sidetracked, fall behind in our work and slip into a vicious circle of anxiety.
Sign up for a project management application such as Asana, Basecamp, Trello or Workfront. Many companies already use these at the enterprise level. If yours doesn’t, you can register for a personal account (they’re often free for individual users) and assign yourself tasks each day. When you complete a task, mark it complete – that way, you can keep track of your progress and get the satisfaction of ticking off your assignments one by one.
Finally, try to avoid using email too much. Our inboxes are already full to bursting point (before the pandemic, the average business user was getting 140 emails a day), and the volume of messages has only increased. These messages can drain our productivity and significantly reduce the time available for more important tasks, adding to our stress at work and home.
So if you have to talk to your colleagues about a project, it’s best to use real-time messenger tools such as Slack. Not only will this reduce the strain on your inbox, but it will also give you some priceless contact time with your colleagues (something we’ll talk about in more detail later).
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Take Regular Breaks
Another common source of work anxiety is the feeling of burnout. The boundaries between work and home are becoming increasingly blurred. This means many of us are working longer hours because we have no ‘going home time’ any more. The problem was highlighted by a recent study among British Millennials, which found that the top three causes of burnout are working longer hours (cited by 59% of respondents) and an inability to separate work and personal lives (42%).
To combat this problem, we’d recommend dividing your day into clear time periods, with regular breaks. One strategy that might help is the Pomodoro technique. It breaks down the day into short chunks with gaps between each one. That way, you can channel your focus and give yourself plenty of respite during the day. And make sure you finish at a specific time each day: no task is more important than your mental health.
It’s also good practice to take regular holidays, even if you can’t use them to jet off into the sun. Holidays are a necessary part of our work-life balance and play a key role in preventing the build-up of stress at work.
Kaylee O’Neill, a workplace wellbeing lead at AkzoNobel in the UK, has spent months looking at handling anxiety at work. She says she strongly advises her colleagues to use their holiday entitlement, even if they have to stay home.
“Even if they use it to complete a Netflix series, it enables them to disconnect from work and come back refreshed,” she explains. “One of my colleagues recently took a week off and spent it playing video games, but that’s great – because they were able to detach themselves from the company and give themselves a break.”
Stay in Contact With Your Peers
Loneliness and disconnection are issues that come up time and time again. Many employers have found it hard to fix this problem, so it’s important we take proactive steps to stay in touch with our colleagues.
Don’t hesitate to suggest a virtual coffee break with your team or a particular colleague. Many companies are arranging these breaks already. Even if it’s just a quick catch-up on Slack, it’ll help you maintain those social contacts and alleviate your stress. At work, it’s crucial that we share our experience with our colleagues, as problems shared are usually problems halved.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your boss proactively. Employers are under huge pressure right now, and many are neglecting to provide their people with appraisals and progress updates. But if we don’t get the feedback we need, it’s easy to start worrying about our performance and whether our employer is happy.
John Binns MBE is Vice-Chair of MIND, one of Europe’s leading mental health charities. He says one of the key sources of stress at work is uncertainty about whether we’re doing a good job.
“Feeling that you’re valued and important is a critical part of mental health. Feeling that you don’t matter, that your motives are questioned all the time, that you’re not important, that you’re not cared about are major negative factors in mental health. Feeling isolated, feeling not part of things can have a real negative impact.”
So don’t be afraid to reach out to your boss or line manager and ask them how you’re doing. If they’ve spent any time thinking about how to handle stress at work, they’ll be happy to assist.
Get Into Meditation
It’s easy to get trapped in our heads when we’re working from home. Alone and with no-one to talk to, our minds can trap us in an endless cycle of negative thoughts, leading to work anxiety and a dip in well-being.
To alleviate this problem, try some mindfulness and meditation exercises. These will get you out of your head and back into your body. Some of the most popular exercises are:
- Deep breathing. Just practise breathing slowly for a few minutes and allowing all the negative thoughts to drift away. This is really useful when we’re having a busy day, and it feels like the end of a Tetris game when all the blocks are falling on top of us.
- Bodyscan. Close your eyes, and try to ‘feel’ each part of your body, from your forehead down to your toes. Focus your energy on that particular body part, and see how it feels. You’ll be amazed how, when you really focus, you can actually feel what’s going on in every part of your anatomy. And it gives the mind a lovely break, too.
- Count the objects. Set yourself the task of counting all the objects of a particular type in your immediate surroundings. How many red colours can you see? How many yellow colours? How many wooden objects? How many electronic devices? This may sound basic, but it helps to bring you back into the world.
One app we recommend is called Headspace. It’s full of useful meditation exercises and allows you to build up to meditation slowly. Most people find it hard to slow down and get into the exercise at first, but over time, you’ll become a master at channelling your inner zen!
Remember: Everyone Struggles
One dangerous and common trap is to criticise ourselves too much. We expect things to be as smooth as they were back in the office, when in fact, we’re dealing with so many more challenges than we would normally.
If you’re struggling to focus on your work right now or don’t feel like you can get into a good rhythm, accept it. If you feel like you’re taking too many breaks or you’re not starting work at a uniform time each day, understand that many others are finding it difficult to establish these working patterns too.
Our society is hugely competitive, and it’s all too easy to judge ourselves against our peers. But right now, we’re all facing the same problems, and instead of looking for individual perfection, we should seek strength in the common experience.
Featured image: Eggs via unsplash