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Mental 

Managing Stress at Work: 12 Tips to Reduce Work Anxiety

January 26, 2021 7 min read

Man sitting at desk at work

If you hear the word “stress” and immediately think of work, you’re not alone. Almost 70% of Americans say they experience moderate to high levels of stress at work.

Some workplace stress is perfectly normal, and a healthy amount of stress can actually be a positive thing, as it motivates us to accomplish things we care about. However, there’s a fine line between healthy, motivating stress and chronic stress that leads to anxiety, emotional exhaustion, and burnout

Stress and anxiety at work can come from any number of different sources—from conflicts with coworkers to disorganization, unfeasible expectations, or tight deadlines. 

Workplace anxiety can interfere not only with your job but with your personal life and relationships. Chronic stress can also increase chronic disease risk and weaken the immune system. 

Fortunately, many simple and effective strategies can help you managestress at work and regain a sense of balance and control in your life. From mastering time-management and deep breathing to optimizing your workspace, here are 12 tips and techniques to reduce work anxiety. 

12 tips to reduce work anxiety

Woman working from home looking at her computer

1. Establish a healthy morning routine

Managing stress at work can start before you even clock in. A healthy morning routine can help ensure that you arrive at your desk (or the equivalent) feeling calm, positive, and prepared. 

Depending on how much time you have in the morning, this might involve a short workout, writing in a journal, or even just taking five minutes in bed to focus on your breath. 

At the very least, make time to prepare a nourishing breakfast to help set yourself up for the day ahead. And try to avoid checking your email first thing in the morning, as it may cause you to start your day off with unnecessary stress. 

2. Optimize your workspace 

Your surroundings have a greater impact on your mental well-being than you may realize, and a workspace that is cluttered or uncomfortable can contribute to stress. If you have some control over your work environment, take steps towards making your space feel calming and positive. 

Consider diffusing essential oils like peppermint or lemon, which smell refreshing and can boost productivity and mood. Low-maintenance indoor plants like aloe, bamboo, or snake plants can make a workspace feel more comfortable while naturally purifying the air. 

The right lighting can also make a big difference. And if your desk chair is leaving you with a sore back or muscles, it’s time to upgrade: physical discomfort contributes to mental unease. 

3. Set clear boundaries  

The smartphone era has made it so that you can answer emails and messages anytime and anywhere. The rising prevalence of remote or home-based work has made it even harder to disconnect from work. 

Remember that just because you can be reached 24 hours a day doesn’t mean you should be. Being constantly switched “on” can lead to anxiety and burnout, and your work will ultimately suffer along with your state of mind. 

Start by establishing a set of clear, simple rules for yourself. For example, don’t send emails after 7 pm or keep the phone out of the bedroom entirely. 

Don’t be shy about communicating your new boundaries to your team either: Research shows that healthy boundaries can reduce stress and increase productivity. By setting these expectations, you can help provide the right kind of example for your colleagues.

4. Foster positive work relationships    

One study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that the quality of relationships among coworkers and their supervisors can reduce work-related anxiety and improve performance. 

Try to find at least one coworker you can confide in and build a mutually supportive relationship. Just make sure the chatter stays respectful: Gossip, workplace drama, and conflict can lead to more anxiety and stress. 

5. Learn a breathing or meditation technique   

An old adage says everyone should sit in meditation for 20 minutes per day, and those who are too busy should sit for an hour. While a practice of that length is not always possible, the general point is helpful: We should take time to breathe, especially when we’re stressed.

Meditation doesn’t have to be intimidating, and it doesn’t have to look a certain way. Deep breathing, circular breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation are simple techniques that can reduce stress, calm the mind, and restore balance within a couple of minutes. 

If you’re feeling anxious at work, take a five-minute break and focus on breathing in for a count of five with your hand on your belly, and then out for the same count. You can also try tensing all of your toes and then releasing them, gradually working your way up the body. 

6. Clarify expectations   

Anxiety is often due to uncertainty, and unclear expectations or requirements can be a major source of stress and anxiety at work. Rather than worry in silence, speak with your supervisor if you need clarification on what’s expected of you or what you should be prioritizing. 

Although it may be nerve-wracking in the moment, establishing precise requirements and objectives is likely to help lessen stress for both you and your supervisor, allowing you to spend less time worrying and more time getting work done. 

7. Take control with time management 

Effective time management is one of the best ways to reduce overwhelm at work. Many strategies and techniques exist to help you take back control of your time. 

One of the simplest things you can do when you’re feeling overwhelmed with everything you have to do is make a list. Just the act of getting your thoughts and tasks down on paper can help reduce your mental burden and instill a feeling of control. 

To beat overwhelm before it starts, develop a time- and task-management system you can regularly use to plan your days, weeks, and projects. Programs like Things, Airtable, and ClickUp can help you organize tasks and projects for you or your whole team. 

Strategies like time-blocking can also help you plan out where you’ll spend your time and energy in a given day, helping to relieve stress. 

Woman taking notes to manage stress at work

8. Get moving 

The connection between exercise, mood, and anxiety has been well-established, but sometimes during a busy workday (or week), it can feel impossible to squeeze in a workout. The good news is that just a quick walk around the block at lunchtime or jumping jacks in your office can help release mood-boosting endorphins and combat the physiological and mental effects of stress. 

Giving your eyes a rest from the computer screen is another important reason to take regular movement breaks. When you really can’t get away, focus on exercises you can do at your desk, like stretching and moving your hands, arms, and neck muscles. Bouncing on an exercise ball while you’re working or switching to an active standing desk can also help keep your blood flowing and anxiety to a minimum. 

9. Stay well-nourished (and hydrated) 

What you eat has a massive impact on your mental health and state of mind. While it can be tempting to grab fast food or sweet snacks in the middle of a long workday, it’s likely to make things worse. 

Craving junk food when you’re under pressure is normal. When levels of the stress hormone cortisol are elevated, it can lead to cravings for indulgent and satisfying foods. But sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods can lead to energy crashes, brain fog, and increased anxiety. Excess caffeine from coffee or soda can similarly exacerbate feelings of anxiety. 

Try to keep nourishing, brain-healthy snacks like nuts and blueberries on hand to combat cravings and provide balance, and look into healthier coffee alternatives to get you through the day. 

In general, a diet high in whole foods, antioxidants, and healthy fats can help ease stress and anxiety. It’s also important to stay hydrated throughout the day for optimal mental function. Keep a water bottle or jug at your desk, and consider setting a timer to remind yourself to take a drink. 

10. Support a healthy stress response with adaptogens 

Adaptogens are a category of herbs that help manage or reduce stress. The adaptogenic herb ashwagandha, in particular, is known for its ability to help normalize the stress response and reduce anxiety. 

When supplemented in conjunction with a healthy diet and lifestyle, ashwagandha and other adaptogens can help support the adrenal system and improve cognitive function. 

11. Speak up 

A survey on workplace anxiety found that about 60% of those who feel that stress gets in the way of their work avoid talking to their employers about it. This is often out of fear that they will be seen as uninterested, unwilling, or weak. But avoiding difficult conversations or letting worries build up can intensify feelings of anxiety and lead to burnout. 

If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or unhappy, sit down with a coworker or a supervisor and talk it through. Even just voicing your concerns out loud can help take some of the pressure off. And speaking up can help foster an environment of acceptance and mental well-being within the workplace. 

12. Get to know your stress 

Sometimes when we feel stressed or anxious about something, we try to avoid the feeling or pretend it’s not there. But suppressing uncomfortable feelings doesn’t make them go away, and it can actually make them worse. 

Instead, pay attention to your anxiety, and try to learn from it. Acknowledging and even writing down your fears can help you make sense of them. And once you’ve accepted the anxiety, you may be able to channel some of the stress into productive energy. 

Key takeaways

Some amount of stress at work is normal, and it will never be eliminated entirely. However, chronic or excessive workplace anxiety can get in the way of both work and life, not to mention its effects on health. 

Effective strategies for managing stress at work include time-management techniques, open communication, and healthy lifestyle habits. It’s also essential to set clear boundaries and expectations, and to remain mindful when anxiety rears its head. 

For additional help, adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha can help regulate the stress response and restore balance and calm.* 

If anxiety about work becomes overwhelming or is interfering with your daily life, consider seeking support from a qualified healthcare professional. 

Ellie Ellias - Contributing Writer, Physician’s Choice