We have all experienced times when our jobs have seemed more stressful than usual. Even if you enjoy your job and have good relationships with your colleagues it’s all too easy to find yourself being overwhelmed and feeling stressed causing your anxiety levels to rise especially if there is also a lot going on at home too.
Feeling overwhelmed by our feelings can be difficult to manage and if this is a new experience for you it can be really scary as you might believe you are losing control of your mind even though it is a temporary experience. Having these feeling come on suddenly in the office or in a professional environment such as a work event is something we all dread as these are the moments, we want to show our very best side and show we are in control.
Below, Cathy explains the feeling of anxiety and what you can do to overcome and ease anxiety at work.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety can be felt in a number of ways from low-level anxiety that makes you feel a bit worried to heightened anxiety that can be really scary and possibly cause a panic attack. Anxiety intensifies over a period of time and is often associated with extreme fear and worry and can be accompanied by a wide variety of symptoms.
Some of these are experienced as feelings and thoughts and others are experienced physically in the ‘fight or flight’ response, a physiological reaction that occurs in
response to acute stress where the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated by the sudden release of hormones to prepare you to take action against a perceived threat.
Your head might be telling you, you need to escape, a feeling of losing control, an overwhelming sense of dread or that you might act irrationally. Meanwhile, your body is experiencing a whole host of physical symptoms such as a racing heart, cold or hot sweats, dizziness or light-headedness, you might want to be sick or start shaking uncontrollably.
It can be difficult to know whether what you are experiencing is a panic attack or anxiety because they can be experienced similarly.
Generally, anxiety has milder symptoms that build gradually and can last from a few minutes to several hours but can sometimes continue for days.
Anxiety can range from mild to severe and is always there in the background of everyday life.
What is a panic attack?
Panic attacks can come on very quickly and without warning and they can be very frightening to experience. The onset of a panic attack may not be related to anything happening in that moment.
If you have had one you will recognise some of these symptoms:
- A racing or pounding heart
- Feeling weak, faint or dizzy
- Tingling or numbness in your hands and fingers
- Feeling hot and sweaty or cold and shivery
- Strong pain or tightness across your chest
- Difficulty catching your breath, breathlessness or feeling unable to breathe
- Nausea or feeling sick
- Feeling as if you have no control over your body
- Trembling or shaking uncontrollably
- A feeling of having hollow legs or wobbly ‘jelly-like’ legs that are going to give way
- Feeling disconnected from yourself or the people or place around you.
The average length of a panic attack is about 10 minutes but they can last between five and 20 minutes. Having a panic attack is such an overwhelming experience: some people describe it as feeling like they have completely lost control, and others think they are having a heart attack and fear they are going to die.
How can you help yourself with the experience of panic attacks and anxiety?
There are a number of things you can do to help yourself when you are having a panic attack or feeling anxious.
If you are in a public place and you are able to move to somewhere more private, it may be helpful. Some of these strategies can even be done in the most private place, the loo!
Put simply, self-regulation is the ability to calm yourself down or self-soothe in response to having a strong reaction, like disappointment, panic, overwhelm, anxiety, fear, anger and grief, so that we can manage and control our emotions in a socially and personally acceptable way. The ability to care for yourself in this way supports you to identify when your feelings become aroused and how best to respond to stop such big feelings escalating further, enabling you to stay in control and make better or more informed choices in managing your emotions.
If you have had a panic attack or suffered from anxiety previously, you will recognise what is happening and it is helpful to accept what is taking place, even though it feels frightening. Remind yourself that you don’t feel like this all the time, the sensations will pass, and you will be okay.
6 techniques to manage your anxiety at work:
Take a deep breath in, but instead of just breathing out normally make a sighing sound as you breathe out. Sighing out like this pushes the breath out, enabling you to take a deeper breath in to fill the whole of your lungs and not just the top part of your lungs where we shallow breathe. It is especially helpful in releasing the immediate physical tension you may be holding when feeling overwhelmed or anxious. It is very helpful to practise this regularly.
Sit as far back in a chair as you can with your spine pressed against the back of the chair. This can feel very comforting, as if someone ‘has your back’ – enjoy that experience of connection and support.
In a seated position, place both feet on the ground and push them down into the floor. As you do this, focus on your toes and the balls and heels of each foot connecting with the floor beneath you.
Without judging, notice what it feels like and which parts of your feet actually meet the ground.
Making connection with the ground beneath your feet can be very helpful when you feel a bit lightheaded and don’t feel totally present.
Lie on your back with your legs over the seat of a chair at a 90-degree angle. Focus on relaxing your back into the floor with your arms out to the side in a low V shape and stay there for about 15 minutes. As you breathe, notice your back making connection with the floor and your body becoming heavier and more relaxed.
Sitting back in your chair as in Grounding 1, place one hand on your chest, palm down. Move your hand around your chest until you sense that you have found the right place. You will have an immediate sense of where that place is when you have a strong feeling of comfort. Keep your hand there as you consciously breathe in and out. Placing your other hand over the top of the hand on your chest can offer you a stronger sense of connection and easing of tension.
Focus on different objects in the room. For example, everything that is red or blue, or listen to noises inside the room and outside of the room. Think about a small handful of things in your room that make you feel good and then collect them all together. Alternatively, you can look for five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. You can use this technique effectively when you notice that you’re starting to feel overwhelmed or anxious.
It enables you to focus on using your senses to help you stay mindfully aware and in the present moment experience, and it supports you to regulate your feelings.
If you find yourself struggling with anxiety and panic attacks it may be helpful to get some additional support. Talk to a trusted friend or family member or contact your GP who can support you and connect you with counselling services.