6 months ago, it started with…
- Light headed/ Migraine
- Unable to work with bright lights
- Nausea/ Vomiting
Then, it got worse…
- Sent wrong files.
- Submitted documents with typo errors.
- Mixed up the days and months.
Just a little background: I am a perfectionist who is highly concerned about details and I tend to make sure every word, every image and every content is perfect without grammatical or typo errors. My strength was to proofread documents to ensure that it was ‘error free’. But recently, I was surprised that I couldn’t even detect my own error in the document. This incident started to annoy me.
Some people tell me, “This is normal lah – human error can’t be avoided mah”.
Others say, “It’s okay, just learn from your mistakes and grow stronger through this experience”.
Thanks for all your support.
But sorry, I still cannot accept that it’s just human error.
I started to find my current situation becoming like a strange disease, or worse case – some kind of mental illness/ paralysis which sometimes caused me to freeze.
Therefore, living in this digital era, the first thing I did was to ask Uncle Google:
- “Why I cannot sleep at night?”
- “Am I having depression?”
- “What are the signs of anxiety?”
- “Why do I feel so fearful”
From my readings, I realized that I might have fallen into anxiety. I did an anxiety test and the results were 68% which fell into the ‘severe anxiety’ zone.
My anxiety worsened when I began to have thoughts that I was going to die soon. I was plagued by a fear that death was coming near. I even started to write down all the important things and placed emergency contact numbers in my wallet, so that if anything happens to me, my family can be reached.
Thank God, after 6 months, I am now almost cured, thanks to one of our church uncles who shared on the insights of Psalm 23. Credits to Uncle Suresh – thank you for your inspiring sharing! It was like God speaking directly to me to break free from this bondage of anxiety.
Thus, I hesitated on whether I should be writing about this sensitive and personal topic. But after several months of consideration, I’ve decided to pursue this topic after witnessing a number of suicidal cases due to causes such as depression, anxiety and stress.
Anxiety is becoming a global phenomenon. The constant buzz of texts and emails mangles our brains and stalks our sleep. Expectations of a professional life have changed. Work – once the activity we did for money and status, is now supposed to provide personal actualization and fulfilment. Thus, when we are unable to achieve job satisfaction, we become afflicted with unease, worry and fear.
In my case, the trigger for anxiety was not about money, but it was due to the prevailing culture at the office which was to keep our heads down, get blamed/ scolded all the time, work very hard 24/7, admit no weakness, accept all responsibilities, follow and do everything that has been assigned to you.
All I wanted was to be seen as an efficient and resilient employee/ team member. But people has noticed that my work – rather than my mental health – was suffering. Little did I know, I was looking at my emails/ texts assuming if I opened them, there would be bad news. A ringing phone would also trigger this sense of dread. Besides, there was no open communication culture of talking about anxiety at work.
I’ve began to realize that work anxiety is not just any common anxiety. It bleeds into our home, personal life, social life, and if it goes on for too long, we may even develop anxiety that lasts long after we leave the job.
In a nutshell, anxiety is typically described as a feeling of unease, worry and fear. It is not something we can wholly eliminate or avoid, and at times, it can greatly affect our work productivity. Thus, too much of it could lead to alcohol and drug abuse. Overall, anxiety interferes with people’s ability to process immediate events, resulting in lower performance.
Moreover, anxiety arises when people feel they are about to become victims of situations over which they have little or no control over, or are faced with a task that they aren’t sure they can do well. Besides experiencing physiological effects, such as pounding heart, rapid breathing, sweaty hands, headaches, muscle stiffness, sleep deprivation, indigestion, etc – there are also cognitive (mental), emotional and even motor distortions.
Anxiety affects people’s memories and the ability to concentrate. It also elicits strong emotional reactions where people become socially withdrawn, eat compulsively and magnify problems. One of the symptoms I experience was engaging in endless checking behavior, like checking several times over a piece of work or proofreading a document over and over again to confirm I have completed it correctly and it’s free of error. This behavior increases the time it takes to do something. Even motor skills are affected by anxiety, such as dropping, breaking or losing things.
I also realized that a lot of anxiety can stem from fear. Phobias of certain events, activities or social situations are all rooted in terror, causing the individual to suffer from the disorder to panic when they come face-to-face with that stress activator. Not just that, anxiety acts like a snowball – it converts fear into feelings and people who suffer from it tend to avoid what’s making them fearful, which can make it worse.
A little anxiety, on one hand, can improve performance; but on the other hand, companies faces a bigger problem if work anxiety is not treated well as such anxiety can be infectious and becomes collectively contagious. When a company breeds the same fear among its employees, the company is creating a ‘company sickness’ and a culture of anxiety. Ironically, it backfires and impacts the bottom line of the company.
For the purpose of this article, I’ll be making a few assumptions. It might not entirely be applicable to you, but the information should still give you an idea of how to overcome your anxiety (if you are facing one).
Some of the assumptions are:
- You are at a job that you can’t leave – either because you haven’t found a new job, or because you have to stay for family reasons.
- You are good at your job. But you are getting annoyed at the workplace environment, culture or people.
- You have a job but the company you’re working for is not financially sustainable or is practicing unethical dealings.
- Your anxiety isn’t about money, but priorities and values.
Another important point to emphasize is that you decide how important your work is to you. Yes, you.
Work itself is supposed to be a means to an end. However, those that find themselves very stressed at work are often giving too much value to what happens in the workplace.
Don’t get me wrong – we should always try hard and be ambitious, but we should also remember that the purpose of work is to live a great home life. So, if you can learn to change your priorities and mindset so that work doesn’t bother you as much, then you’ll find that your anxiety at work isn’t as severe as before.
Navigating the workplace can be stressful especially for individuals (like me) who are dealing with anxiety. I am about to provide 6 strategies (based on my experience) for handling anxiety in the workplace.
#1 Distract yourself by staying busy after work
First, the tendency for those with work anxiety is to go home and try to rest it off. Sometimes this leads to a situation that overvalues work, causing you to be lost in your own thoughts and tensions. Therefore, it is ideal that you should do your best to distract yourself and put your mind on something other than the anxiety symptoms you are experiencing, such as staying busy after work by spending time with your spouse, family and friends, and replacing the work anxiety memories with new, better memories. If you find something to focus on intently, your mind will not be able to maintain the anxiety for long. We should learn to live a great life so that your work anxiety doesn’t interfere with your personal life.
#2 Exercise and get active physically
Surprisingly, anxiety can lead to a lower motivation for physical activities. Nevertheless, exercise has a profound effect on reduce anxiety and improving mental health. It should be a part of anyone’s life that has a stressful work environment. Exercises releases endorphins, the natural body’s painkillers – which improves your overall mood and reduces physical discomfort. It also can burn stress hormones too! Exercising before work can reduce your stress throughout the day, and exercising after work can stop the stress from affecting you when you get home.
#3 Work stories
Did you know that creativity is one of the greatest parts of the human experience, and it is a great tool for reducing anxiety? If your work is constantly providing you with endless drama, nightmare or humorous stories, make it your goal to create them. That way, you’ll be able to come home and turn the negative into positive by writing something interesting about it, drawing comic strips or even creating short comedy stories.
#4 Avoid toxic or negative colleagues
We all have people in our lives that we know are more damaging to us than beneficial. The difficulty, however, lies not in recognizing that certain people are toxic, but knowing which ones we absolutely need to stay away from, such as the one who is discouraging and pessimistic, or the one who’s always complaining about every task. You clearly don’t need that kind of negative energy in your life when there’s already so much bad in the world.
#5 Educate yourself
Always equip yourself with knowledge and learn to recognize the symptoms of anxiety. By doing so, you’ll be aware and learn how to handle anxiety if you experience any at the workplace. You can also pick up a new hobby or activity, such as gardening, cooking, reading, etc.
#6 Fake being okay
Last but not least, this strategy may seem unusual but can be very effective by simply faking it. Yes, you’ve read that right. Just pretend that you’re not anxious or bothered by what happens at work. This is because of something known as cognitive dissonance, whereby the mind can actually adapt to the way you act. If you act like a great, happy and confident employee (even when you’re genuinely not), you can start to feel the very same positive emotions that you’re pretending to experience – and ultimately it helps to reduce your anxiety.
To conclude, I wish to say that everyone might experience anxiety, and it is a normal response to let it in when it shows up. We should practice acceptance rather than trying to push it away. Make room for anxiety. If it is showing up, try to bring your attention to something else. By allowing space for some anxiety at work, you’ll render it less bothersome in the long run.
But remember, you don’t have to go this journey alone. Tell a trusted coworker – someone whom you know can accept your condition as it can be comforting to talk to someone about it. You can also take free anxiety tests to learn more about your overall anxiety level and start to apply the strategies to cure it.
If you are reading this and you’re in the same situation as I am, I totally feel you.
I also want you to know that even if no one else understands, I know exactly how you feel and I’m with you. You are not alone.
Feel free to chat with me, I would love to hear from you.