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How to beat anxiety at work

Take these steps to banish workplace stress.

15 October 2018
5 minute read

happy man sitting at desk

In 2017, work was listed as the top cause of stress among South African professionals. Of 3 000 professionals surveyed by Profmed, nearly half revealed that work stressed them out more than money, health, family or romance. The good news is that workplace stress is often manageable, if you take the right steps. Here are some tips and tricks for getting your workplace stress under control.

Manage your time

Time management is one of the best things you can do to reduce your stress. Take a step back to plan where the time in your day should be allocated and prioritise tasks accordingly.

You don’t need to do this on your own, either. These are some of the top time-management apps that will help you. But really, a simple list at the start of each day will work wonders – and you get to experience the joy of crossing items off it!

Manage your journey to and from work

Make the time you spend getting to and from work as pleasant as possible. The first step is being on time – try to leave 15 minutes earlier in the morning so that you don’t start your day in a rush. Then identify something that makes you calm while you are on your way – whether it’s listening to podcasts, audiobooks or soothing music – so that you arrive at work mentally ready to deal with your day. And if you are a driver and find that you are prone to road rage, make an active decision to try to overcome it. Breathe deeply, let people in and accept that you’ll get there when you get there.

Establish boundaries

Even if you work in a demanding environment, you are entitled to time off. Discuss with your team that it would be better for everyone’s mental health if after-hours downtime is respected.

Even if you work in a demanding environment, you are entitled to time off.

Turn off notifications on your WhatsApp groups and your work email, and let people know that if they need to get hold of you in an emergency, they should call. Then be disciplined with yourself about not responding to work emails or messages unless strictly necessary.

Avoid gossip and office politics

Don’t get sucked into conflict in the workplace. There may be that co-worker that everyone struggles to get along with, or a new policy that you vehemently disagree with, but don’t resort to nasty gossip or complaints around the kettle. If there’s something that can be done, do it, and if not, don’t make the situation worse by discussing it with others and feeding off their anger as well.

Make problem solving a priority

In difficult or challenging situations, try to think how to solve the problem rather than contribute to it. It’s incredible how this simple mind-shift makes people more outcomes focused. And remember, solving the problem doesn’t mean you have to be responsible for it. Rather than this: “There’s no way I can do this alone,” say this: “I could definitely work through the backlog in a week if I had one or two additional people to help me.”

Communicate with your manager

If you feel that your manager is asking too much of you or that your environment has become unreasonably stressful, you don’t have to grin and bear it. Schedule time for a meeting with your boss to discuss the problem areas. Prepare in advance so that you are presenting a clear argument for your stress. How many tasks are you doing in a day? How long should those tasks reasonably take you? Are too many people able to make demands on your time? How many hours are you working in a week, on average? Are others doing less work? As with the point above, it’s always best to propose a solution rather than just highlighting the problem.

Take breaks

You may have a pile of work that you need to get through, but you are NOT productive if you haven’t given your mind and body a rest. This can mean just having a cup of tea in the office’s gardens after you complete one of your tasks, or it can involve doing some physical activity over lunch to keep you healthy. Just make sure that you are allowing for some downtime in your day to let the stress abate.

Stay healthy

Your mental health is supported by your physical health. You’ll be less likely to feel the effects of stress if you have an exercise routine that helps burn off excess adrenaline and takes your mind off things. Refer to the lunch-break fitness routines we’ve already mentioned or try to find other times in your day to do a form of exercise that you love.

Workplace stress – know your rights

When it comes to your rights in the workplace, mental health issues are treated exactly the same as physical health issues. You are entitled to take sick leave if your stress is serious enough. “As long as a doctor books you off, sick leave is acceptable for whatever illness the doctor deems severe enough,” says Linda Gouveia, the owner of the Labour Workshop. “It is becoming more common for people to be booked off for stress.”

You are required to provide a doctor’s note for any sick leave longer than two days. Although many employers ask for a note if you are sick on a Friday or a Monday, by law you are only required to provide one after two working days have elapsed.

If you feel that your employer is loading unreasonable amounts of work on you, resulting in escalating stress, Linda says you can lodge a grievance, but you would have to have very concrete proof. However, she cautions that these kinds of grievances very seldom have positive outcomes.

“Once you start shaking that tree, often what falls out is not very pleasant. But you do have the right to take action if you believe that you are being unreasonably burdened, given huge amounts of extra work or are expected to put in unreasonably long hours,” she says.

Don’t wait, take action

While stress is not easy to beat, if it is making your life harder, you should find ways to manage it. Take advantage of any workplace wellness programmes or counselling offered or contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), who will help you to find support in your area if you are feeling overwhelmed.

Stress can be motivating and empowering, but if it’s making your life unbearable, it must be addressed.

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