“Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” —Arthur Somers Roche
Anxiety is out in the open. It’s something that we, as a society, are much more aware of, something we talk about, and something I think it’d fair to say most of us experience at least from time to time. Anxiety manifests itself in a number of ways and does not feel the same to everyone, but I think it is fair to state that it can really get in the way of living a productive life.
My workdays and weeks are periodically stunted by rising anxiety, and I feel it for a number of reasons; overwhelmed at the amount I need to get done, imposter syndrome, tasks that confuse me to the point where I’m afraid to complete them incorrectly, and, of course, the distraction of whatever other issues are happening in my wider life. I have no doubt that most of you reading this will find some of those triggers familiar.
Dealing with anxiety is a big job. It takes weeks, months, and years of consistent self-work. The thing is, when you feel it rising in your chest and need it gone so you can crack on with your day, it’s tricky to squeeze in ‘years of self-work’! So, here are a few techniques and tricks that I find useful when battling an anxious day at work…
1. Short Bursts of Work
If I can’t strap into a task for a long period of time (by which I mean, something like an entire morning of consistent work… like about four hours), I break my day up into very short bursts of around half an hour. This means I only have to dig deep for a short while before a period of rest. It also helps me to break down tasks into bitesize, half an hour chunks (and goals) which, in turn, prevents me from getting too overwhelmed by the entire body of work for the day.
2. Be Productive During Mini-Breaks
When I break between short bursts, it helps to engage with something productive. I am lucky enough to work from home, and so, when I break, I will get a small chore done. The washing up, some meal prep, running the vacuum round and putting laundry away are some of my go-to’s. If you are working in a specific workplace, maybe go and make a drink, organise your desk or workspace, or run an errand. Whatever it is, make sure it is something removed from your work.
3. Get Distance from the Task
Distance from a project is something that really helps me. As a writer, sometimes I just can’t think of the next thing to write. Sometimes I stare at a blank screen for ages as my imagination shuts down. What helps is to spend some time away from it, as very often, my subconscious brain will have come up with an easy solution to my problem while I’ve been focusing on something else for a few hours. But what do you do with those few hours? Well, you may be able to do some project switching.
4. Project Switching
If, like me, you often have multiple tasks running at the same time, you may find it helpful, instead of doing them one after the other, to switch between projects. I will often be writing on more than one project at a time so that, if one project comes to a dead end or I am starting to feel anxious about what comes next, I can switch to the other and be productive on something else for a while. This means that I am always moving forward, even if it is not always on the same task.
5. Meditate/Clear Your Head
If none of these are working… if your brain is just too scattered… if all you can think about is that sharp panicked feeling in your chest… then it might be time to just go and shut everything down for a moment. Go outside. Get some fresh air. Have a walk. Grab a coffee. Engage with the world outside the reality of your work. Engage with nature. Engage with another person (or a dog) in the park. Clear your head. Return to factory settings and try again in a bit.
By Chris Thomson
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