Mental health and anxiety have become a consistent topic of conversation at work. Many business leaders now recognize the need to prioritize psychological and emotional wellness. However, there are some employees who think their companies have not done enough to create a positive culture where mental health is taken seriously. Looking beyond this debate, what truly matters at the end of the day is awareness and action. Because mental health influences both our personal and professional lives.
In this month’s iteration of The Productivity Box, we’re turning our attention back to mental health. Let’s discuss how chronic stress and anxiety impact workflow and learn to identify the signs of anxious behavior. Ultimately, we’ll find out why reducing anxiety can boost our overall performance. It’s an important conversation to unpack, so let’s jump right in.
Is anxiety really a thing (at work)?
After two years with a world-wide pandemic on our hands, numerous restrictions, and what psychologists call a collective trauma, the situation is complicated.
According to a recent poll, between 41 and 46 percent of Millennial and Gen Z workers feel stressed or anxious nearly all the time. About a third of such employees have missed work because of this constant anxiety. Furthermore, 40 percent feel their mental health is not supported on the job.
Over time, the effects of anxiety can spill over into daily life, causing mental, emotional, and even physical wellness to suffer. And when anxiety inhibits functioning, productivity takes a nosedive. Thus, anxiety will have direct repercussions on work performance too.
How to recognize if you suffer from anxiety
It’s normal to feel pressure before an upcoming deadline or a major client presentation. If those feelings become persistent or interfere with the quality of your work, then it might be an indication of anxiety. According to the work resilience and performance coaching experts at BetterUp, here are some red flags to help you recognize anxious patterns in yourself or a fellow team member:
- Exhaustion or physical pain
- Increased susceptibility to illness
- Irritable or short-tempered reactions
- Absenteeism or missing deadlines
- Brain fog or lack of concentration
- Chronic procrastination tendencies
- Avoidance of opening emails or answering your chat messages
- Panic attacks as a result of the job
- Fear of or intolerance to feedback
You might not go through all these behaviors, at once. However, if there is a pattern, then be warned.
How it influences work performance
If anxious symptoms continue to escalate unchecked, it’s only a matter of time until you notice a significant decline in productivity. Research shows that 75 percent of U.S. employees find it challenging to meet their work demands because of anxiety. Not to mention, 80 percent would leave their current job in search of an organization that cares about mental health.
This data reveals that workplace anxiety is a concern for both employees and companies alike. A continually stressed or anxious team will not be able to sustain the efficient, collaborative, high-quality performance levels expected of them.
- At best, their energy, motivation, focus, and morale will be in short supply.
- At worst, they will run out of steam entirely, causing deadline lapses, absenteeism, and high turnover rates.
Chronic anxiety is a negative influence on all areas of productivity, so finding a solution is important.
You might not be able to eliminate or avoid the circumstances that cause anxious thoughts. However, you can strengthen resilience, practice self-care, and establish clear work-life boundaries to improve your mental health.
How to reduce anxious behavior and boost productivity
Here are some techniques you can use to calm anxiety and channel it into top-notch work performance. Reach for these ideas next time you feel anxious.
- Make healthy food choices. The mind starts in the gut. Eat whole foods, proteins and healthy fats and avoid artificial sugars, prepackaged foods, and refined grains. A simple diet that’s packed with nutrients will contribute to reducing anxieties and increasing productivity.
- Create a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness comes in many forms. While meditation is a powerful habit, you can also practice mindfulness while you walk, eat or drive. To do so, simply slow down and tune in. How does the food taste? How do your feet feel when they touch the ground? What do you notice on the road ahead of you? This is all about getting off auto-pilot and noticing yourself and the world around you.
- Avoid the urge to multitask. It’s easy to cause anxiety by doing too much at once. Prioritize your tasks and focus on a single project at a time. This will also help you get more done in less time. Multitasking can actually make you less productive because you’re continually shifting your attention and focus.
- Recharge your batteries. Maintain a healthy work-life balance by getting adequate sleep, prioritizing experiences with family and friends, spending time in nature, and taking regular breaks from technology throughout the day.
- Remember to breathe. When anxiety feels suffocating, pause and breathe. You may notice that you’re taking quick shallow breaths when you’re anxious. Slow, deep breaths, however, quickly reduce anxiety and can help you refocus on the task at hand.
- Automate low-priority tasks. Use technology to streamline your tasks wherever possible. For example, you can schedule social media posts at the start of the week or set up email responders so you don’t have to be checking your email at all times of the day.
- Reflect at the end of each day. Set aside time in the evening to reflect on the day. You can do this with a journal or just in your head before you close your eyes to sleep. When reflecting, think about why you’re grateful, what went well, and how you want to wake up feeling.
When you take consistent, actionable steps to reduce anxiety at work, you’ll boost focus, motivation, and satisfaction, all of which increase productivity.
Prevent anxiety from messing up your work
Stress is a normal, inevitable part of any work environment. But when chronic stress turns into anxiety, the repercussions can feel debilitating. Over time, your job performance will suffer.
When you build awareness around anxiety and begin to address it, you’ll find that life both in and out of work feels much lighter and easier to manage.
While this might feel just like a tiny detail in a sea of never ending tasks at work, it truly has a tremendous potential. You’ll improve both your mental health and your overall productivity. And when specific strategies are implemented team-wide, you can also prevent anxiety from affecting your organization’s communication and teamwork. Let’s learn more about that in a future article.