Anxiety is as much a part of the pandemic as masks. But for those of us experiencing moments of fear and uncertainty during this time, anxiety can also be an opportunity to grow in new and unexpected ways.
As an associate director in human resources, I hear from many co-workers who are experiencing anxiety for the first time. Many have lost sleep over COVID-19 and voice concern for their families. When we’ve hosted webinars and videoconferences on coping mechanisms and how to juggle family and work, attendance has been high. The common thread is the search for balance at a time when there often is none.
When it comes to coping with anxiety, I speak from personal experience. After several years as a stay-at-home mom, I rejoined the workplace in 2014 and was surprised to frequently find myself gripped by a paralyzing fear that I’d never experienced before. Everyday responsibilities like an impending conference call or a deadline for a PowerPoint presentation left me jittery and short of breath.
To cope, I learned a variety of techniques to convert my anxiety into a stronger focus that helped me perform better at my job. Here are a few tools that could help people manage their anxiety in the post-pandemic workplace:
- Explore new ways to find calm. Research is uncovering the physical and cognitive benefits of meditation and mindfulness. Although I’ve studied Buddhism and used meditation techniques in my work as a counselor, the 4-7-8 breathing technique is a simple, straightforward way to manage stress. I do the breathing exercises to prepare for phone meetings or before any anxiety-producing situation. Drinking tea or any warm beverage from a favorite mug is another relatively quick way to restore balance. (There’s a reason tea is an ancient, time-honored practice.) Visual cues can also be extremely helpful in reminding us to breath and rest – whether it’s a supportive Post-It note or a painting on your office wall.
- Take control of your schedule. Build short breaks into your day to regroup and regain focus, even if it’s just a couple of minutes between tasks. One executive I know caps her meetings at 45 minutes so she has time to answer emails, and responds to meeting invitations by asking what her role will be – and often happily discovers her attendance isn’t required. Lists can help calm the chaos, but they can also backfire if we pile on more tasks than can be reasonably accomplished. Be realistic about what you can achieve in a given period of time.
- Try cognitive reframing. When anxiety strikes, ordinary tasks can feel overwhelming, and a minor setback – or even the prospect of one – can convince us we’re on a permanent path to failure. During a pandemic, this type of catastrophic thinking goes with the territory. Cognitive reframing provides relief by giving us alternative ways to view a situation, especially at work.
For example, when I was recently asked during the shutdown to assume a new role at work, I was overcome with worry. How would my family be affected? Could I still juggle home schooling? Could I really handle another responsibility at a stressful time? Using cognitive reframing, I recalled examples from my past when I’ve successfully navigated big changes. The upshot is that I accepted the additional role of Equity & Inclusion Officer in Cognizant Digital Business, and it’s been an amazing experience. The unknown can be scary, which fuels anxiety around COVID-19, but I remember to take one day at a time.
- Talk about it. An upside of remote work is the emphasis it places on communication, and the recognition that reaching out to each other is something we all need. COVID-19 has made it OK to connect with co-workers and talk about stress. The more open we are to sharing our vulnerability, the healthier our relationships will be, and the freer our work environment.
- Get some exercise. Exercise decreases stress hormones like cortisol, and even 30 minutes of moderate exercise releases the feel-good endorphins that improve our mental health. As many as 120 Cognizant co-workers dial in for our yoga classes three times a week. Even taking a quick walk outside is a simple, intentional way to reset and reduce anxiety during the work day. I find exercise helps clear my mind, and some of my best ideas have come while I’ve been working out.
Anxiety in the workplace is often our body’s inner voice telling us to stop and listen to our real needs. Maybe you’ve procrastinated on a project or aren’t allowing time to re-energize after difficult meetings. Anxiety has taught me to trust myself and to use its presence as an alert, to motivate me to prioritize and move forward. The key is not to pretend the feelings aren’t there, but to learn to use them to your advantage.
Visit our COVID-19 resources page for additional insights and updates.
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