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4 Steps To Beat Anxiety At Work

How to improve your productivity during the workday

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

“When I see an anxious person, I ask myself, what do they want? For if a person wasn’t wanting something outside of their own control, why would they be stricken by anxiety?” — Epictetus

Have you ever sent a proposal to an important client and waited anxiously for the answer? Maybe you launched a new product and now can’t wait to see how it performs. How do you feel?

Does this feeling make sense at all?

Anxiety is a severe health problem that negatively impacts all aspects of life and the work environment. It prepares us for important decisions at appropriate levels, as we are alert in situations of risk. However, when it exceeds the acceptable limit, anxiety becomes a disease and significantly reduces life quality. Day-to-day work and tasks become difficult to perform, making the individual feel unmotivated, incapable, and dissatisfied with his own life.

All of this directly impacts productivity since anxiety also involves a shift in attention, making us feel threatened for whatever reason — or even for no reason. For this reason, anxious people find it challenging to stay focused on a single task. Any change in the environment, however small, removes the concentration, making them distracted. Memory is also affected by an anxiety disorder.

What can you do about that?

#1 Don’t complain

You probably already said something like, “I can’t believe I have this to solve.” You put your hands on your head, closed your eyes, and took a deep and angry breath. Did that solve the problem? No! So why waste time complaining?

You may think that one day you will not have more work problems to solve. That was only going to happen if you stop working. Otherwise, you will always have problems to solve. That is part of work. That is part of life, actually. You better learn how to deal with that.

When most of us feel some discomfort, the idea of “venting” is very welcoming. Science, however, suggests that there are some severe flaws in this reasoning. Expressing anger by complaining does not make us feel better, and it also makes our listeners feel bad. It sounds like a good idea, but it is wrong.

Sometimes we spend our energy, intelligence, and creativity complaining and finding fault with our dissatisfaction, which is also a big waste of time. People who complain too much tend to pose themselves as victims. So, before you do that and spend your energy looking for culprits for your problems, wouldn’t it be more productive to roll up your sleeves and try to change reality in an objective and planned way?

You also probably don’t like to see other people complaining. It is not cool, isn’t it? You probably don’t like to see your teammates or employees complaining too. If you want them to stop doing that, you better give the example.

#2 Live one day at a time

I hope you understand that you will always have problems to solve in your life. That means you will have tasks to do. The work is unlimited. That is why you must plan your days.

In my first years as an entrepreneur, I worked long hours and was always anxious and stressed. I have finished many tasks, but I was more concerned about what I still needed to complete. As I said before, you will always have tasks to do. I haven’t realized that at that time yet.

As I learn to plan for my days, I became a more calm person. I know that I have unlimited work, but what can I do today? When the day is over, instead of looking at the big pile of undone tasks, I need to focus on the tasks that I finished that day. Did I finish what I was supposed to do today? Yes? Good! Tomorrow I will complete more.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. You don’t need to be anxious about your future tasks. Being like that will only decrease your productivity. Living one day at a time doesn’t mean you don’t need to plan for tomorrow. As you start to focus on the current day, you finish your daily tasks faster and have more time to prepare for your future.

When you start a new day, it is essential that you already know what you have to do that day. Otherwise, you will be reacting to your environment. Plan your day at least one day before. When the day is over, focus on checking if you finish your daily job. If so, congratulations! Tomorrow will be another day to complete more tasks.

#3 Prepare for the worst

You may elaborate a detailed plan but still failed. In fact, your plan probably isn’t going to work. So, why plan in the first place? It’s not because it won’t work that it isn’t essential. It is impossible to plan for everything. It is impossible to prepare for or prevent something you’re unaware of. Things will go wrong, and you need to be calm to deal with that.

We are not used to preparing for the worst, but doing so can help us deal better with life challenges. I’m a very optimistic person. It was difficult for me to start thinking about the worse. As I started doing that, I was able to solve problems faster and avoid toxic thoughts.

You may think that imagining the worst is pessimistic, but it is not. When you think about that, you can imagine how to solve those future problems. You will be ready to do whatever work necessary. Everything different from the worst is a victory.

In order to better prepare for the worst:

  1. Think about all the ways it might go wrong. Be prepared for that.
  2. Think about how you’d handle it, all the things you would need to do in response.
  3. Practice being calm in the face of how overwhelming it might seem.
  4. Remember that people will depend on you, and that’s why you need to respond right.
  5. Consider what steps you can take now in anticipation.
  6. Expect to have a successful and pleasant environment, but be ready in case that doesn’t happen.

#4 Focus on what you can control

You just found out that you have another problem to solve. At this point, you probably already have prepared about it, and you are not complaining. You have your day planned, but something new came up. You may start feeling anxious again. Take a second and think, what can you do about this problem now?

The Stoic Handbook's opening section compiled from Epictetus’ lessons by his student Arrian shares that some things are ‘up to us,’ or under our direct control, while others are not. Our judgments are ‘up to us,’ particularly value judgments about what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or ‘helpful’ and ‘harmful,’ as are our voluntary ‘impulses’ or intentions to act, the desires and aversions based on these, and in a word whatever are our own voluntary actions.

By contrast, our body is not ‘up to us,’ and neither are property, reputation, social or professional status, and in a word, whatever is not our own voluntary action. What is ‘up to us’ is our own true self, naturally free, unhindered, and unimpeded, while what is not up to us is weak, slavish, hindered, and alien to us, being not truly our own.

Remember, therefore, that if you confuse these things and think what is naturally slavish to be free, and that which is not your own to be your own, then you will be hindered, grieve, be distressed, and you will angrily blame humankind and resent life.

You must remind yourself constantly about that. Again, what can you do about this problem now? Do you need to fix it today? Will you delegate to someone else?

Final thoughts

“A musician, for instance, feels no anxiety while he is singing by himself; but when he appears upon the stage he does, even if his voice be ever so good, or he plays ever so well. For what he wishes is not only to sing well, but likewise to gain applause. But this is not in his own power.” — Epictetus

The consequences of anxiety at work can affect leaders and employees. The anxious worker has reduced his productivity and no longer has clarity and attention, losing part of his strategic vision. With the drop in pace, results also fall, and this directly influences the company’s growth. Not to mention how much the relationships in the corporate environment can be damaged.

Outside work, have you ever waited anxiously for a new season from a series you like?

Today, I watched the first episode of the fourth and last season of Nanatsu No Taisai (The Seven Deadly Sins), a Netflix Original Anime. Since I was a kid, I watch Japanese cartoons, and they appeal to me even as a grown-up. When I found out that there was a new episode available, I stopped everything that I was doing to watch it.

The worst thing that can happen when you watch a new episode is for it to be terrible. You have waited for so long for it; you theorized what could happen; you dreamt with the characters; you created expectations. Now, you are devastated. Fortunately, that was not what happened when I watched the new episode of Nanatsu No Taisai. The first episode was full of energy and made me cry in the end. One week will go slow now as I wait for the second episode to be available.

Why does time seems to flow differently when you want something bad?

I grew up being an anxious kid. When I started my first company, I carried this feeling with me, which didn’t help me at all. I had to learn to deal with my anxiety to become a better entrepreneur and grow my company. I still get anxious to this day, but now, I start talking to myself every time I notice the feeling.

“Why am I feeling anxious? What is the worse that can happen? What can I do about it now?

It is not an easy task for me, actually, but that is something possible to deal with if you try.

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