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On World Mental Health Day, Priory expert offers tips for managing anxiety at work

Anxiety is a common concern in the UK, with an estimated one in six of us experiencing an episode of anxiety or depression a week. Many of us will be at work, struggling to get through the day, with the condition more common in people from the ages of 35 to 59.

It can have a significant physical impact. Dr Niall Campbell, consultant psychiatrist at Priory’s Roehampton Hospital, says many people experiencing acute anxiety can mistake it for a heart attack.

“Any junior doctor working in casualty will tell you that every day at least 2 or 3 patients, of all ages, come in, usually thinking they are having a heart attack. Examination and investigations are normal and a panic attack is often diagnosed which can be a great relief in itself, and appropriate therapy is recommended.

“Some degree of anxiety is an everyday experience for most of us and usually a brief reaction to surprises and stresses. But more intense anxiety comes in the form of panic attacks. Sudden overwhelming anxiety episodes are common, and can be very frightening.”

Some anxiety is work-related, some life-related. According to a recent study, 15% of UK adults currently consider themselves an informal carer, equating to 7.85 million people across the country, with huge impact on their day-to-day lives. More than half (53%) say the role has put them under notable emotional strain, with 30% stating that they have fallen out with friends or family members because of tensions around the responsibilities they have taken on.

This can exacerbate mental health issues, and for those with ‘generalised anxiety’, many will feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed. As soon as one anxious thought is resolved, another appears about a different issue.

This can be very difficult to deal with, especially if you are stuck behind a desk and trying to do a job.

Priory expert Steve Clarke, a psychotherapist and hospital director at the Priory’s Life Works Hospital in Woking, Surrey, says: “Recent statistics emphasise the importance of treating anxiety as promptly as possible, in order to improve the lives of those struggling to cope.”

But he says there some things employees can also do themselves to try and manage their anxiety. They’re also useful to manage stress and can be carried out during the working day, at a desk, and help alleviate the symptoms - or at least mitigate them until you can access professional help.

8 tips for managing anxiety at work

  1. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) - Repetitive finger tapping can sometimes help to release negative emotions such as anxiety. It has been called a psychological version of acupuncture in that it involves making contact with a number of acupuncture points. The specific points to tap are the end-points of the major meridians (meridians are believed to be channels of subtle energy which flow through our body). So, whilst focusing on your negative emotion you tap on a ‘meridian’ point (the eyebrow, side of the eye, under eye, under nose, chin, collarbone, under the arm and top of the head) three to seven times, repeating your negative thought in your head. After each emotion, take a deep breath and exhale. Continue this until you feel calmer and relieved. When you feel more relieved, repeat the technique whilst you tap through a “positive round”, repeating more uplifting phrases.

  2. Guided meditation apps – Many apps like Headspace offer different types of meditation for different concerns, or simply basic meditation. These typically offer meditation as short as 3 minutes and up to 20 minute sessions.

  3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation – This can also be done at any time during the day. PMR involves tensing and releasing muscles in certain intervals. There are guided versions available online for free on YouTube.

  4. Deep breathing – Take a long deep breath while counting for 5-8 seconds, then hold it for 5-8 seconds. Repeat several times to relieve anxious/stressed feelings. This can help re-centre you during a busy work day.

  5. Eat healthy - Avoid comfort eating and instead choose food that increases your energy and gives you sustainable nutrients to get you through the day.

  6. Prevention is key – Plan out your week or day ahead and create a checklist of things that need to be completed by priority. Give yourself enough time to complete each task and schedule regular breaks to avoid burnout. Reward yourself for completing tasks, even if it’s as simple as crossing it off the checklist.

  7. Changing a difficult situation isn't always possible. So accept what you cannot change and focus on the things you do have control over - such as looking for another job.

  8. Put on headphones and listening to music can have many benefits, such as helping you relax and focus on something you enjoy. Take a walk - even it’s just to the water station and back to your desk. Ideally, enjoy some fresh air. Changing your environment can clear your mind and re-energise you.

Another important strategy is to question your thoughts. Our minds can play tricks on us when anxious and our thinking can become distorted. Before you accept the thought, which will undoubtedly fuel your anxiety, ask yourself if that anxious thought is a “fact or an opinion?” If it is an opinion, you may be getting anxious for nothing.

“And often, when we get anxious about things, we are making a negative prediction about what will happen. For example ‘I can’t go to that event on my own because no one will talk to me’. If you make negative predictions, test it out or how will you ever know if your prediction was right?

“Anxiety is an uncomfortable emotion and many people fall into the trap of avoiding the thing or situation they fear so that they don’t experience the anxiety, for example avoiding driving on a motorway. However, when you avoid situations, you are not dealing with the anxiety so life can become more difficult. Learning to face your fears will enable you to feel less anxious, and your body will adjust to the thing you fear, and your physical anxieties reduce,” says Steve.

About Priory Group

The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK, caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into four divisions – healthcare, education and children’s services, adult care and the Middle East. The Priory Group is owned by NASDAQ-listed Acadia Healthcare, which is recognised as a global leader in behavioural health.

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