Work can make you feel anxious. It doesn’t matter whether you work part time, full time, in a home office or a corporate cubicle — looming deadlines, a never-ending to-do list and cranky coworkers can be enough to set anyone off. And since the average worker spends five to eight hours a day in their workspace, we’re betting that even small changes to your work environment can have a big impact.
To learn how to make your workspace less anxiety-inducing, we turned to MU Health Care’s Lia Willis, PhD, licensed clinical social worker. She offers five tips to help you keep calm and carry on while you’re on the clock.
1. Pinpoint Your Anxiety Triggers
If your work causes daily anxiety or stress (here’s how to know the difference), the first step in managing what you’re feeling is pinpointing the cause.
“Anxiety triggers are different for everyone — clutter, emails from certain staff members, upcoming presentations or trainings,” Willis says. “Triggers are something for us to be aware of so we can prepare for them, recognize them and quell the anxiety that comes along with them.”
In a national survey on workplace anxiety, most work-related stress stemmed from deadlines (55%), interpersonal relationships (53%), staff management (50%) and dealing with issues that arise suddenly (49%). To identify your triggers, try:
- Keeping a journal: When you are feeling anxious, record the time, a quick summary of your thoughts and what you were doing prior to feeling anxious. Taking a minute to acknowledge your anxiety and where it comes from may even be helpful in alleviating it.
- Working with a therapist: If work worry is consuming you even when you’re off the clock, it might be wise to speak with a therapist. They can help you manage generalized anxiety, identify your triggers and create a plan for anxiety attacks.
2. Eliminate Desktop Clutter
For many people, the piles and clutter that build up on their desk (or in their email inbox) can be a major trigger for anxiety — it stems from worrying about completing tasks thoroughly and on time.
“Clutter in your workspace can be a trigger, because we don’t know if there is something in the pile we are supposed to be addressing,” Willis says. “It also causes us to see all of the tasks that need to be done at once, so our brain gets overwhelmed and shuts down, which makes us less effective.”
To eliminate daily build-up of desktop clutter, set aside a couple of minutes at the end of each day to organize your paperwork out of sight in a drawer or file box. But for long-term clutter control consider:
- Keeping documents digital whenever possible
- Moving writing utensils, staplers and other work accessories to a drawer
- Setting specific time each day to attend to emails so your inbox stays uncluttered
3. Make a List
Completing tasks one at a time can help minimize that overwhelming feeling and give you a sense of accomplishment. Find time at the beginning or end of each day to make a thorough and prioritized list of what’s on your plate. Use a method that works for you — some people keep lists on their phone to always have them nearby, while others like the feeling of physically crossing a task off their list.
“Making a list removes the worry that we will forget something we are supposed to do,” Willis says. “And that will alleviate a lot of anxiety.”
4. Remove Distractions
It’s no secret that completing tasks or projects feels good — why else would people put “shower” and “eat breakfast” on their daily to-do lists? And the sooner you can complete an anxiety-inducing task, the sooner you’ll be breathing easy again.
The problem is that every time you stop working to attend to a call, email or casual conversation, you lose focus and risk adding even more to your growing list of tasks and concerns. To eliminate distractions, Willis recommends taking the following steps:
- Turn off email and check it hourly, rather than responding as each email comes in
- Make sure your desk is clear of clutter and you have the space you need to work
- Silence all notifications on your phone and computer
5. Incorporate Calming and Comfortable Elements
While work-related clutter can cloud your mind, adding a little bit of peace and tranquility to your workplace can be refreshing. “Making your office functional, calming and comfortable is something that is worth the time and energy,” Willis says. “It will pay off in the long run.”
Try adding any of the following:
- A mirror, which can reflect positive energy and create light, especially if the reflection is nature’s beauty
- Artwork that inspires or relaxes you
- Desk fountain if the sound of water is soothing for you
- Plants, since research shows houseplants can reduce stress and purify the air
- New paint, such as blue or green, which may reduce stress and blood pressure
- Photos of your pet, because looking at pictures of your pets (or any cute animal) is proven to have a calming effect
Next Steps and Useful Resources
- Want to discuss with a primary care provider? Find one today.