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4 tips to help you manage anxiety during the workday

Whether you’re back at the office or still working remotely, follow these four steps to de-stress.

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It’s Monday morning, and you’re already dreading what lies ahead for the workweek. You’re pacing around the room in a cold sweat. You’re on the verge of an anxiety attack, and it isn’t even 6 a.m.

Guess what? A lot of other people are having a similar experience.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. And there’s little doubt that work can be a source of that anxiety for many.

Work doesn’t have to be so stressful. Here are four ways you can manage your anxiety and stress during the workday.

Anxiety relief tip #1: Take some time to just breathe

One way to manage stress in any situation is to just breathe through it. In other words, take a deep breath, exhale, and repeat.

Ongoing research shows that deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the part of your nervous system that regulates automatic actions, promoting a state of calmness.

It also allows you to tune out everything but the sound of your own lungs and heart, according to Lesley Koeppel. She’s a licensed clinical social worker with a private psychotherapy practice in New York.

“Breathing in through your nose and blowing out through your mouth — almost like Lamaze — helps you physically relax,” says Koeppel. “Each time you do it, you’ll notice your lungs can fill a little bit more with air. Each time you’ll feel more relaxed.”

Koeppel notes that people can do deep breathing on their own or with the help of any number of relaxation apps.

Anxiety relief tip #2: Get out and exercise

Exercise can be a great way to de-stress. Depending on your (remote) work schedule — or stress level — daily exercise can be as simple as a 30-minute walk around the block or a 20-minute (or more) treadmill session in your basement.

Getting blood flowing to your muscles is beneficial for several reasons. First, research indicates that it helps turn your mind away from the issues causing anxiety. Second, exercising decreases muscle tension, lowering the body’s contribution to feeling anxious. Finally, getting your heart rate up changes how your brain works. It increases the amount of brain chemicals called endocannabinoids, which reduce anxiety and make you feel content. They also increase dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel more optimistic.

“You want to come to work with the best body and mind that you can,” Koeppel says. “Sometimes this means moving your body. Other times it’s even more basic, like getting a good night’s sleep and going easy on the caffeine.”

Anxiety relief tip #3: Set boundaries for yourself

One of the downsides of having a smartphone is that it always seems to be alerting you to a new email or text message. It’s like having a mini work computer in your pocket all the time.

This can be particularly challenging when you’re grappling with a stressful work environment — or with co-workers and bosses who don’t respect your time off.

To preserve and protect a separation between your personal and professional lives, Koeppel says it’s critical that you set boundaries. Failure to do so, she notes, can lead to mixing the two, which increases your anxiety.

“Even if your boss doesn’t expect you to respond to something right away, if he or she sends you an email at midnight on a work night, all of a sudden the requests are on your plate,” says Koeppel. “You really have to figure out a way to manage accessibility, understand what’s expected of you, and communicate what you’re willing to do when.”

Koeppel says that it’s perfectly acceptable to establish a cutoff time for reading and responding to work emails and texts. “Sometimes establishing that boundary is the only way to stay sane,” she adds.

Anxiety relief tip #4: Tackle your thoughts mindfully

Another important way to manage stress and anxiety throughout the workday is to simply be mindful of them. This approach doesn’t force you to push away stressful thoughts, explains Koeppel. Instead, it’s about identifying the thoughts that are creating anxiety, isolating them, and moving on.

For Koeppel, this process is often as simple as looking down at her feet and observing facts about where her feet and her body are at a particular moment in time. She pays attention to her socks, the carpet, the office light, and other details she can easily establish as fact.

“People throw around the notion of ‘mindfulness’ all the time, and they don’t fully get it,” she says. “If you try to push away those [stressful] thoughts about the unknown, you’re giving them more energy, and they take on a whole new life. If you focus on true thoughts — things you can see and feel — other thoughts about uncertainty get minimized. Bringing it back to what you know to be true always helps.”

This advertisement contains information compiled by UnitedHealthcare Services, Inc. UnitedHealthcare Services, Inc. does not represent that these are statements of fact. Please consult directly with your primary care physician if you need medical advice.

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Source List:

Anxiety & Depression Association of America. "Did You Know?" Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics. Accessed January 31, 2022.

Greater Good Magazine. "Five Surprising Ways Exercise Changes Your Brain." January 6, 2020. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/five_surprising_ways_exercise_changes_your_brain.

Harvard Business Review. "Research: Why Breathing Is So Effective at Reducing Stress." September 29, 2020. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/09/research-why-breathing-is-so-effective-at-reducing-stress.

Harvard Health Publishing. "Exercising to relax." July 7, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax.

Psychology Today. "Dopamine." Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/dopamine. Accessed January 31, 2022.

Pub Med. "Exercise modulates the interaction between cognition and anxiety in humans." June 2019. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30032703/.

Simply Psychology. "Parasympathetic Nervous System Functions." May 18, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/parasympathetic-nervous-system.html.

Sleep Foundation. "Caffeine and Sleep." January 22, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/caffeine-and-sleep.