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6 Simple Ways to Cut Workplace Anxiety

Step off the merry-go-round—and maybe even learn to like your work


by Kara Baskin

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It’s hard to feel like you’re living your passion when you’re busy commuting, answering emails, small-talking with colleagues, and ferrying from meeting to meeting. Dr. Wendy Cohen, a psychiatrist with Harvard Vanguard, offers ways to gain perspective. Dial your anxiety down, and you just might discover that you actually enjoy your job.

1. Don’t Worst-Case-Scenario Every Event. “People who catastrophize have one bad thing happen and begin to think everything will go wrong,” Cohen explains. Stuck in traffic and late to a meeting? A catastrophizer will assume s/he is about to get fired. “Remind yourself that a catastrophic problem does not lead to catastrophic results.”

2. Breathe Like a Yogi. Fight-or-flight response kicks in during stressful scenarios, like a horrible commute or a difficult meeting. Cohen advises clients to focus on breath: Breathe in for ten seconds, then breathe out for ten. It’s easy to do at your desk or even on the subway. “Humans are designed to respond to emergencies. This removes your brain from the stressor at hand,” she says, especially if the stressor is nothing more than your droning colleague or a bad driver.

3. Caffeinate wisely. Cohen recommends no more than two cups of caffeine per day, no later than noon. Caffeine has a half life of 5-6 hours, which means 50% of the caffeine you drank with dinner will still be dancing in your bloodstream at midnight. Its use is implicated in irritability, agitation, and rambling thought and speech—hardly ideal office behavior.

4. Save Your Inbox for Sunrise. Cohen recommends seven to nine hours of sleep. Tempted to answer e-mails late into the night? Remember that plenty of sleep will make you even more productive in the morning.

5. Power Down Your Screens. “Shut off your phone or other screens an hour before bed,” Cohen advises. Seeing this light earlier in the evening—not to mention glowing on your nightstand while you’re trying to catch ZZZZs—can disrupt your sleep, so read a book instead.

6. Admit That You’re Human. If you’re hyper-scheduled or overworked, be honest. Tell a supervisor. “Focus on the common goal: Each of you is interested in your productivity. Don’t blame another person. Simply outline your challenge. Most times people can accommodate you, if you’re being direct,” Cohen says.

Photo Credit: Michael Blann/Getty