How to confront anxiety in times of job uncertainty

Apr 02, 2020

5 mins

How to confront anxiety in times of job uncertainty
Olga Tamarit

Freelance Content Creator

In the current climate, many of us face an uncertain future at work. As demand for goods and services drops off, some people are being laid off temporarily or made redundant. Naturally, all of this uncertainty can generate stress and anxiety. You can learn to manage those feelings, however, and we can tell you how.

Studies suggest that some people use worry as a “positive coping strategy” to deal with potential threats, according to the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, a collaboration between the Royal College of Psychiatrists and University College London. “They worry until they feel reassured that they have appraised all possible dangers and identified ways of dealing with them.” This can lead to “worry about worry”, however, if the individual believes it is uncontrollable and harmful.

Actually, a degree of anxiety is necessary in dangerous situations and can help us to stay focused and face the challenges that lie ahead. In some cases, however, this mechanism works in an altered way and, instead of helping us, it incapacitates us. When anxiety occurs at inappropriate times or is so intense and long-lasting that it interferes with a person’s daily life, then it is considered a disorder.

Where does anxiety come from?

Elisa Sánchez, a psychologist specializing in occupational health at Idein, a human resources consulting firm in Spain, explains that “anxiety is related to fear and appears when we find ourselves threatened and unable to confront possible danger”. But we should not necessarily see it as something negative. All emotions are essential and act like “car sensors that alert the driver that he needs to pay attention to something,” she said.

Feeling anxious awakens us to situations that we see as dangerous but do not have the necessary resources to face. This red light can turn on for different reasons:

  • Circumstantial causes: traumatic events such as a traffic accident or an earthquake can cause high levels of anxiety. The feeling may disappear when the problem is over or it might remain for months or years. This is known as a post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Significant life experiences: Without being traumatic, life changes, including those at work, can trigger episodes of anxiety. This is normal when we are in the midst of difficult and negative situations, but it can become a problem if it continues over a prolonged period, or if it intensifies for no apparent reason.

What impact does anxiety have on our mood?

According to the World Health Organisation, more than 260 million people worldwide suffer from anxiety disorders. It is estimated that together with depression this causes companies millions of euros of losses in productivity each year.

Anxiety related to one’s job can manifest in all kinds of people. It is usually related to stress, tight deadlines, having too much to do, an excessive mental load, or just not having the tools to manage one’s emotions well. The problem is that when we suffer anxiety linked to work, our symptoms do not stay in the office but end up sneaking into the other areas of our lives, insinuating themselves into our daily routines and affecting our physical and mental health.

Those with mild or moderate symptoms, for example, may think they have learned to live with them. Certain situations, however, may lead to exaggerated reactions, generate unfounded fears or cause us to be irritable with others. This is simply a way of hiding any “fear and uncertainty that cannot be channeled,” said Sánchez.

Symptoms don’t lie

When faced with possible danger, this adaptive mechanism kicks in and our sympathetic nervous system is activated with an impulsive response. “Our pupils dilate, salivation and muscle tension increase, our body asks for glucose and the heart pumps faster,” said Sánchez. This automatic response can be useful at particular moments, but it is harmful if it continues over a prolonged period.

Among the symptoms that indicate that you are suffering from anxiety and that it may be interfering with your daily life are:

  • Muscle tension and changes in your routine or sleep cycle, such as waking up in the middle of the night or finding it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Involuntary movement or body tics.
  • Insecurity, both when carrying out tasks and relating to your environment. It can also show up as aggressiveness.
  • Obsessive mental images or thoughts that occur all the time.
  • Feeling down.
  • Stomach problems or recurring headaches.
  • Altered eating patterns. This can include the desire to nibble continually. “It is common to confuse anxiety with hunger and eat more food than usual,” said Sánchez.

4 tips to face anxiety

1. Shift your focus and concentrate on your routine

Avoid turning your worries over and over in your head. Stop ruminating on problems for hours or even days. “It is normal to be afraid of change,” said Sánchez, but what we must remember is that this fear also helps us to be cautious, which is useful during a crisis. Use that prudence to draft a realistic plan B that helps you to transform the situations that are causing you anxiety.

To achieve this, focus on what is within your control. “In chaotic or unstable situations, routines are very useful because they help us to focus,” said Sánchez. Put your thoughts on hold and be aware that you can’t be in control of everything, especially in unpredictable situations. Set a schedule and stick to it as much as possible.

2. Identify the source of the anxiety

Think about what worries you. List out your concerns and then write them down. You need to detail everything that is on your mind in a specific and concrete way. When some time has passed, go back and reread what you have written. This exercise “can be very useful for people who have difficulties expressing their emotions, since it will be easier for them to write them down,” said Sánchez. Here, the important thing is that after reading them, you understand what is causing your anxiety and learn to identify any triggers in the future.

Next, ask yourself what you can do to change the way you react to stress or fear. Sánchez also encourages us to “write positive responses about how we would like to deal with such situations” in the future. In this way, “we focus on our emotions and not on external agents that do not depend on us”.

3. Learn to manage your symptoms

The key is not in learning to control your emotions, but in “managing them and knowing how to regulate them,” said Sánchez. For this, techniques such as meditation or yoga can be useful. Sánchez advises those who have never practiced relaxation techniques to start with simple exercises, preferably those that are guided, “at least at the beginning”. If you aren’t sure where to start, platforms such as YouTube are a good place to look. The most important thing is to establish a daily practice.

4. Accept that you will have moments of sadness and anger

Emotions are not managed in a linear way, according to Sánchez. It is far more normal to go through various emotional states and “experience stages and even moments of anger”. Once you have improved your resilience, you will accept these stages healthily and positively. In the meantime, try to be patient and don’t blame yourself for your ups and downs. They are part of the process.

Translated by Sunita Maharaj-Landaeta

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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