My day starts like millions of others: I wake well before dawn to shower and get dressed. I make a cup of coffee or reach for the secret stash of cold brew I keep in my fridge. Iced coffee is my jam — I drink it in the winter, summer, spring, and fall. And then I grab my laptop. By 7:00am, I am at work. But no matter what the day has in store for me, whether it’s overscheduled or relaxed, I am immediately stressed. My chest tightens and my head pounds. My hands clam up and my armpits begin to perspire. And the increased anxiety makes me irritable and snappy. Within 30 minutes, I’m yelling at my kids. And while the reasons are numerous — I live with bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder and am generally uneasy and uptight — working from home has exacerbated these feelings.
I have no outlet. No escape. My focus is always divided and torn. I also feel like I have no control, personally or professionally, and this makes me stressed and depressed. I am agitated, uneasy, snappy, and unhappy.
Of course, I don’t have a choice. The COVID pandemic has shuttered bookstores and coffee shops, places and spaces I would usually go to get my writing done. It has turned many office jobs into remote ones. More now than ever before, people are working from home, and they are doing so alongside family members and virtually-schooled children, and this is stressful. Individuals are feeling overburdened. I am burnt out. But I’d be lying if I said working from home was the sole cause of my stress, because it isn’t.
Having too much work puts me on edge. I fear there is not enough time in my day. There is no way I can get everything done. Not enough work? I stress about how I will make ends meet and pay the bills. And deadlines, oh, deadlines. My calendar is full through the end of the month. I don’t have any wiggle room for days off or sick time, for arguments, temper tantrums, or other “distractions.”
“Work anxiety may be caused by a variety of characteristics of the work environment,” an article on Verywell Mind explains. “It’s not at all unusual for certain major events to make you nervous or feel temporary moments of anxiety. For example, starting a new job or leaving an old one is sure to make anyone feel skittish.” But ongoing anxiety can impact every aspect of your life.
“Having anxiety at work can have a huge impact on you and your career,” WebMD explains. “If you have workplace anxiety, you might experience symptoms like… constant worrying; crying; feeling irritable, tired, or tense; feeling like you need to be perfect; having trouble sleeping; having trouble concentrating or remembering things; [and/or] losing interest in your work.” You may avoid friends and family or take off excessive time, or you may do what I do — drown yourself in your work until you cannot be or breathe. Until every aspect of your life is consumed (and dictated) by stress and fear. And you live in this manic state for weeks. Months. Until a tiny straw breaks your overburdened back.
I lashed out at my son yesterday morning, for pushing. For screaming. For crying. For wanting my attention and needing food for the umpteenth time. I am not alone. Millions have experienced (or will experience) work anxiety. According to a recent report, 83% of American workers admitted they felt stressed by or at their place of work. Why? Because individuals are being overworked.
“Workplace stress statistics reveal that heavy workloads, [long hours, untaken lunches or breaks,] deadlines, and demanding bosses all contribute to the problem,” an article from the American Institute of Stress explains. There is a problem in our country. Our work-life balance isn’t just uneven, it is disproportionally off.
That said, you do not have to live in a heightened state of stress and fear. There are things you can do to ground yourself and lighten your load:
Be honest with yourself. You cannot be everything or do everything. If you don’t have enough time for something, don’t take it on.
Communicate your needs, with your boss, colleagues, spouse, partner, and/or peers. If you need help meeting a deadline or cooking dinner, make sure that need is known.
Adopt good habits. Eat healthfully, exercise regularly, and take breaks when you can. Even a short walk down the hall (or around your house) can help.
Celebrate your successes. While it’s easy to focus on failures and missed opportunities, you should applaud the tasks which you completed. The job you did do.
Get external help, when necessary. Sometimes you need professional coaching or help.
Will these steps alleviate all workplace stress and anxiety? No, definitely not. Stress is a natural part of our existence, an inevitable part of life. But reducing your triggers can calm you, make you feel more balanced and grounded, and help you regain normalcy and balance. Reducing your anxiety will help you (re)gain control.
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