Use these techniques to halt anxious thoughts as they come up

According to the Mental Health Foundation, nearly 15% of people experience mental health problems in the workplace, with women in full-time employment being nearly twice as likely to have a common mental health problem as full-time employed men. But that’s not all. A report from TUC found that employees are struggling more now than they used to with 55% of workers reporting that they feel that work is getting more intense and demanding.

Here, we’re exploring five techniques you can use to challenge anxious thoughts at work.

1. Write the thoughts down

Sometimes, whatever is worrying us can feel bigger and less manageable when the thought of it is whirling around our minds. Writing it down, either on a piece of paper or on our phones, can offer us a new perspective.

And there’s science to back it up. A study by the American Psychological Association found that writing about negative experiences can help you overcome them as, by putting your experience into perspective, you are better able to concentrate on the positive as a result.

2. Hold a balanced pose

Studies have shown time and again the positive effect that yoga practices can have on our stress and anxiety levels. If you work from home or have a private space in your workplace, you may be able to do a quick routine to let go of some stress, but if not you can still benefit from holding a balance pose for a couple of minutes.

You can start by just standing straight, with your feet hip distance apart, and lifting one foot off the ground. In order to balance, you need to find something to focus your gaze on, which doesn’t move. Keep your focus tight (no room for anxious thoughts here), and see how long you can hold the pose. You can make it harder by lifting your foot to rest on your shin, knee, or thigh.

3. Use the power of your breath

It’s a tool that’s always available to us, no matter what scenario we’re in, and using breathing exercises can have a tremendous impact on our anxiety levels. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, can effectively reduce negative subjective and physiological consequences of stress in healthy adults. So, how do you do it?

You can practise belly breathing either sitting on a chair or lying down.

  1. Begin by placing one hand on your chest and the other below your rib cage.

  2. Breathe in deeply through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your lower hand while the hand on your chest remains as still as possible.

  3. Pull your stomach back in as you exhale through pursed lips. Meanwhile, the hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.

  4. Repeat this for as many times as you wish, letting your nervous system be calmed by your breath.

4. Listen to your favourite music

Not every workplace will allow you to but, if you can, putting on your favourite tunes has been shown to reduce anxiety levels.

While several studies over the years have agreed that the act of listening to music can be positive for those experiencing anxiety, a study published in the journal The Arts in Psychotherapy found that music preference was the most important factor in effectively reducing stress levels.

So pop your headphones on or crank up the radio – enjoying the sound of your favourite music could be a way to instantly break through your anxious thoughts.

5. Avoid caffeine and sugar

When you’re struggling with anxious thoughts, it can be tempting to reach for a caffeinated drink or a sugary snack to give you a boost to get through the day – but the reality is that this could be doing more harm than good.

Caffeine causes a spike in adrenaline levels, which can make you feel more anxious. Similarly, high levels of sugar can also increase anxiety symptoms.

Where you can, when you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed by anxious thoughts, try to stick to foods and drinks with low or no levels of caffeine and sugar. Perhaps try sipping on herbal teas – or sparkling water if you’re craving some fizz – and snack on fruit or nuts.

Breaking free of anxious thoughts that come up in the workplace can be a real challenge, and there may be bigger issues at play such as being overloaded in your role or mismanagement. You may find that counselling or speaking to HR can help with longer-term issues. But these tips can make all the difference in the moment, and it’s time to stop anxious thoughts in their tracks.