This is how I got better at dealing with stress at work

How I got better at dealing with stress at work

When I was lucky enough to land a big promotion, I was also hit with the job stress and work anxiety that came with it. Sometimes I was simply too busy to take a moment to think (an email could hit my inbox once every 1.5 minutes) and sometimes I was overwhelmed trying to deal with unhappy clients, frustrated team members, and a perplexed boss who couldn't understand why it was taking me so long to get things done! And while I reveled in the challenge and stimulation that came with my new position, there were days when I just wanted to hide under my duvet than face going into work.

For me, dealing with stress at work was totally new! Sure there was the odd panic on previous jobs when I slept through an alarm or I felt nervous before a big meeting, but these rarely took up too much worry or energy. The big jump in my career prompted a feelings of anxiety at work. I was suddenly managing a big team, had frightening responsibilities and was confronted with decisions I never thought I would be making in my life.

I coped with the extra workload by getting to work earlier and staying later, convinced it was my own inadequacy that brought on this feeling of failure.

On weekends, I'd feel guilty if I didn't spend at least one full day studying and learning, and rarely switched off emails for more than a couple of hours at a time. At nights, I'd get home late from the office and eat my feelings by munching my way through an entire packet of Marks and Spencers Extremely Chocolately Mini-Rolls (okay this sometimes still happens ha!).

Looking back now, I'd like to give 2018 me a good shakin' up and say girl you gotta relax (said in Michelle Obama’s voice, naturally).

The stress itself hasn't magically disappeared, but my reaction to it has improved. Most days I can usually look stress right in the eye and bellow 'bring it on!' right in its face, no chocolate mini-rolls necessary (although, still highly desirable).

It took a bit of practice, but here are the top three things that have helped me manage my anxiety and stress at work:

1. Don't wait until you are stressed before you do something about it

Just like you wouldn't wait until the day before a marathon to run your first 10km, you shouldn't wait until you are stressed to do something about it.

My natural instinct is to ignore a problem, thinking it will go away. I am slowly being brave enough to be pro-active: sometimes this can be emailing a client to let them know we need more time to work on a brief, sometimes this can be letting my boss know that I need an extra day to complete an assignment.

I also try and meditate regularly. Funnily enough, as soon as work gets busy this is one of the first things that I drop! But is it worth sacrificing the benefits of a meditation just to gain an extra 10 minutes in the morning? Probably not. I use Headspace and try and start the day with a 10-minute session. It’s taught me that I have to acknowledge the stress, not bow to it, and has helped me re-frame the story so I don’t make it sound worse in my head than it really is.

2. Accept you can only do one thing at a time, and focus on doing it well

Work can sometimes make me feel a bit like a cartoon character who suddenly grows a dozen arms and starts doing everything at x20 speed. One of the most helpful things to make sure I don't let anxiety overwhelm me is to remind myself that I prefer not to do several things at once, so that I can focus better on the task at hand. Using 'I prefer' as opposed to 'I should' also helps frame this positively as it helps you see this as a choice.

I usually make a list of the main things I have to achieve that day, in the order of priority. I tell myself that as long as I just work like I am supposed to, everything will turn out fine.

3. Understand that your resilience to a heavy workload will depend on whether you allow time for recovery

Society has led us to believe that resilience to stress or overworking is our ability to just keep on going, but there is ample research and studies which show that this simply doesn't work (we just get less and less productive). Instead, we have to alternate between trying really hard, and recovery. 

Apparently it's all to do with our biology, some neat term called Homeostasis which is a fancy pants word for our mental balance and well-being.

The key is not just to rest. I don't know about you, but I have sometimes gone to bed early only to lay there for hours fretting about all the work I wasn't doing. Not exactly restful!

You have got to be intentional about recovery.

I noticed a huge difference when I started taking up dance as a hobby. I would go every Wednesday evening, often bolting out of the office after rushing through my tasks but it was worth it every time. Choosing a hobby like ballet (anyone who knows me can enjoy a good laugh at this...flexibility and elegance is NOT my natural forte!) was the best decision because holy crud there was so much to think about! For the full hour, my brain was blissfully turned off work.

Unfortunately hobbies tend to slip the second work stress piles up - the proof? I haven't been back in weeks but am making it one of my monthly goals for May. Like I said in the beginning, managing anxiety is a constant work in progress!

I'd love to hear what tips have helped you to overcome anxiety or stress at work. Share them in the comments below or send an email to