The 1 Thing You Must Do When Stress at Work Takes Its Toll

“I can’t believe I’m feeling anxious for my team meeting, and for no good reason!”

“My heart is pounding thinking about this sales call. When will I get a grip?”

“I always freak out during presentations. I’m such a wimp!”

Do any of these sound familiar? If you struggle with anxiety at work, chances are, you’re also struggling with adding insult to injury: The “injury” is the anxiety, and the “insult” is being cruel to yourself about it.

You probably wouldn’t do this if your challenges were physical. Your struggles with anxiety, stress, and overwhelm are no less worthy of a compassionate approach than your struggles with any physical pain, strain, or illness. And, considering how much our mental health impacts our physical health, I contend that we give ourselves even more compassion.

Physician-scientists Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli, authors of Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence That Caring Makes a Difference, explain compassion this way:

Compassion is an emotional response to another’s pain or suffering involving a desire to help. Compassion is often confused with a closely related term, empathy. While empathy is feeling and understanding another’s emotions, compassion also involves taking action.

While compassionate acts can and should come from others, they can and should also come from yourself. You are more likely to invite compassion from others if you are caring and kind to yourself. And the inverse is true: if you reject compassion from yourself, you’re likely to reject it from others as well.

According to Kristin Neff, Associate Professor of Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas, Austin, self-compassion involves three components:

being kind and caring toward yourself rather than harshly self-critical;
framing imperfection in terms of the shared human experience; and
seeing things clearly without ignoring or exaggerating problems
Showing yourself caring and kindness doesn’t just feel good. It can literally put you on a path to wellness. Trzeciak and Mazzarelli’s book contends that when doctors are compassionate, their patients heal better and faster. And as a result of patients recovering more quickly and with fewer complications, physicians are happier and experience less burnout.

When you show yourself compassion, you are both doctor and patient. And you reap both sets of rewards.

People who demonstrate self-compassion feel more socially connected, have greater emotional intelligence, feel happier, hold a greater sense of self-worth, experience healthier relationships, and have higher levels of life satisfaction. They also experience less fear of failure, depression, shame — and yes, anxiety.

Here are eight ways to show yourself compassion in the face of anxiety at work:

  1. Recognize that what you’re experiencing is real and that it hurts, and that it won’t last forever.
  2. Give yourself credit for any and all positive changes you’re making (no matter how small), especially if you’re likely only to focus on your setbacks and struggles.
  3. Make only “micro-asks” of yourself for the time-being, like “get out of your office for 15 minutes and take a walk around the block”.
  4. Talk to a professional and take medication if you need it, and judge yourself favorably for asking for help.
  5. Speak to yourself the way you would talk to your child or best friend – kindly, calmly, and with understanding.
  6. Share your current emotional state with someone at work with whom you feel psychologically safe, so that you don’t feel like you have to hide it with everyone.
  7. Post sticky notes on your computer screen (or change your screen saver) with quotations that remind you to treat yourself gently, and with care.
  8. Forgive yourself for being imperfect — just like everyone else.
    In the immortal words of author Ian Maclaren, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” And that includes to yourself as well.
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