Does it feel impossible to stop worrying about work?
Tell me if this sounds familiar. Day in and day out, you’re inundated with unhelpful thoughts like,
- What if I’m not performing up to standards?
- I don’t feel appreciated or supported in what I do.
- Ugh! That conversation felt so uncomfortable. I’m awkward. I don’t think she likes me.
- Everyone else is so much more skilled and talented than I am. What if someone notices I’m a fake? I’m going to get discovered.
That voice is your inner critic. And, work anxiety or work-related stress, organizational changes, demanding projects, new leadership, and burnout at work all dial our inner critic up to a 10.
It can feel overwhelming, even hopeless, when we get mired in these negative thoughts.
But there’s always something you can do.
Use these five tools to stop worrying about work and shift your energy back to a higher state.
1. Give Yourself Breathing Room
When I began my midlife career transformation, I took time for myself (it feels weird when you’ve put other people first for so long). I journaled as if my life depended on it. My days included long walks and exploring new hobbies. I was serious about adding joy to my life.
Identify an activity that will get you out of your head, interrupt your pattern of worrying about work, and shift your energy to a higher level of thinking.
Get out in nature: hike, fish, camp. Garden. Literally, get your hands dirty.
Any physical practice will act like a much-needed reset button and help calm your work anxiety.
2. Identify Your Triggers
When physicians suspect you have an allergy or food sensitivities, they don’t just unquestioningly treat your symptoms.
They ask you to keep a food log. To track when you experienced unpleasant symptoms, what you ate, and what your symptoms were. The idea is to get specific.
Start a worry log to stop worrying about work and/or shift your energy when you’re experiencing burnout at work.
Find a notebook, write today’s date at the top, and write it down whenever a new worry comes up. Don’t sugarcoat it. Write precisely what you’re feeling. You’re not problem-solving right now.
For your worry log, all you need is three things:
1. The date (I recommend keeping a daily or weekly log)
2. Your worry
3. What triggered it
Do you get feelings of inadequacy before meetings? When you’re introducing yourself to new hires? What brings up these feelings for you?
When you know your triggers, you can work on them. You can carve extra time before meetings to take a few calming breaths. If introductions make you nervous, you can roleplay introductions and small talk with a friend or coach.
3. Name Your Emotions
When you’re stuck in the cycle of worrying about work—when you’re overwhelmed by work anxiety—it might surprise you to learn that what’s keeping you stuck is your lack of specificity.
A theme keeps coming up in my early coaching calls.
I might ask a client, “How does that make you feel? What emotion is coming up for you?” Here are the responses I get:
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t like the way I feel.”
“It doesn’t feel good.”
We can work with that (and, trust me, we do). It can feel all but impossible to stop worrying about work or make any actual progress on your professional challenges when you don’t have the language to describe what’s happening.
I encourage all my clients to use tools like The Feeling Wheel. This allows us to get really specific about what we’re feeling.
It helps us go from “I don’t know” to “I don’t feel valuable” to “I’m feeling underappreciated, resentful, and bored.”
When we can get specific about what’s behind your worries or your burnout at work, we can begin to heal them. Bonus: Naming our emotions on its own helps soften them. When we name our emotions, they no longer have a strong hold on us.
4. Focus on Your Body
Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s nice, Jen. When I have the free time to work on my personal development, I’m on it! But what do I do when I start panicking at work? What do I do when I’m overthinking in the office, and I just can’t seem to stop?”
I’ve got you covered. If you need to stop worrying about work ASAP—if you need to regroup to put the finishing touches on a project or calm your nerves before a meeting—there are strategies you can use that will go into effect immediately.
My personal favorite is to focus on your body. Lean into your senses.
What do you hear right now? Feel? See and smell?
For example, if you’re getting ready to present in a meeting, you’re up next, and your heart is racing, you can take a few moments to feel the ridges on your pen. Hear the thrum of the AC kicking in. Look at the tiny dots that make up your laptop speaker. Breathe.
Get curious about your sensory experience. Focusing on your body and its experience of the present moment is a beautiful tool to stop rumination FAST and feel immediate relief from work anxiety and stress.
5. Write It Down
The act of physically writing things down is powerful. According to Psychology Today, writing things down with a pen and paper stimulates brain activity.
Journaling is your friend if you want to get the wheels in your head turning and come up with solutions faster. Here are three ideas to get you started:
Expressive writing encourages you to think about some questions as you go. What challenged you about a particular situation or worry, your patterns of worrying, or your burnout at work? What did you learn from it? How will this experience change your approach moving forward?
Set a timer for 20 or 30 minutes and write. Write down everything you’re feeling. Be honest. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar.
(You can read more about expressive writing and its benefits here.)
Write your emotions and worries as characters.
If you’re worried people don’t like you or if you’re constantly wondering whether it’s you or them, name your worries and make them into characters.
For example, the fear that others don’t like you can be Linda.
Maybe you’re worried you’re not performing up to standards. Your work is subpar. Call this worry, Brenda.
Making your worries into characters helps you disentangle yourself from them. Instead of thinking, “I’m an insecure person,” “I’m an anxious person,” or “I’m a worry wart,” you begin to realize you’re just having an anxious thought or “Linda’s being extra vocal today.”
You’re not your thoughts. You’re not your insecurities or fears. Name them to distance yourself from them.
Pretend you’re walking someone else through it.
What if a friend came to you and asked you how to stop worrying at work? What if you woke up today and discovered you were giving a TED Talk in a few hours? The subject of your TED Talk, of course, is strategies to crush work anxiety and reduce stress on the job! (Go you.)
Journal about it like it’s happening. What would you say? What research would you include? Do you already know some helpful factoids?
Chances are, you’re not going to tell a roomful of people (and the organizers kind enough to invite you to deliver a TED Talk) that they’re SOL. They’re up a creek without a paddle. You’re going to do your best to come up with answers. Often, you’re your best resource. Trust yourself. Trust your intuition and the strategies that feel best for you.
Rumination, stress, and burnout at work can feel overwhelming.
The truth is these emotions are like a toddler having a meltdown.
Picture your niece or grandchild beating their little fists on the floor. It’s easy to get swept up in their heightened emotions. Maybe your cortisol gets sky-high.
But there are other options.
You can choose to distract them or let the tantrum run its course. It might surprise you how quickly a toddler loses their steam.
You disrupt the cycle by giving yourself room to breathe, identifying your triggers, focusing on your body, naming your emotions, or writing them down. Just like a toddler tantrum, your worries run their course. And, with these tools in your toolbelt, they’ll lose their steam much faster. If worries about work overwhelm you, let’s connect. I would love to be the person in your corner. Get on my calendar for more strategies to stress less.