Top Skills Thursday: Channeling Anxiety

We spend a lot of time fighting our anxiety. I know. Especially those of us with long-term anxiety disorders. However, did you know you can turn that anxiety into something useful? This is extra helpful with workplace anxiety.

The first step is to nail down what has you anxious. I’ll use my own job as an example, but you’ll want to look at your situation.

  • Endlessly increasing sales pressure.
  • Being held accountable for things I have no control over.
  • Having to hit somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 compliance points in a 7-8 minute call.
  • People who scream, cuss, and threaten when they call in.
  • Constantly moving goals/expectations from leadership.
  • Lack of career mobility.
  • Losing my job before my job hunt gives me a new one.

These are the main stressors for my current job, at a call center. But, when I look at all these things I can take the next step toward converting workplace anxiety into something useful. The first thing to ask is, “What common themes am I seeing in the sources of anxiety?”

Continuing with my example:

  • Wanting to do well. I take pride in my work. Being able to perform at a high level is something that helps me feel better about myself. Not having that status makes me feel uneasy.
  • Not wanting to be abused. The joy of a call center is that if we stand up for ourselves, we risk disciplinary action. So, we have to take the abuse. We have to endure people insulting our intelligence and more. Wanting to hold a boundary that says “You cannot do this to me” and not being able to is a definite source of anxiety.
  • Feeling stuck despite knowing, and having all your leaders acknowledge, you’re able to do more. I have leaders who would like to see me move forward, if we could just get everything to line up so I had the stats (required by the company) for a long enough period to let me move up the line. You’re not allowed to advance your career if you have a bad month at the wrong time and it shows up in the performance evaluation for a new position.

So, I have three things in this list I can narrow down into one statement.

I wish to be valued for the work I do, to be treated with respect, and have opportunities for my future.

Well then, that doesn’t seem like it should be a huge ask, right? It honestly shouldn’t be an ask at all, in my opinion. And there’s the source of the stress and anxiety. A lack of feeling valued, respected, or having opportunities.

Great, now, what do we do with all this insight into things we already knew, Kambry? 

Now we put it to work FOR us, instead of letting it hobble us.

I wish to be valued for the work I do.

The first person who will value you, is yourself. Value your efforts, and your results. Not meeting a company goal but doing better than the last month/week/etc? Applaud yourself. Give yourself a small reward and a pat on the back. A little recognition goes a long way!

Then, take things a step further. When you do something you’re exceptionally proud of, tell someone. It can be a coworker, or a boss, but share your achievement. Others will cheer for you.

I wish to be treated with respect.

Depending on your job, this may be harder than it sounds. In my position in a call center, if I’m getting stomped on by customers, I can ask someone for help in not having that happen. I can get clarification on how far a customer can go before I can tell them to back down. I can ask for help in tactics to de-escalate a customer before they get abusive.

(And a side note, when you folks call in to any company, don’t be complete assholes. We are people. We do our best, sometimes make a mistake, but will half-kill ourselves trying to fix it. You aren’t “owed” credits, extensions, new phones, or money back from time you lost at work. You’re calling to do business. Freaking act like it and stop abusing the people who are in place to help you.)

Moving right along….

I wish to have opportunities for my future.

No matter what career you’re in, those opportunities to advance do exist. If you’re getting passed over, find out why. Go to your direct supervisor or the person in charge of the team you want to join. Ask them to give you detailed items as to why you aren’t selected for promotion, AND ask what their suggestions are to correct those items. As you meet those goals, tell them. Make them aware of your efforts and progress.

The other option is the one I’ve chosen. Apply for positions in other companies. If you can’t move to where you want to be in the company you’re with, look at taking that step for yourself. For me, it boiled down to a decision between spending years hoping to beat out the 200+ other people in the office, or simply applying for the position I wanted with other companies.

I’ve worked in tech long enough to know, this is absolutely the norm in the field. A person works a job, gains mastery of the skills, perhaps picks up a new certification or two, and then changes companies to take their career to the next level. It’s not at all uncommon for someone to change companies every 3-5 years and it’s not a black mark on a resume as long as each change is a step forward.

In a much more immediate sense of using your anxiety, you can channel the nervous energy into sounding/being more energetic and upbeat. Dump it into completing the stack of work you have in front of you. Focus it on meeting the goal you’ve set for your day.

When the day is over, reward yourself well. Take a hot bath, a long walk, read a book, listen to music, eat a healthy meal, or whatever else works best for you to unwind. Let go of the stress. Yes, you’ll have to go back tomorrow, but that’s tomorrow. Take your time in the present and leave your work at the office.

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