Does the thought of going to work fill you with dread? Does the mere mention of a due date set your heart aflutter? Does the sight of your manager coming around a corner turn you into a quivering lump of protoplasm?
If the answer to any of these questions is a big fat “YES!” you have a condition we workplace professionals call “nervosa wrecktosis,” or, in less technical terms, when it comes to work, you are a nervous wreck.
If you are a wreck— and you are—think of Elaine Zimmerman as your tow truck.
In “Learning to Tame Your Office Anxiety,” an article she wrote for The New York Times, Zimmerman reveals that your heebie-jeebies (another technical term) are simply a side effect of evolution. “Anxiety is the body’s defense mechanism in action,” Zimmerman writes. “Our bodies and brains still react to perceived dangers the same way our forebears reacted to the sight of a predator: with the ‘fight or flight’ response.”
We will never know if our cave-bros ever faced a surprise meeting with a Tyrannosaurus Rex scarier than a surprise meeting with the vice president of Human Resources, but the VP of HR has to be scarier. The T. Rex is a whole lot nicer.
You may also feel free to blame your parents. According to clinical psychologist Linda B. Welsh, “Anxiety can also be caused by early trauma, something that went wrong in your life when you were young.”
This explains everything. That nursery school bully who bit the head off your Barbie created the Nervous Norbert you are today. And not even the Computer Engineer Barbie you keep in your bottom desk drawer can help you, though it could get you a sweet gig at Facebook.
Happily, the article provides the kind of tools we need to remain calm and carry on.
New York psychotherapist Lauren Rose suggests that the best way to prepare for an anxiety-provoking situation, like an upcoming performance evaluation, is to “think of the worst thing that happened in the last year. Was it anything to worry about? Keep going back to these facts and show yourself there’s no rational basis for your fear.”
If you are going to use this method of preparation, give yourself plenty of time. 2018 has barely started and so many bad things have already happened it’s difficult to pick the worst. (Driving a fork lift into your manager’s new Tesla S may be bad, but don’t jump to conclusions. The year is young.)
Preparation also helps. The need to make a presentation makes many people nervous, especially the people who will have to listen to your presentation. Rehearsing with a friend or a mirror is one way to prepare, though it could provoke more anxiety when the person in the mirror falls asleep before the 126th PowerPoint slide.
Another preparation technique comes from Tufts University psychologist Christopher Willard, who suggests annotating your notes with cues, like “take a deep breath here” and “pause and feel your feet on the ground beneath you.”
Personally, I recommend you “pause and feel your feet on the barstool beneath you.” In other words, do your practicing with strangers you meet at stuff-your-face-with-wings Wednesdays at The Kit Kat Klub. These discerning individuals will listen to your presentation as long as you buy the Jell-0 shots, which will give you confidence, and a group of brand-new friends to hang with when the real presentation goes south and you get fired.
Breathing is a solution to workplace jitters according to psychologist Susan Orenstein who recommends that you “inhale and push air into your belly and up into your chest, then exhale slowly.” This is clearly not going to work for you. Considering the janky junk food you regularly inhale and push into your belly, there is certainly is no room for air.
If you decide that your job jitters are so severe that you have to quit, anxiety expert Christopher Willard recommends “talking to human resources or a supervisor first.” It’s a reasonable idea, but it’s not going to work when the main cause of your anxiety is talking to human resources or a supervisor.
Clearly, the best cure for workplace anxiety is to stop working. You may start having anxiety over not working, but it won’t hurt your job performance because your job will be doing nothing, and you have zero anxiety about doing nothing.
It’s the one thing you really do well.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at email@example.com.