Three simple work hacks to ease anxiety

Our mental health is closely linked to our careers, so Marisa Bate (freelance writer = stress-inducing work situations) is perfectly placed to try these life-changing tips from a career coach

A recent study has revealed just how closely our mental health is linked to our careers. According to the survey by Mind Share, ‘half of millennials (defined in this survey as 23-38 years old) and 75% of Gen-Zer (18-22 years old) respondents have quit a job partially due to mental health reasons’. As this generation comes to grips with an increasing awareness of mental health issues, as well as the stresses and strains caused by living in the digital era, workplace anxiety is proving to be a real problem.

Since becoming a freelancer, like many others are increasingly choosing to do in the UK, I’ve ran into my fair share of anxiety-inducing situations; panics over where the next job is coming from, how to manage money, and the steady series of rejection that comes with pitching yourself. And sometimes, it can feel overwhelming.

Yet recently I had a 90-minute conversation with career coach, Sarah David, who runs Thrive, a company that works with people and businesses to make them work more efficiently and to create positive change. But how much change can someone really create in 90 minutes, I thought to myself before we spoke. Yet, by the time I’d put the phone down, I had a notebook full of scribbles and a brand new perspective. Instead of anxious, I felt geared-up and ready to go. Instead of overwhelmed, a feeling that often leaves me paralysed and unproductive, I felt focused, with a new sense of organisation. How? Here’s some of Sarah’s secrets:

1. Don’t underestimate the power of a list

Yes, this sounds obvious, but if you’re bad at keeping lists like I am, it is a revelation. Maybe on a really busy day I might note down a few key things, but more often than not, I’m fire-fighting through emails and deadlines, and, without a list, both tasks and ideas slip through the net, disappearing off my radar either permanently or until someone awkwardly reminds me I should have delivered something. Sarah insists I keep a list for everything because just the process of writing something down has been proven to lodge things in our brains.

Sarah also made clear that lists are useful for the bigger picture plans, not just the nitty-gritty of the everyday. I mentioned I wanted to be braver in life and work, so she encouraged me to start a bravery list. Just by writing the ideas down, they seemed a bit more plausible. And there’s something secretly thrilling about carrying around your wildest schemes and dreams in the back of your notebook.

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2. Set yourself targets

Sometimes, it can feel enough of an achievement just to make it to Friday but Sarah recommends finding the time to set targets. These could be financial ones for the year ahead or they could also be career oriented ones. Often I feel I’m jumping from one project to the next, never quite sure of my trajectory or how well I’m doing, just muddling along knowing a few basics such as if I’d paid my rent/missed a deadline/not pissed off all my clients. And whilst targets might sound intimidating and stressful – another source of anxiety, potentially – Sarah helped me see they actually alleviate the stress. Because setting targets forces you to really understand where you are right now, in your career, and ask useful questions. What is realistic? What do you want? What are your goals and ambitions? What would make your life better?

And it doesn’t all have to be direct work targets, either. It can be things on the periphery that make work better and easier, like a target to schedule more downtime or to spend more time in nature. It almost instantly gave me a sense of focus and purpose. And be kind to yourself, Sarah told me. Don’t set yourself up to fail, but set your sights on something.

3. Know your values.

I come from the strict school of Head Down and Get On With It. This was what my mum taught me from the get-go and it’s stuck. But sometimes you have to drill a bit deeper and ask ‘why?’ Knowing why you do something, or don’t, as the case may be, can be a very grounding feeling, sucking out the anxiety that lingers at surface level, giving you a stronger sense of purpose and direction.

Sarah and I spoke about what’s important to me when it comes to my career – both in the kind of work I do, and the way I go about it. Reminding yourself of the why; why some work feels more important than others, why you believe in commitment or collaboration or innovation or entrepreneurship or whatever it may be, is a very fruitful exercise. Knowing the why will help you remember why you’re on the path you are on. And when you start to see the woods through the trees a bit more clearly, hopefully some of that stress will start to lift.

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