I wasn't surprised when Jillian Lavender from the London Meditation Centre told me there's an anxiety epidemic going on right now. But this isn't just anecdotal—there is evidence. According to a new study, one in three British workers suffers from anxiety, which impedes their ability to carry out their jobs.
So what's causing so much stress in the workplace? The study, carried out by PWC, revealed that "dealing with customers and clients, and long hours" had the biggest impact on well-being. But is that everything that's going on? While it's very much to do with the long hours we're working (the UK has some of the longest working hours in Europe), it's also the gig economy that means people are worried about getting enough work and are unable to turn off, even at night and the weekends, when they should be relaxing.
In a recent piece on the Science of Us, one freelancer revealed how this way of working is particularly stressful. The article also pointed to a Swiss study carried out this April that discovered that the mental health of people working in "non-standard employment" conditions (i.e., freelancers), found that the lack of job security coupled with financial stressors led to "sleep disturbances, depressive symptoms, a high prevalence of antidepressant drug use, and 'presenteeism [still working when ill].'"
However, the number of freelancers is only set to increase in the UK. Last year, there were two million freelancers, which was a rise of 43 percent from 1.4 million in 2008, according to a survey carried out by The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, with "few signs of the growth in freelancing slowing down anytime soon."
With this in mind, I decided to turn to my journalist freelancer friends, who gave some solid advice on how they deal with stress in the workplace. While they might all be writers, the advice they gave could apply to any industry. From how to deal with clients to learning how to process your stress in a positive way, as well as a few other tricks and tips, keep scrolling for how to cope with anxiety in the workplace.
Write a list
"I'm a big list writer. One thing about freelancing is that there's no IT support and no accounts department, so I often have lots of things whizzing around inside my head (buy printer ink, do tax returns, etc.) as well as all the different day-to-day tasks like pitching, chasing payment, and setting up interviews, and all that's before I even get around to writing anything. I find that putting jobs down in a list stops them whizzing in and out of my consciousness at random. It helps focus and calmness, plus there's the joy of crossing things off."
Remind yourself that your anxiety will pass
"I always used to try and ignore the anxious feelings and pretend to myself I was absolutely fine, but that just made the feelings grow and grow. Now I tell myself, I'm having an anxious morning; it's not fun, but it will pass. It doesn't make the feelings go away, but they don't get any bigger. They feel more manageable, and it always turns out to be true. It does pass."
Communication is key
"Don't sit thinking about what they [your client] think about you or what they think of the work. If you're worried it's been two days and they haven't replied, then drop them a line. Communication is key, and it doesn't make you seem like too much of a hassle."
Do something that makes you happy
"It's sometimes completely overwhelming, particularly when you're waiting ages to be paid and feel like the world is big and mean and totally against you. But I find that doing things like going for a swim in the middle of the day or just having a walk at 11 a.m., or making a nice lunch reminds you of the pleasures of being freelance. You couldn't do those things at your leisure if you worked in an office job."
MIND, the mental health charity, also offered up a useful list with some helpful tips for how to cope with stress in the workplace:
- Take a proper lunch break, and do something that’s a total distraction from work.
- Get some fresh air. Outdoor exercise can boost mood, even if it’s just a walk round the block.
- Where possible, avoid working long hours. It might help get urgent work done in the short term, but over long periods of time, it can leave you feeling frazzled.
- Be realistic—you don't have to be perfect all the time. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get everything right all the time; we all make mistakes.
- Make sure you take a holiday. It doesn’t have to mean going abroad: Simply taking a whole week off can be essential to recharge your batteries.
- Be assertive—say no if you can't take on extra demands that are being asked of you.
- Try to take tasks one at a time until each is finished. If you try to do too many at once, you're more likely to end up muddled and accomplishing less.
- At the end of each day, sit back and reflect on what you've done and what you've achieved, rather than spending time worrying about what still needs to be done.
- Leave work at work. Whether it’s closing the door behind you as you leave work, or as you sit down on the bus, take a moment to pause and look ahead to the time you have to yourself for the rest of the evening.
If you're looking for more advice on how to tackle stress at work, you can find more support at MIND.org.uk.