Feeling Anxious at Work? Try These 5 Techniques

Local mental health specialists share their top tips for the office


Workplace mental health intertwines with every aspect of our lives. The average U.S. adult spends 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime. And, according to a 2018 survey by the Conference Board, 51 percent of those adults feel unsatisfied or unhappy in their jobs. These statistics reveal an unsettling reality: half of adults spend one-third of their lives feeling sad and unfulfilled.

This may be why anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders are the most common psychiatric conditions in the workplace, says Dr. Michelle Riba, associate director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center. However, the predominance of certain disorders can differ by occupation and location. For metro Detroiters, anxiety is especially prevalent, says Jerusha Nelson-Brent, owner of The Greene Project Counseling in Southfield.

Though anxiety is best treated with professional help, here are simple, but impactful, strategies metro Detroiters can use to manage their mental health in the workplace.

Create Purpose Outside the 9-5

On a fundamental level, humans need purpose. But when the majority of our week is spent doing unfulfilling work, our mental health takes a hit. If leaving a bad job isn’t feasible, Riba suggests getting involved in outside activities, like volunteer work, or sports — things that offer meaning and joy. Shifting focus from the negative to the positive aspects of life, and having something to look forward to, will improve overall mental health and reduce worry. If the only good thing about a job is the paycheck, sometimes individuals must make the best of out a bad situation, says Nelson-Brent. “You may actually find that you look at that job or the people on your job totally different because it doesn’t take up so much space emotionally in your life anymore,” she says.

Plan for Uncertainty

Careers present twists and turns. Management can change, work responsibilities can be reassigned, or a job may simply be the wrong fit. Riba recommends “planning” for the possibility of job unfulfillment. Get as much education as possible, and think “ahead about what might be needed if something like that happens.” Taking advantage of leadership development classes, skill-building courses, or tuition reimbursement programs help employees hone skills that can make work more meaningful, Riba says. Being intentional and proactive about creating purpose offers individuals more opportunities and lessens anxiety about the future.

Make a Playlist

Listening to music is the fastest way to transform a situation, says Nelson-Brent, who recommends using a few songs to meditate during stressful moments at work. “You designate a playlist for your most taxing time of day, and establish songs that speak to the emotions, like music often does, and meet you where you are when you’re the most stressed.” After a song or two, the music should reflect how you want to feel at your least stressed, she says. Music gives the mind a brief break, reducing anxiousness and increasing productivity throughout the day.

If You Live in Detroit, Ride a MoGo Bike

There’s something cathartic about the hustle of Detroit on a summer day, which is why Nelson-Brent recommends utilizing MoGo, Detroit’s bike sharing system. Riding a bike to work reduces anxiety, stress, and elevates the mood, she says. Starting the morning with a little exercise and fresh air can clear the mind and set a positive mental precedent.

Establish Physical and Mental Boundaries If You Work from Home

An increasing number of industries are going digital, and more people are working from home. While never leaving the couch sounds appealing, it can confuse professional and personal boundaries, and contribute to increased anxiety. People do laundry 24/7, or answer emails 24/7, says Riba. “One has to think about that. Make sure there’s some sort of line.” She recommends designating a workspace and keeping to a schedule. Working in an intentional space and establishing time limits for household tasks creates mental division. The mind can relax at appropriate times instead of being “on” or worried at all times.

Related: Mental Health: Let’s Talk About It