18 July 2018

For each of the 11 million people diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in the UK, every day can be a struggle, especially in a high-pressure job. A stressful commute, an under-resourced office, excessive working hours, or unsympathetic co-workers can all be triggers for anxiety, leaving morale and productivity dangerously low. I wanted to learn about the latest research into fixing this epidemic of workplace anxiety, so I decided to read Klaus Bernhardt’s new book, The Anxiety Cure. Here's what I learned: 

1.     Get some fresh air

Rather than staring at your phone or hiding in the toilets for ten minutes, Dr Berhardt suggests you go for a walk outside in the sun. Not only can this make you feel instantly less anxious, it can release internal pressure on your chest. Light exercise “strengthens the musculature of the diaphragm, and the stronger the diaphragm is, the harder it is for gases in the digestive system to exert pressure on your heart”, a common cause of anxiety according to Dr Bernhardt.

2.     Use the Visual Sliding Technique

Anxiety is a pattern, and a particularly difficult one to break at that. So much so that most anxiety sufferers find themselves envisioning panic attacks happening – in a meeting for example, causing even more anxiety. Bernhardt’s sliding method is one of his most effective. “Pick out a negative scene that you can visualise particularly well, regardless of whether you have experienced the scene or if it has only taken place in your imagination. Now pay attention to which side of your head this image is appearing, and then try to slide this image to the other (positive) side of your head… The negative scene has transformed, as it were, so that you can perceive it on the good side. It has become emotionally neutral at least, or even positive.”

How to deal with anxiety at work

4.     Visualise your body as powerful

Most of those who suffer from anxiety and panic in the workplace describe a sensation of tightness in the chest come over them when daily tasks become stressful. “Tightness in your chest is often described as a belt that someone has placed around your chest and pulled tight. Here, you can help yourself with the image that you have mechanical ribs of steel that you can use to expand your ribcage with the press of a button, meaning you can burst the belt whenever you feel like it, and you will be able to spread your lungs freely and with ease.”

5.     Think positively

Constantly thinking about your anxiety or visualising negative scenarios paves the way for more fear and panic. Klaus Bernhardt explains that “repeated negative thinking builds the neurobiological foundation that allows panic attacks to happen in the first place. Anyone who thinks negatively for long enough is automatically laying down an information superhighway in their brain that travels directly toward negative feelings and anxiety.” The more you visualise working calmly, happily, and productively in your place of work, the more likely you are to make this a reality.

6.     Love it, leave it, or change it

Anxiety often stems from a reluctance to change a situation which we know isn’t right for us. Bernhardt knows that the road to recovery starts by “being honest with ourselves… Have we been following a dream that proved itself a nightmare many years ago, one that we cannot admit to ourselves?  Perhaps that dream job has become a daily disappointment. Do we really have to face a job we hate every single day, just because it is a quick commute, or because we worked so hard to land it in the first place?”

Thousands of Bernhardt’s patients have found personal and professional success using these simple methods. More approaches to curing workplace anxiety can be found in his book, The Anxiety Cure.

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