Workplace anxiety

Are you stressed out and anxious at the thought of attending certain meetings or delivering presentations to groups of people?  If so, you are not alone, and I want to share with you some of the strategies I’ve helped others use, to successfully overcome their own workplace anxiety. 

Overwhelming anxiety at the thought of a performance appraisal, attending a job interview, being called out in front of others by the boss or not creating a good impression in front of co-workers, or even dealing with someone with whom there is bad history, is an issue with which I am commonly asked for help across all levels of management and in many and varying industries.

Often it has got to the point that employees are losing sleep, have little appetite, can’t stop thinking about it, and it is really affecting them both at work and at home to the point – many become miserable and stressed almost to breaking point. 

Whilst the source of the anxiety might be different for you from a colleague, there are some general tools you may use that will help if you find yourself in this situation.

Here are 9 generic strategies to deal with workplace anxiety in meetings or presentations.

  1.  End it before you begin. 
    • Find some time when you won’t be interrupted to lie down and close your eyes…and imagine the event, meeting, interview etc. has already happened and was a stunning success.  Better than you could ever have imagined previously.  How would you feel once it was over and went so, so well.  Feel it. What would say to yourself after that success?  Say it in your own mind.  What would you see?  Picture it.  Live this success as vividly as possible in your own mind with your eyes closed and imagine all the things you would feel, hear, see, say when it went so well.
    • Our unconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined so by imagining a successful outcome and feeling what you would feel etc., you have just set the tone for your unconscious mind as to what the end goal is.  This will now help you get there.
    • By taking your mind to the finish line and having it turn out well, you’ll probably find your anxiety quietens down and your stress levels subside somewhat because your unconscious mind already knows the outcome.

  2. Find a buddy to debrief with
    • Before the stressful event, commit to a person you feel comfortable with, that you are going to debrief the meeting with them afterwards.
    • This encourages your mind to take a ‘step back’ in the actual meeting and take on a more observatory role, as you are preparing to report back to your buddy.  This is particularly powerful for people who find themselves getting too emotional in meetings as this ‘step back’ allows them to be more detached emotionally.
  • Learn from experience
    • What typically happens in this meeting that you are feeling anxious about?  Is there a pattern to the meeting or a way a particular person behaves that makes you anxious?  Is there a pattern to the way you behave?  What can you anticipate and prepare for?  Perhaps prepare for not knowing an answer.  Prepare for getting emotional if that’s what you think might happen.  Prepare for what is likely to come your way and don’t be afraid to ask colleagues for help in anticipating ‘curveballs’. 
    • Remember that ‘Every experience has a structure.  And if we change the structure then we change the experience’ (Michael Grinder).  So, change what you can to get a different experience.  Change where you stand or sit, change the room, change the time of day, change what you wear, change who is in the room.  Even if it is just your mindset or priorities or goals going into the meeting that is making you anxious. Remember, ‘If you always do what you always done you will always get what you always got’ (Phil Boas).

  • Perspective
    • Remember that the problems you have today are likely to be gone in 3 weeks, 3 months or 3 years.   Put it in perspective.  Your work isn’t your life. You are more than your work or anything that happens today or tomorrow.
  • Set a goal
    • Set a goal of behaving in such a way that whatever happens, you make the 6-year-old you, and the 60-year-old you proud.
    • This helps cut out some of the white noise and centers you back to who you are and what is important to you.   We are all on our own journey and a brand-new manager isn’t likely to handle tricky situations in the same way an experienced old timer is.  But you can learn from what happens and become bullet proof to it happening again. 

  • Two values
    • Find 2 values that you want to be known for and hold those as ‘lodestars’ going into the meeting.
    • This will help to filter possible unwanted reactions and give you more awareness of choosing how to respond in a difficult situation

  • Power poses
  • For the introverts…
    • Have a few key phrases top of mind that you can use to respond to any likely surprises.  This will give you thinking time to process whatever has come at you unexpectedly.   E.g. ‘Can you tell me more?’
    • Have a plan to divert the audience’s attention to give you ‘thinking room’.  E.g. refer them to a page or a place on a handout.  Direct their attention to a PowerPoint slide etc..

  • Stay in your lane
    • Take responsibility for what you should, not what you shouldn’t. 
    • It’s your job to deliver the responsibilities of your role, not micromanage everyone else’s attitude or beliefs.  You can’t always change people’s minds, make them like you or truly agree with everything you think.

Anxiety is often said to come from worrying about what hasn’t happened yet.  It is also fueled by our past experiences.  These techniques help to leverage our past experience in a way that will help us be more prepared and stay in the moment whilst also diluting the power of the meeting by putting it in perspective and reminding us of who we are. 

We are then able to be less emotionally reactive, more objective and realistic about what is in our power to achieve.  These techniques give us back some control which decreases stress and the anxiety we had been experiencing.

If you would like more specific help with a particular situation, please contact us.

Cathy Taylor

October 2022

Start the conversation