How To Stay Productive When Dealing With Anxiety Disorder

Disclaimer: This isn't really a hack. There are no eight steps to beat any kind of disorder. If you're dealing with any kind of disorder, you should try to seek professional help. However, having received a diagnosis for an anxiety disorder a year ago, these are ways that I have applied to help me stay productive and successful in an otherwise anxiety-unfriendly environment.

It was in the fall of 2018 that I first came to terms with the possibility of suffering from a disorder. Before that, I had no idea it was even a term. During this period, the workload and intensity of the project I was contributing towards, together with the rapid speed of delivery expected in a technology stack that was completely new to me triggered a reaction that I had not encountered before, at least on this level.

Before long, I was increasingly panic-stricken, frequently woke up with palpitations and barely ate. It’s quite frustrating to know that you are not okay, but have no idea what is wrong. One day a friend of mine mentioned anxiety disorder, but since I hadn’t really experienced it before I did a bit of research and left it at that. Over the next couple of days, however, my trend and behaviour worsened — necessitating a visit to a mental health professional.

"It’s quite frustrating to know that you are not okay, but have no idea what is wrong."

The common definition of an anxiety disorder is that it is a category of mental disorders characterized by significant feelings of worry and fear. Normally, everyone experiences periods of anxiety and nervousness, for example when starting on or working on a complex task or preparing for a job interview. However, with the disorder, it’s different because you could be tense and worried for days on end, and it could be crippling to your work. Professionals inform that anyone is susceptible to an anxiety disorder or any other form of mental disorder at different points in their lives, based on environmental triggers. Other causes may be genetic or a change in the brain hormonal makeup.

I have not attempted to treat this by medication, although that is a viable and most advised way to handle any disorder. However, being aware has helped me develop ways to still be productive. Here are some of the things that have worked for me:

  • Pick a time when you’re least anxious to work. I noticed that it was during the morning hours that I actually had chronic anxiety, and so starting to work from afternoon to late at night became a better alternative and one that saw me get most of my work done.
  • Develop a routine and stick to it. Generally, anxiety will talk you out of anything that’s good for you. Having a routine is helpful because it keeps your mind on a sort of auto-pilot mode where you simply follow the sequence of activities. Less worry-time, more doing time. That’s the goal of beating anxiety. When I learned that I had a hard time keeping my schedule, I picked someone to keep me accountable.
  • Request extra time when working on tasks and take breaks when necessary. It might take 4 days to accomplish something but ask for 2 more just in case you experience an attack. This is helpful for you but also less frustrating for your team members, as their expectations are managed. Factor in taking frequent breaks to rid your mind of the pressure.
  • Regularly do something else outside of work that you enjoy. Most people take this lightly but engaging in an outdoor physical activity goes a long way. Unfortunately, most disorders come with their cousins and for me, the anxiety disorder came with a depressive disorder too. I found it helpful to hit the gym a few times a week. Participating in an activity that is outward and less focused on you such as giving back, volunteering or working with charity also helps. Whatever you choose to do should be incorporated in your weekly, monthly or yearly schedule.
  • Talk to a professional. Most people approach counseling or therapy as some 30 or 45 minutes event that will help you solve your problem, but that is rarely the case. A professional simply helps you understand what you’re dealing with so you can handle it better. You have to do the hard work of facing your trauma and addressing it, as well as eliminating your triggers so you can live a better life and be productive :-)
  • A support system is key. This is tricky because mental disorders tend to make you live in isolation or rather make you out up an "I'm okay" face and attitude when it's not the case.  So no one would really know what’s going on if there's a problem. It helps to have a few friends you can tell if you’re having an attack, or who can ask you when was the last one and what your trigger was.
  • Avoid your triggers. With time you’re able to identify some of your triggers. It could be specific situations, it could be specific places, times of the day or even people. Yes, people. Keep track of how these things affect you and do well to stay clear because failing to do so will mean that you have to factor in the nursing time long after you have let them affect you.
  • Remember you are bigger. The biggest hack is to remember that you are stronger than the disorder. Anxiety sort of talks down to you and makes you feel like less of yourself. It will make you feel like all your efforts and skill are worthless, every day. Remember it’s sheer mind-talk and if you overcame the most anxious of days in the past you will kill it this time too! Although ignoring it altogether isn't much help, I have found it more effective to welcome anxiety when it comes knocking, but then let it know I am actually busy being epic.

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