Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Managing High-Functioning Anxiety in the Workplace

Mindfulness activities you can practice at your desk.

Professionals with high-functioning anxiety continue to take on more and more, even when overwhelmed with projects. They may overthink and procrastinate, lost in the details of a project that needs to be just right.

High-achieving professionals pride themselves on being hardworking, detail-oriented, and helpful, but these traits can be a recipe for burnout.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
Busy people may resist breaks
Source: Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Burnout makes it more difficult to slow down their thoughts:

  • If I want this done right, I have to do it myself.
  • I need to work harder than everyone else.
  • If I say no, I'll be letting someone down.
  • If I ask for help, others will think I can't handle this project.

Many professionals fail to recognize these thoughts as destructive and maintain they drive them to success, but these thoughts are ultimately unproductive.

Busy people may resist breaks as they experience guilt or believe they don't have time to complete everything that needs to get done. Working from home can make it even harder to set boundaries on work, but even three to five minutes away from the screen can serve as a reset.

Here are a few mindfulness techniques to practice at a desk:

Notice your breath

We are meant to breathe from our bellies, not our chest. Relaxing the abdomen allows more room for the diaphragm to contract, giving the lungs more space to fill up with air. Breathe out with a little extra drawing in of the belly button. There is no need to strain; breathe naturally in and out through the nostrils.

Next, take note of whether your inhales and exhales are equal. Breathe in for a count of five, then try to balance the breath by breathing out to the count of five.

Monitor your energy

Picture a teacup. In your mind, visualize water going into the cup and then see yourself pouring it back out. The water goes in and out like you are running it through a funnel.

Now picture a funnel. You pour water in, and it flows right back out.

Photo by Sanja Gjenero from FreeImages
Source: Photo by Sanja Gjenero from FreeImages

Now, flip the funnel so the narrow part is at the top and the large opening faces down—any water going in flies out in different directions. Professionals with high-functioning anxiety aren't cups; they are upside-down funnels giving from a place of depletion.

It's powerful to decide that you don't want to live like that and flip the funnel over. What will help you plug the funnel, so you have a chance of filling up? Breathing, a break, meditation?

Visualize the funnel any time you need to check in with your energy.

Create some space

Listen to a song from beginning to end. Tune out the world around you and focus on the sound after you've sat through the entire piece, breathe, and listen for a second time as able to notice something new.

High-functioning anxiety doesn't turn off because we decide to sit and meditate; it can be frustrating to sit quietly with so many thoughts bouncing around. Brief guided meditation is a great way to start, either listening to an app or repeating a loving-kindness or metta meditation.

May I be well, happy, and peaceful. May no harm come to me.
Now repeat this phrase but say the name "X" of another person instead of "I" and "me."
May X be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to X.
Next, repeat with groups of people you love.
May my family be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them.
Traditionally metta meditation includes the same wishes for animals, difficult people, and builds from the people of your town to the larger universe.

Weaving these practices into the workday can help professionals maintain a sense of control in stressful environments.