Five ways to calm anxiety in a German workplace
Sick days due to workplace stress are on the rise in Germany. A Frankfurt-based counsellor shares science-backed tips on how to combat anxiety in the office.
Sick days due to mental health are on the rise in Germany, according to a publication by statutory health insurance DAK earlier this year.
In particular, sick days due to depression or adjustment disorders have more than tripled since 1997.
Based on findings amongst their 2.5 million employed health insurance clients, DAK further found that mental health issues now rank third as a cause for illness.
Factors that only worsen this growing trend are long waiting lists for insurance covered psychotherapy, as well as a persistent cultural taboo on mental health issues in the German workplace.
To bridge the gap, here are five evidence-based ways to calm anxiety at your German job.
These science-based tips show what you can do for yourself, even amidst the constraints of being at work, when the intensity of anxiety takes over. More importantly, with the exception of one, they’re all things you can do while seated behind your desk!
Light a Jasmine-scented candle.
It might sound simple, but buying a jasmine-scented candle for your office is a top trick for coping with anxiety.
A Jasmin candle with flower pedals. Photo: Depositphotos/Almaje
In 2010, researchers at Ruhr Universität in Bochum conducted a series of behavioural tests on mice to determine the effect of jasmine as a sedative. In plexiglas cages whose air contained a high concentration of jasmine scent, mice ceased all activity and sat calmly in a corner.
In their study, these researchers found that the smell of Jasmine has the same neurological effect as that of Valium. Valium is a sedative often prescribed in the U.S. to treat anxiety. Unfortunately, it has the risk of being potentially addictive and can cause various unwanted side effects. The smell of Jasmine however, carries no negative side-effects, while similarly calming our minds.
Deep belly breathing.
Another thing we can do for ourselves is something deceptively easy: deep belly breathing. Feeling anxious tends to coincide with shallow, quick breathing. When we consciously try to breathe from our belly, we shift out of our body’s ‘fight or flight’ nervous response and into a calmer state of mind.
Here’s how to give it a try:
Place one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Take a slow, deep breath in. While doing so, try to get your hand on your belly to move up more than the one on your chest.
Repeat 10 times.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
While it feels like an overwhelming mental experience, anxiety is also something that takes place in our bodies. When you’re feeling anxious, you may notice that your shoulders feel tight and rise a bit, that your breathing becomes more shallow and certain muscles feel tense.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a simple relaxation technique you can do for yourself to loosen up some of that tension, and in the process, create some mental softness as well.
Here’s how to try it out:
While inhaling, tense your buttocks for a few seconds. Then exhale and release the tension.
Take a breath in and out, before moving on to another muscle group.
While inhaling, tense your upper thighs, before exhaling and releasing them.
Take a breath in and out, before moving on.
Continue by tensing your calve muscles, tensing your abdominal muscles, tightening your hands into fists, tensing and raising your shoulders, tensing your neck, and tightening your jaw.
Going outside for a brief walk
When we’re feeling anxious, we’re caught in a trance of fear. We feel intensely worried about a possible future scenario, as we try to figure out a way with our thoughts to gain back control.
An employee takes a brief break to step outside the office. Photo: Depositphotos/ramerocrist
While it may seem counter-intuitive, one thing we can do for ourselves is to take a short break and go for a walk outside. Not only does it help to momentarily distract you, but studies have also shown that a 20-minute stroll in nature significantly reduces our levels of cortisol (our stress hormone).
Even if your office-building is stuck in a concrete jungle, simply going outside for a brief walk during your lunch break will help your mind temporarily snap out of its loop of anxiety.
Gently touch your lips.
Another simple thing we can do to ‘switch on’ our body’s built-in relaxation response is something you might not expect: gently touching your lips with your finger. Our lips have parasympathetic fibres spread throughout them. Our parasympathetic nervous system is our body’s “chilled out” state of being.
Sounds too good to be true? Give it a try and notice what happens:
- Take one or two fingers and lightly stroke your lips. By doing this, you’ll be activating your parasympathetic nervous system.
Daniëlle van de Kemenade is a coach & (couples) counsellor based in Frankfurt. Learn more about her by visiting her website.