New job anxiety: 10 tips on how to overcome it

I think there are two types of people in the world. People who define themselves by their jobs. And people who define themselves by what they do after their jobs. And, while I try to be the latter, I've noticed that I definitely define myself by my job.

Last week, I started a new job where I had to move about 80 miles away. And you could say, because of the type of person I am, this change has caused sort of an identity crisis for me.

Having to say good-bye to my previous co-workers. Meeting new co-workers and trying to make a good first impression. Going from being the go-to person for everyone’s technology/communications questions to being the one asking all the questions. Getting lost in the parking structure the first couple days because I didn't know where I was going.

I never knew that making this change would cause my anxiety - which I picture as a ugly monster at the back of my brain - come out in full-force. I thought, instead, that it should make me excited! So, I started to beat myself up for feeling anxious which, of course, only made it grow.

But yesterday - for the first time - I started to feel better because, guess what?! I realized I'm not alone in this feeling! (*phew*)

According to the business magazine Fast Company, humans are hardwired to feel anxious in new situations. And, apparently, the cause of this reaction in our brains can be traced way back to the Paleolithic period.

"During the hunter-gatherer days, encountering a stranger usually occurred when you were moving into another tribe’s territory, and that was stressful and potentially dangerous. Humans had to quickly decide whether the stranger was a friend or foe and take appropriate action," Keith Rollag, Dean-Elect of Babson College's Franklin W. Olin Graduate School of Business told the magazine.

He said that, while in that time period, people only came in contact with a few hundred people in their lifetimes, today, we can encounter that many people in a single day. And - especially when starting a new job and being introduced to a new situation and several new people all at once - it can be overwhelming for our brains.

“We are out of our element from an evolutionary standpoint, and our minds and cognitive abilities are still catching up," said Rollag.

So, what can you do to overcome this anxiety (besides popping Xanax like candy - which I've, admittedly, had to force myself not to do)?

1. Take a breather

Clinical psychologist Dr. Joshua Klapow told Bustle that the first thing you can do to control your anxiety at work is make sure your breathing is slow and steady. "If you can control your breathing, you'll feel much better," he said. If you're feeling overwhelmed, take a bathroom break, even if you don't have to go to the bathroom (hopefully my co-workers didn't think I had a bladder problem in my first couple days!) or go outside for a moment for fresh air.

2. Make your space your own.

Personalizing your work space on one of your first days will make you feel more confident, Klapow said. "There's going to be so many unknowns at a new job. So long as you've got somewhere to go to, it starts giving you familiarity. It is your known in an unknown situation."

3. Applaud yourself for making a change.

"It takes courage to step out of your comfort zone and create real forward change. And once you've successfully pulled it off once, it just gets easier and easier," award-winning physician Susan Biali Haas wrote on Psychology Today.

4. Realize that feeling anxious does not mean something bad is going to happen.

"Go back in your mind to times when you felt seriously anxious about a new element of your life. How did things turn out? Chances are everything was just fine, and it's really useful to remind yourself of this," said Haas.

5. Don't be so hard on yourself.

"Instead of thinking something like 'I don't know anything' why not try reframing it to 'I don't know everything...yet. I'm still learning'? See how it feels when you don't put the pressure on yourself to know it all," therapist Jacqueline Hurst wrote in GQ Magazine.

6. Remember to take care of yourself.

At my new job, there's a "candy palace" near my desk - a table where co-workers bring in sweets. And whenever I'm stressed, it's hard not to go eat some chocolate. Or go into the break room for another cup of coffee. But, if I'm feeling anxious, these stimulants will make me feel more jittery, not less. Instead, I've been trying to take a brisk walk during my lunch break everyday and, at night, getting to bed earlier than I normally would.

7. Trust in the process.

Someone once told me, "The best day is the day you found out you got the job. The worst day is your first day at that job." Maybe your work station isn't set up yet, and you don't have the tools to perform your job. Maybe you have nothing to do yet. Maybe you're spending hours in training or reading manuals. But, while this isn't fun, remember, it's necessary in getting started somewhere new and your job won't always be like this.

8. If your position is less pay or not your "dream job," remember this is just a step in your career.

"If you took a role that is not quite aligned with your ultimate career aspirations, consider the upside of the situation. The employment will help you get back in the game, meet new people, expand your network, and possibly develop a new skill that you did not have before," an article on Glassdoor states. "Identify things you can do to improve your situation over the medium- and long-term. Can you take an online course to advance your skills further?"

9. Have some fun after work!

As I said before, my biggest problem has been making my job my life. So, I decided to take this job to be closer to my family, my boyfriend and several of my friends. Poet Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as making a ‘life.’”

10. Seek help from a professional if needed.

Experts say that it's commonplace to be anxious the first two weeks or so of a new job. But, if your new-job-anxiety continues past week #4, at the latest, you should check in with a mental health professional. 

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