I suffer from an anxiety disorder, amongst a few other mental health problems. A lot of young people deal with mental health problems, and just because I have an anxiety disorder does not mean that I’m not ambitious, hardworking and wanting to make the most of my time on my Penguin Random House work experience placement. I’m certain a number of other applicants also feel this way!
When I’m in a new situation, such as a new office, no matter how organised I am, I can never be sure of how my anxiety is going to affect me.
Throughout my two week stint on the glorious Penguin Random House rollercoaster, on good days it barely affected me at all, and I was free to simply enjoy the ride. However, occasionally, anxiety almost got the better of me.
I know how stressful new situations can be for anxious beings like me, so here’s my list of “anxiety hacks” that helped me a lot during my placement. Even if you don’t struggle with mental health issues, everyone gets nervous, and I’m sure a number of these will be applicable to just about anyone that’s feeling a little bit stressed or worried!
- If you’re nervous about approaching someone, just email: No matter what department you are in, you are going to have to relay information at one point or another. Sometimes when I’m in an anxious headspace, the thought of walking over to someone else’s desk and stuttering my way through a question is just too much. At times like this, email will be your best friend. Even if you’re only contacting the person directly in front of you, emailing allows you the chance to express everything you need to say in a clear, well-structured manner. It allows you to practice if you’re not used to emailing colleagues, plus, if you forget what you’ve said, or what your correspondent’s reply was, you can just go back and check without having to ask a second time!
- Don’t worry, this isn’t like school: Some of you will be taking this placement having recently left school. I’m twenty-two, so I left school years ago, but my anxiety disorder sometimes makes me feel like a nervous school child. Everyone I met at Penguin Random House was lovely, open, and understanding, and even though I was new and in an unfamiliar environment, they always treated me as an equal. Take refuge in the fact that you will not be in a teacher-student dynamic with your colleagues; you will, as an adult, be trusted to get on with your work experience in your own way and mostly at your own pace, without feeling as if you are under a scary watchful eye. Your supervisor is not going to be annoyed with you if you need a little extra help with something, or have to ask a question more than once.
- Everyone is doing their own thing: I personally get very nervous if and when I am working amongst a large number of people because I often worry that everyone is watching me, or judging what I’m doing. I obsess over very minute details like, “What if someone thinks I hold my pen funny? Did my supervisor notice the way I just violently twitched in the middle of that meeting?!” (Note: she didn’t notice) and it completely destroys my focus. In times like this, it helps to remember that everyone around you will be getting on with their own work and deep in their own thoughts. It can even help to look at something in your field of vision that you previously were not paying any attention to, such as a stapler or an office-plant, and remind yourself that until you specifically shifted your focus onto it, it was not on your mind at all. Take comfort in the fact that you are everyone else’s office-plant!
- Everyone wants to help you: During my second year of university, I was approached by a nervous first-year student who wanted to know where the toilet was. She seemed mortified over having to ask a stranger, but I was thrilled because this meant that I officially looked like I knew where I was and what I was doing. People will honestly be equally as thrilled if you approach them and ask them where something is, or how to do a certain task. Believe me, when I say that nobody will be dwelling on the fact that you had to ask, they will be focused on how good it made them feel that you chose to ask them!
- Bring your lunch with you: If cafeterias and unfamiliar choices trigger your anxiety, bring yourself a lunch from home. The cafeteria has a separate division with several microwaves if you want to heat up your own food, and you can avoid the majority of the lunch queues this way.
- Fiddle? Bring your hand cream: When I get anxious or stressed, I fiddle with my hands, wringing them or picking at the skin around my nails. In order to combat this, I bring hand cream and use it whenever I feel anxious, and my nervous habit is suddenly transformed into something useful… habitual skin-care!
- Chamomile/peppermint tea is a godsend: Take some herbal tea bags into the office with you. You are allowed free use of the office kitchen, so if you need to take a minute away from your desk to breathe and calm down, go and make yourself a cup of tea. Chamomile and peppermint tea is de-stressing. If you have anti-anxiety medication, remember to take it with you.
- Headphones are allowed: If the office buzz is making you anxious, feel free to put your headphones in and work to music. Just let people around you know that is what you’re doing, so they don’t try and get your attention verbally without knowing.
- The trip home: As a newbie to London, I downloaded an app that would allow me to familiarise myself with the tube system. As an anxiety-sufferer, I found it beneficial to take time after work to grab a drink or some food and wait until post-rush-hour before attempting to make the journey home. Rush hour on the tube is very cramped and noisy.
- If it gets bad, please tell someone: My other mental health problems, such as depression, are not the kind that can be solved by having a cup of tea. I know that, if these start flaring up, sometimes serious actions need to be taken to stop things from spiralling out of control. Penguin Random House cares about the mental wellbeing of its employees, and if you suffer from mental health conditions and you are struggling, please let someone. Your health and wellbeing should come first. over everything!