How to Be Less Anxious as an Intern

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Anxiety – It’s the feeling in the pit of your stomach that keeps you from living up to your full potential. Anxiety is the nervous response that signals the need for alertness and bodily protection. In theory, Anxiety is an effective gauge to determine dangerous situations and resistance toward a perceived threat. 

This signal has been extremely valuable to the livelihood of the human race. However, what if your “life or death” situation is simply just walking into your boss’ office for routine critique? How do you take control of anxiety in the workplace, especially as a newly recruited intern? 

Realize You’re Not Alone

Anxiety is more common than you think. Over 264 million individuals worldwide, or 3.6 percent of the population, have an anxiety disorder — this includes Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Specific Phobia Disorder, Agoraphobia, Separation Anxiety Disorder, Selective Mutism and Medication-Induced Anxiety Disorder. 

The statistics are staggering: 19.1 percent of adults have had an anxiety disorder, with 22.3 percent of those aged 18–29 and 22.7 percent of people ages 30–44. Though Millennials were once proclaimed The Most Anxious Generation, Generation Z (Gen Z) has recently surpassed them. Their anxiety is not only being fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, but unemployment, climate change, technology and a host of other stressors as well. 

The American Psychological Association (APA) reported that “90% of Gen Z experienced psychological or physical symptoms as a result of stress in the last year. 70% of Gen Z say that anxiety and depression are significant problems among their peers.” 

In other words, anxiety is commonplace for many people. This does not change the fact that anxiety is difficult to manage, but it may provide a sense of comfort and camaraderie for those who feel they are dealing with chronic intrusive thoughts alone. 

Ways to Overcome Intern Anxiety 

This may seem painstakingly obvious to encourage visits to a healthcare professional for medical issues. However, more than half of  U.S. adults, over 27 million individuals with mental illness, do not receive treatment. And worse, 24.7 percent of adults with mental illness reported they were not able to receive the treatment they needed. Their unmet needs came from an array of issues, including lack of insurance, coverage for psychological care and access to proper treatments. 

Despite these nationwide issues, there are numerous alternatives that you can request or strategies you can implement to manage your anxiety. 

  • Talk to your boss about being nervous. As an intern, talking to your supervisor may feel like an impossible or even unwise option. The truth is that you should not fear discussing obstacles that are hindering you from being more productive in the workplace. Not only will you show initiative for self-improvement, but chances are that they will have resources or advice from years in the workforce to share with you. Like I said, everyone has faced anxiety at some point. Perhaps you will find that your company offers counseling services, mental health days or flexible work options such as opportunities to work from home. 
  • Set deadlines. Most current or future interns are from Gen Z, a generation where nearly 90 percent does not feel like their generation has been set up for success. Compared to other generations, 75 percent of Gen Z feels like they have a disadvantage. This combination of underpreparedness and adversity can skyrocket anxiety. In particular, procrastination of tasks is a likely temptation when you’ve got a strong sense of self-doubt. To fight this urge, try asking for concrete deadlines or setting them for yourself. Time management apps such as Pomedoro, Focus Dog and Freedom can be effective to increase your productivity and decrease time spent with your anxiety. 
  • Make time for nature. Calling on help from the outside world is a little-known remedy to reap serious health-boosting benefits. Nature-Based Interventions (NBIs) are now backed by research led by the University of York, which concluded that nature based activities such as gardening, forest bathing, outdoor sports, conservation activities and other meaningful engagement with nature leads to improved mood, reduced anxiety and an increase of positive emotions. 

Managing workplace anxiety may, at times, demand a bit more nuisance. It may help to do your research about the company and make an effort to socialize with the other interns or recently hired employees. Once you’ve mastered knowledge of workplace culture, you may start to feel at ease in the environment which was once perceived as a threat. 

  • Get there early. This will give you a last-minute moment of calm, knowing that you will start your day on time and perform as expected.  
  • Ask the “stupid questions.” We all think some questions may not warrant time or a response from our peers. But, if asking those questions will provide you peace of mind and help clarify instructions and workplace responsibilities, then I believe it is a question worth asking.
  • Dress the part. Why not make a kick-ass first impression? Wear what makes you confident, productive and helps you stand out as a valued employee. Even as an intern, it’s never too early to dress for success. 
  • Personalize your workspace. Bring in a few things that make you smile or feel like home. Since childhood with our security blankets, objects have held symbolic meaning for us. Lean into this truth and decorate your office with things that can alleviate your stress, like pictures of family and friends or desk toys for relaxation. 
  • Always have peppermint and water on hand. Peppermint is excellent for nausea. Try packing a tin of mints or sticks of gum in your bag for an extra sense of security. And of course, hydrate often with water! 
  • Break up the tasks into smaller steps. One day, one brick, one step at a time. It’s the story of The Tortoise and The Hare. When you are feeling overwhelmed, slow things down. 

Unfortunately, anxiety isn’t one size fits all. No one person can tell you how to mediate your body. As long as you do not suppress these thoughts, your feelings will eventually pass.  

Make sure to spend time with yourself and work to understand what practices are best for you. Some examples of more personalized rituals are journaling, meditation and yoga, progressive muscle relaxation techniques (including diaphragmatic breathing) and prioritizing self care through food, sleep and exercise routines. 

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