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Thrive tip: addressing anxiety through self-check-ins

Jessica Gold, MD, MS
Jessica Gold, MD, MS, assistant professor of psychiatry

As many of us adapt (again) to being in-person at work and life events, it’s not surprising some of us may feel anxious or overwhelmed with another transition. Jessica Gold, MD, MS, assistant professor of psychiatry and director of wellness, engagement, and outreach at WashU, suggests we try simple check-ins with ourselves to understand what we’re feeling and how we can help our bodies cope. Many of us spend a lot of time checking on others, but we need to check on ourselves, too.

What is a self-check-in?

A self-check-in can be as simple as asking yourself, “how am I doing?” You can absolutely ask more specific questions about your sleep or interest in things, but the purpose of it is to take stock of yourself and your state of mind. 

Once you do that, it’s important to remember that whatever you are feeling, feelings are OK and normal. We should be allowed to feel emotions and process them for what they are. Many feelings, such as anger, anxiety and happiness, help us identify and navigate the ever-evolving environments in life and we should not judge feelings as good or bad.

“If you have ever seen the movie, Inside Out, you know that all emotions play an important role in our lives,” Gold said. “It isn’t just a cartoon; that is the truth.”

Simply naming your feelings can help validate your own experience, but it also can help you learn things about yourself, your work day, and what to do to cope. Remember to also practice self-compassion and reach out for help from your support system.

Shift your mindset with the self-check-in

Often when we are anxious or overwhelmed, we have too many things occurring that cause us to feel that way. There might be so many things that it can feel easier to not address any of them and that, in and of itself, leads to more things not getting done, which makes us even more overwhelmed.

Instead, Gold suggests you focus on what you can control and accomplish. Try sitting down to reflect on what’s causing you to feel overwhelmed or anxious. Gold outlined the below steps to help understand what’s causing the distress and how to approach healing those emotions. 

  1. Take a mental note or physical notes of what’s causing you to worry or stress. Write down everything you can think of.
  2. Look at each item and ask yourself, “what can I do to fix this right now, in this moment?”
    1. If the answer is nothing, let it be. Check back in next week to see if this item is ready to be addressed.
  3. If it is an item you can address, break the item into smaller pieces. This can make your to do list longer, but it also allows you to check things off and feel productive.
  4. When you go to address this in steps, look at the first, next step and complete it. [Hint: don’t focus on the fifth step since the future can cause more anxiety.]

You can also do self-check-ins with your goals or priority lists. Gold notes it is important to make sure you set goals that are achievable.

Mental health resources for you and your family

If you are ready and want additional support, WashU provides benefit-eligible employees and their families with multiple well-being resources. Find one that works for you – see some options below – and get started today. 

  • WorkLife Solutions, WashU’s employee-assistance program (EAP) that offers 24/7, confidential support, resources, and more. You can find how to get started, what to expect and additional mental health resources online.
  • WashU Psychiatry, which provides employee and dependent family members priority access to psychiatry services, including pediatric populations as part of the WUDirect benefit.
  • UnitedHealthCare Behavioral Health Benefit (PDF) is available to employees who participate in the health care plan and provides 24/7 support for a variety of behavioral needs such as counseling, substance abuse support, and more.
  • Mindfulness programming for employees and family members, part of the 8Ways to Wellness.

Read Gold’s tips on managing burnout for additional coping mechanisms and resources. You can also find more information on the WashU Well-being Hub.