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.

Five ways to calm anxiety in a German workplace
More employees in Germany are taking time off due to workplace stress and anxiety. Photo: depositphotos/Wavebreakmedia

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.

READ ALSO: What are the main reasons internationals in Germany turn to therapy?

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. 

  • Exhale.

  • 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). 

READ ALSO: Wandervogel: Get back to nature and embrace the wilderness like the Germans

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

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Here’s how you can get mental health help in English in Germany

If you've been feeling down for a long period of time and need someone to talk to, or immediate help with a crisis, here is a list of resources for English-speakers in Germany.

Here's how you can get mental health help in English in Germany
A woman sits alone on a bench at the North Sea. Photo: DPA

Let’s be honest – for many people the lockdown has had quite a devastating effect on their mental health. Of course, this is not the only way someone’s well-being could be adversely affected.

READ ALSO: Germany grapples with mental health impact of Covid-19

A crisis, hormonal changes, stress – there are plenty of things that might make it hard to cope with everyday life. 

Getting help is nothing to be ashamed about. On the contrary – it’s necessary. However, you might find it hard, especially when you’re in a phase of feeling down, to click through Google, trying to find a solution that works for you, especially if you’re not fluent in German. 

So here’s a guide on how to find English-speaking psychological help in Germany:

If you feel unwell, but not in crisis: Visit a general practitioner

Thankfully, most people in Germany, especially if they’re from the younger generations, speak English. That makes finding an English-speaking doctor relatively easy, especially if you’re living in a bigger city. 

After explaining how you feel, he or she will most probably refer you to a psychiatrist to further evaluate treatment options. That can include prescribing medication, like anti-depressants, therapy, or a combination of both. In any case, you can ask your doctor to help you during the process of finding a psychiatrist or therapist.

They can also write you a letter which you can submit to your health insurance for up to six sessions, with the possibility of extension.

READ ALSO: ‘Stressful experience’: How hard is it to find an English-speaking therapist in Germany?

Fast and direct help: hotlines and website

  • Online directory lists around 600 English-speaking therapists currently working in Berlin, 150 in Frankfurt, around 230 in Hamburg, and 240 in Munich
  • Available in English and anonymous if you wish: The Berliner Krisendienst can be reached around the clock, 365 days per year. If you live in Berlin and are experiencing an acute emergency, you can go see them in person from 4 pm to midnight in their nine regional offices. Please find more information (in English) here:
  • If you’re relatively fluent in German, you can call Telefonseelsorge Deutschland on 0800 1110 111 or 0800 1110 222. Their website also features a good overview of international helplines where you can speak to someone in your mother tongue

If you don’t feel like talking: chats 

  • Suicide Stop offers a referral to multiple suicide prevention chats. There are multiple language options available
  • Telefonseelsorge Chat: Again, this is an offer by Telefonseelsorge, so you would need to know some German in order to get help here. As you can write in the chat, and have some more time to comprehend what your consultant wrote compared to a talk on the phone, this might also be an option for medium level speakers. You can find more information here

For real crisis moments: the hospital 

If you feel like suicidal or close to the breaking point, please take your keys and your phone, and either call an ambulance (phone number 112) or a taxi to take you to the nearest hospital.

They are obliged to take you in and find a solution for you to get through your crisis safely. 

They will probably transfer you to the closest psychiatric station, but keep you around until then. They are — under no circumstances — allowed to turn you away.

As hospitals are usually quite big with multiple doctors and nurses on shift, there will most likely be someone among them who speaks English and can assist you.

If there are any resources you’d like to see included in this guide, please let us know by emailing [email protected]