Work anxiety can be overwhelming, defeating, and intimidating. Whether you experience the repercussions of your anxiety while at work, or you feel stress caused by work that leads to anxiety, it’s important to address the adverse effects for your sake as well as your bosses.
Anyone who suffers from anxiety knows that it doesn’t discriminate – it can happen anywhere and to anyone. However, while most of us experience stress to some degree at various points in life, others can be overcome with anxiety so intense that it drastically affects their quality of life – at home or their place of work.
If you are one of the 40 million (19%) adults in the United States living with intense anxiety, you are aware that simple work situations can result in profound stress. This could be anything from speaking up in a meeting or giving a presentation, to being cornered at the water fountain or simply taking a phone call. You may even have anxiety about going to work in general, let alone what goes on once you are there.
Not only can such angst curtail your focus and productivity while on the job, but it can trigger interminable stress that hinders your daily life; from the moment you wake up in the morning and head to work, to the moment you go to sleep in preparation for the cycle to begin again tomorrow.
What Causes Work Anxiety?
Work anxiety can be a result of just about any factor; it’s circumstantial, depending on the person and what types of events or situations they have developed a fear of or resistance to.
Common workplace anxieties include fear of:
- Interacting with persons of authority/higher-ups
- Public speaking or presenting in a group setting
- Missing deadlines
- Committing to new assignments
- Seeking a raise or promotion
- Being judged or challenged
- Working in a group setting
- Not meeting company standards
Unfortunately, avoiding these anxieties can make the situation even worse, affecting one’s emotional state and their performance on the job. If they are completely avoided and go unaddressed, one may risk more severe consequences such as missed promotions or salary increases, missed opportunities for involvement in new and exciting projects, poor annual reviews, or job loss.
How to Deal with Anxiety at Work
Common symptoms of work anxiety include a sense of dread that something is wrong or something bad will happen, self-doubt, work nightmares, environmentally triggered panic attacks, and an inability to concentrate or stay on task. If you regularly experience these symptoms, or if your behavior on the job has changed, you may be experiencing work anxiety.
Here are some simple ways you can manage it:
1. Know What Triggers Your Anxiety
Perhaps easier said than done, being aware of what moments trigger your stress is the first step in managing your anxiety. When do you feel your anxiety building? Is it around certain co-workers? Before performing new tasks? When you are under pressure or on a tight deadline? Does it begin when you are commuting to work?
When you first start to manage your workplace anxiety, it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact moments that incite it. A great way to navigate this challenging territory is to take notes when it occurs so you can identify trends. The more you understand the circumstances, the easier it will be to adapt.
2. Focus on the Facts & the Present
Raise your hand if you have ever been guilty of creating terrible scenarios in your head (and convincing yourself that they can and will happen)!
When we feel stressed, carrying massive weight on our shoulders, we naturally allow our minds to wander to the worst-case scenario. This holds true at home and in the workplace. For example, if you’ve had a meeting with your boss in which you requested a raise, and they’ve taken longer than you expected to get back to you… you may assume the worse – that the answer is “no.” You may even conclude that they must be preparing your severance package for even thinking about asking such a preposterous question!
Rather than fabricating your own conclusions due to your fear of being letdown, focus on the facts of the situation. Your boss may not be the primary decision-maker; they may need to consult with a budget team; they may need to prepare a counter proposal; they may be busy with a whole lot of other responsibilities, being forced to put your request to the side as it isn’t a priority… yet.
The best way to lower your anxiety in a stressful situation is to focus on reality. It may not be as bad as you think.
3. Get Enough Sleep
While this may seem like a blanket suggestion for just about anyone experiencing struggles with their mental or physical health, there’s good reason! Work stress can deeply affect your sleep, causing you to toss and turn throughout the night rather than getting a good night’s rest. When you aren’t well-rested, you are susceptible to even more stress and difficulty managing it, which can be carried over into the workplace.
Writing is and always has been a great coping mechanism for a variety of stressors. When you’re feeling anxious on the job, excuse yourself to a private place, such as a conference room or a coffee shop around the corner, and record the things that are bothering you at that present moment. While you may not be able to do anything about some situations that are stressing you (like the presentation you will inevitably have to give), allowing yourself the opportunity to unload your emotions on paper is a powerful and practical way to ease some of that tension.
5. Stay Organized & Establish Personal Goals
Keeping lists so that you can physically cross off tasks as you complete them is a great way to train your mind to focus on your successes rather than all that still needs to be done. The more you complete, the more you will feel motivated to tackle the rest of the tasks on your list – even those that you’ve been avoiding.
It’s also a good idea to establish what you’d like to achieve at your job so that you have a personal goal in focus – whether it be something as big as working your way up the totem pole, or as simple as finding comfort in uncomfortable situations. Goals can help mitigate the impact of your stressors.
6. Focus on Your Breathing
When you start to feel the telltale signs of an anxious episode at work, or when the anxiety has already kicked in full force, it can be challenging to calm down. One of the best ways to take yourself down is to focus on your breathing.
Breathe in slowly through your nose for five seconds, hold it for three to four seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth for eight to ten seconds. Repeat this exercise ten to twenty times, or until you begin to feel the anxiety cease.
Exercised breathing can help stop you from hyperventilating during a stressful situation.
7. Work on a Schedule with Practical Deadlines
There is nothing worse than having an assignment with an unrealistic deadline. We naturally agree to timelines that we knowingly cannot meet, later regretting our knee-jerk response and wishing we were just upfront to begin with. This is particularly true for anxious people.
Rather than putting yourself in a situation where you either find yourself working and stressing down to the wire, or where you need to make that uncomfortable request for an extension, be honest from the get-go.
If you’re dealing with anxiety at work, employ these simple yet practical steps to manage your stressors and ease the tension you feel while on the job.