Feeling some anxiety at work is normal. For example, if you are presenting something to an important client or on deadline on an important project, it’s natural that you will be nervous and experience a certain amount of jitters.
But if your anxiety is persistent, excessive, irrational, and interferes with your ability to function every day, this may be an indication of an anxiety disorder. And you’re not alone in this.
How common is anxiety in the workplace?
A survey conducted by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (2006) found that while only 9% of Americans are living with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, 40% experience ongoing stress or anxiety in their daily lives.
You shouldn’t feel bad about feeling anxious. After all, anxiety is often a sign of intelligence. The more intelligent you are, the more you are able to detect or anticipate threats around you, leading to more worries.
However, anxiety at work can affect your work performance, work quality, and your overall mental health. According to a 2019 study, mental health was noted as the reason 50% of millennials and 75% of Generation Z quit their jobs. Such a high attrition rate is detrimental to employees as well as employers.
Tips for dealing with anxiety at work
While you can’t always control what happens at work, you can control how you react and deal with things that could potentially stressful situations.
Here are a few tips that can help you tackle work-related stress and anxiety:
- Be specific about what needs to be done: Don’t generalize your workload with “I have so much to do.” Be specific. For example, ”I have to finish creating a PowerPoint presentation consisting of 40 slides” is a lot more clear, giving you a tangible idea of what exactly needs to be done.
- Practice time management: Once you know what needs to be done, make a to-do list and prioritize your work according to the working hours.
- Split up tasks into batches: If you feel the task at hand is overwhelming, complete it in batches.
- Do it right the first time: Taking extra time to make sure the task at hand is done correctly the first time will help you save time in having to redo or fix your work at the last minute later.
- Be realistic about what you can handle: Before you commit to a deadline or workload, calculate how much other work you have and how feasible it is to add on another task or project. Do not overcommit. Not submitting something on time is more likely to stress you out than if you were to set lower expectations from the outset.
- Have a positive mindset: In her book, Mindset Carol Dweck sheds light on a very important aspect that can drive people to work smarter and harder. If you have a fixed mindset, you believe that your abilities are frozen and no amount of hard work can help you finish the task at hand. If you have a growth mindset, you can accomplish difficult projects through hard work and a willingness to learn from mistakes.
Other practical tips include the following:
- Take a breath: Deep breathing techniques are one of the simplest ways to calm your nerves when you start to feel stressed. The best part is you can do it anywhere.
- Make time for breaks: Take a walk during your lunch break. Get up and stretch throughout the day. Set rewards for yourself to enjoy after work, whether that’s indulging in a hobby or hanging out with friends.
- Remind yourself why you took the job: There was a reason why you took your current job. Reflect on the things you like about your job and the benefits it’s brought to your life.
- Avoid unhealthy habits: Do your best to avoid unhealthy behaviors, such binge eating, drinking too much caffeine, or abusing substances or prescription medications.
How can employers help reduce stress for employees?
Employers can also do their bit to help their employees with work anxiety:
- Treat all employees with respect.
- Encourage transparent, open communication.
- Reserve time for each employee regularly to discuss any difficulties they may be facing.
- Try to see things from their perspective and listen to their ideas with an open mind.
You can also check with your Human Resources department. Some HR departments offer Employee Assistance Programs that offer employees therapy free of cost or at concessional rates.
When changing jobs may be the answer
Sometimes, despite all of your best efforts to maintain your sanity, it’s just impossible to deal with your work, whether that’s because of a toxic work culture, excessive demands, or overwhelming pressure. If you have tried everything and are still stuck with anxiety at work, it may be time for you to rethink your career. Ask yourself:
- Do I want to change job roles and duties?
- Do I want to look for a job at a healthier and happier workplace?
Remember that no job is worth your physical or mental well-being.
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Bhui K, Dinos S, Galant-Miecznikowska M, et al. Perceptions of Work Stress Causes and Effective Interventions in Employees Working in Public, Private and Non-Governmental Organisations: A Qualitative Study. BJPsych Bull. 2016;40(6):318-325. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5353523/
Leahy RL. Seven Steps to Reduce Your Stress at Work. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anxiety-files/201903/seven-steps-reduce-your-stress-work
Gotian R. Overcoming Anxiety at Work. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/optimizing-success/202105/overcoming-anxiety-work
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