Living and working in a world that doesn’t slow down can overwhelming for people who struggle with generalized anxiety or social anxiety.

Living and working in a world that doesn’t seem to slow down can be overwhelming for people who struggle with generalized anxiety or social anxiety.

Anxiety can manifest for many reasons including the mere task of going to work, anxiety about interacting with others, attending meetings, presenting a project or talking in a group, meeting expectations of the job, and worrying about your performance (Laguaite, 2021).

In addition, anxiety can lead to self-criticism, low self-efficacy, difficulty coping, and procrastination which can turn into a vicious cycle.

It can also interfere with productivity and attendance; however, there are numerous techniques that can help lessen anxiety symptoms at work, which overall can give employees a better sense of control of their inner world and external work experiences.

Nervousness vs. Anxiety When Going To Work

While the terms anxiety and nervousness are often used interchangeably, having anxiety and feeling nervous are not exactly the same thing. So how do you know whether your nervousness is normal or anxiety-related?

Nervousness is a normal response to stress. It usually occurs when you're faced with a new or challenging situation, such as giving a presentation at work or being called in to speak with your boss. You may feel nervous waiting for your performance review or interviewing for a new job.

Nervousness can cause a variety of physical sensations, such as sweating, dizziness, or dry mouth. Feelings of self-doubt may also occur. In addition to being uncomfortable, these sensations are usually uncontrollable.

Nervousness usually passes once you've dealt with the situation and rarely leads to long-term stress.

In contrast, anxiety is something you experience more persistently. Your life may be filled with emotional or physical symptoms of fear, and you may struggle to remain calm.

Anxiety is more intense than nervousness and can include several physical symptoms such as trembling, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, gastrointestinal issues, and insomnia. In addition to the physical symptoms, anxiety can even cause you to avoid situations or places that trigger these uncomfortable symptoms. In time, these symptoms and behaviors can begin to interfere with your daily life.

For example, it's normal to feel nervous when receiving a promotion at work. However, if your fear leads to chest pain and interferes with your ability to sleep every night, you may have anxiety.

First, it’s important to use self-reflection to identify the causes for work anxiety.

You can do this by asking yourself a few questions such as:

  • Is this job causing you excessive and/or persistent anxiety?
  • Is this job a good fit for you and what you need and want?
  • Is the workplace culture or environment adversely affecting you and your wellbeing?
  • Is there anything you can do to change it?
  • Do you feel safe to address a concern or propose an idea for change?

The answers to these questions can help you develop some insight into your work situation, the anxiety, and can start the process for some kind of change; whether that’s learning to adapt and overcome anxiety at your current job or finding a different one that better aligns with you.

Effects of Work Anxiety

Living with work anxiety can negatively impact multiple aspects of your life. The most common effects of work anxiety that can occur in and outside the workplace include:

  • Reduced job performance and productivity
  • Relationships with coworkers and management are affected
  • Observing effects on one's personal life
  • Problems with personal relationships
  • Concentration or problem-solving skills are impaired
  • Loss of energy or fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Rejecting opportunities because of phobias, such as fear of public speaking or flying
  • Reduced job satisfaction
  • Feeling less confident in your abilities
  • Feeling as if your efforts don't matter
  • Having difficulty setting and achieving goals
  • Career plateaus due to risk aversion
  • Unable to connect with others
  • Losing your job
  • Developing an anxiety disorder
  • Your organization can suffer if you are an executive
  • Social skills and teamwork abilities are reduced
  • Ineffective planning
  • Innovation is avoided

Two readily available techniques to help reduce work anxiety can include breath work and self-talk such as affirmations.

People who experience anxiety or who have a clinical diagnosis may have several contributing factors to their anxiety; however, self-criticism, anxious thinking patterns, and a tendency to hold the breath unintentionally when anxious can increase anxiety symptoms which can also manifest in the body.

This often happens without the person realizing it, which is why it’s important to become self-aware of what’s triggering your anxiety about work.

Heightened anxiety can interfere with your wellbeing and areas of your life including work such as meeting a deadline, completing a project, or when attempting to arrive at work in the first place.

Therefore, developing a personal workday wellness plan that includes bringing conscious awareness to your breath and practicing supportive self talk and affirmations can be a game changer for many people struggling with anxiety about going to and being at work.

Talking to Your Employer

If you are struggling with work anxiety, it can be difficult to decide whether you should speak to your employer or not. As mental illness can be stigmatized, many people fear looking weak or incapable. You may also worry that coming forward and requesting accommodations, such as flexible working hours or a change in responsibilities, may jeopardize your job.

However, discussing your mental health should not be put off. Unaddressed, work anxiety can reduce productivity, interfere with your ability to work on a team, and even impair your physical capabilities. Additionally, anxiety and anxiety disorders are associated with higher rates of unemployment, disability, and missed work days.

While you may be concerned that discussing your anxiety will lead to judgment and career issues, most employers are likely to be sympathetic and offer assistance. You could be referred to a mental health professional or provided with work accommodations to reduce your anxiety.

When preparing to speak to your employer about your anxiety, keep the following tips in mind:

Rehearse the conversation.

Rehearsing important conversations can reduce anxiety and improve your confidence. Before speaking to your boss, decide ahead of time how much you want to disclose about your anxiety and write down the main points you want to convey.

Next, practice having the conversation with someone you trust, such as your partner, colleague, or friend. Ask them for feedback on your body language and level of confidence.

Pick the right time.

The best time to talk to your boss is probably when it's quiet and less busy. Do not schedule it during a stressful workday or when your employer is busy with important meetings. It might be best to speak with your boss early in the morning or at the end of the workday. For some people, it might even be more comfortable to initiate communication by email or text.

If you don't have a good relationship with your boss, ask trusted coworkers for advice about how they handled similar situations. Your human resources manager can also provide you with information about personal leave, flexible scheduling, or mental health services offered by your employer.

Offer solutions.

When confronting your employer about your anxiety, offering solutions may help your boss understand your needs and how they can help. Before talking to your boss, make a list of current anxiety triggers and possible ways to reduce your workload and stress. Providing solutions also demonstrates your ability to solve problems and communicate proactively.

Know your rights.

Although it can be intimidating to speak with your boss about anxiety, know that you are protected by the law. People with disabilities are protected from discrimination at work under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This includes people with mental health conditions, such as anxiety or panic disorders.

Here are a few other things you can do to manage anxiety about going to work:

  • Preparing for the day the night before
  • Paring down and prioritizing your to-do-list
  • Taking micro-breaks
  • Taking your full lunch break
  • Taking a short walk or getting some fresh air for a few minutes can also be a perfect time to clear anxious thoughts before returning to the anxiety provoking task or situation.
  • Practicing deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth, while reciting positive affirmations such as, “I am safe”, “I’m okay” or “I can do this” can help ward off some of the anxiety.

If your anxiety is heightened to the point where it’s causing panic attacks, it's difficult to attend work, or your performance is slipping, it may be time to seek professional help by talking to a licensed therapist or your primary care doctor.

A mental health professional, such as a licensed therapist, can be a great resource. They can help you identify what’s causing the work anxiety, help you problem solve, develop a plan, counter anxious thoughts with more helpful thinking, teach you self-compassion, affirmations, and other coping mechanisms in order to relieve and better manage your anxiety.

Together, at CHE, we help you to develop a workday wellness plan by incorporating relaxation techniques, sleep hygiene, healthy eating, and exercise into your week to reduce and manage your stress levels which will aid in reducing anxiety.