Do you get a pit in your stomach when you’re in the office, or even when you think about work? Are you overcome with nerves each time you check your inbox? Whilst short-term stress is normal for most employees, overwhelming and persistent anxiety could be a sign of workplace anxiety. Left untreated, it can wreak havoc on your job performance and physical and mental health.
We’re going to walk you through everything you need to know about workplace anxiety, alongside some handy tips to help you manage your stress. Let’s go!
Table of contents
- What is workplace anxiety?
- Signs of workplace anxiety
- Effects of workplace anxiety
- How to cope with workplace anxiety
What is workplace anxiety?
Workplace anxiety refers to the anxiety, stress or tension that occurs when we’re in the workplace or thinking about work in our spare time. It is a common issue in the UK. HSE reported that approximately 822,000 workers were affected by work-related anxiety, stress or depression from 2020 to 2021.
It can be caused by:
- A heavy workload that doesn’t seem to lessen
- Tight deadlines and unrealistic expectations from your manager
- Issues with your coworkers or manager(s)
- A lack of job security or satisfaction
- Self-doubt and imposter syndrome
- Confusion about your job role and responsibilities
- A toxic workplace culture
- Miscommunication or a lack of support
- A reluctance to participate in meetings or presentations
- An uneven work-life balance
- The shift from working in an office to working remotely
Signs of workplace anxiety
Individuals suffering from workplace anxiety may experience a vast range of psychological, emotional and physical symptoms when they are at, or think about, work. They’re also likely to undergo a significant shift in behaviour.
Emotional and psychological symptoms:
- Difficulty focusing
- Lack of confidence
- Low motivation
- Mood swings
- Excessive worrying
- Irrational thoughts
- Issues sleeping
- Over or under eating
- Dry mouth
- Increased heart rate
- Muscle tension
- Diarrhoea or constipation
Changes in behaviour:
- A reluctance to get out of bed and face the day
- Procrastination with most tasks
- A strong desire to avoid work
- Feeling nervous when thinking about work
- Having an irrational fear of failing
- Catastrophising and imagining the worst-case scenario
- Taking an unusual number of sick days
- Reacting badly to specific situations at work
- Focusing solely on the negative aspects of work
- Feeling intense anxiety when checking your inbox
- Fantasising about quitting or losing your job
Effects of workplace anxiety
Workplace anxiety can exact a heavy toll on someone’s life. Though it might first arise in the office, it can eventually start to seep its way into your personal life. Here are some of the most common effects of workplace anxiety:
- A decline in productivity
- A reluctance to take on new challenges and risks
- Believing that you’re bad at your job
- Turning down opportunities to move up the ladder
- Experiencing a drop in your self-esteem and confidence inside and outside of work
- Feeling like nothing you do at work matters
- Developing physical issues like insomnia, gastrointestinal distress and muscle tension
- Experiencing tension in workplace and personal relationships
How to cope with workplace anxiety
Though workplace anxiety might seem impossible to overcome, there are ways to manage its effects and improve your day-to-day life.
Talk to someone
Your coworkers are knee-deep in the trenches with you. If anyone will understand your workplace anxiety and sympathise with your struggles, it’s them.
They might solve some of the problems you’re dealing with, e.g., by taking some tasks off your hands or helping you prepare for a presentation. Alternatively, if you’re just looking to vent, they can be there to listen to and validate your concerns.
One way to reduce work pressures and your anxiety is to speak directly to your manager. This particular approach depends on how comfortable you are discussing your workload and mental health with your manager. (If this makes you uneasy, skip to the next section.)
Your manager might be able to:
- Ensure your workload is achievable, with realistic deadlines and targets
- Ease your concerns about job security
- Reassure you of your capabilities and successes
- Look for ways to upskill you so that you perform better and with confidence
Friends and family
If you can’t share your concerns with anyone in your workplace, turn to your friends and family instead. They will be able to offer a different perspective on your workplace issues and potentially reveal solutions that you wouldn’t have otherwise considered.
It can be easy to feel like you’re a burden, but your loved ones would rather you share your problems than close yourself off.
Understand your anxiety
Zero in on your triggers
A wide variety of factors can cause workplace anxiety, so it might not be entirely clear what is triggering it. To better understand what’s going on in your mind, we’d recommend recording your thoughts, feelings and anxiety levels on a daily basis.
You might notice that your stress increases when you have to take part in team meetings, for example, or that you struggle to collaborate with a specific coworker without feeling overwhelmed.
You might even find it helpful to give the Anxiety Equation a try!
Question your fears
You might find it helpful to challenge yourself each time you feel anxious about something in the workplace. When you’re panicking about getting sacked or feel like you’re not good enough for your job, you should:
- Write down evidence that supports and opposes your fears
- Consider what you would say to your friends or family if they were in a similar situation
- Think about what would actually happen if your fears occurred and how you might cope
Accept your anxiety
Anxiety is a perfectly normal response to stress in the workplace, and everyone has experienced it at some point in their lives. Whether it’s a short-term issue or something you’ve been dealing with for months, do not fall into the trap of criticising yourself for it.
You need to lean into your vulnerability and accept that it’s okay to feel anxious when certain things happen at work. Normalising your feelings and symptoms will go a long way toward helping you manage your anxiety.
Tweak your working habits
A clear desk is a clear mind! Whether you’re working in an office, at home or trying a hybrid approach, your workspace must be clean and organised. It will help put you in the right frame of mind and also reduce the chances of you losing any essential documents or reminders!
Plan and prioritise
If you’re drowning in work and don’t know where to start, try writing up a to-do list at the beginning of each week. Once you know what tasks need to be completed and which are high priority, you can regain some control over the situation.
You might find it helpful to break your tasks down into smaller, more manageable steps that you can tick off as you go along. Not only will this help reduce any feelings of stress, but it will also give you a much-needed confidence boost and increase your motivation to complete tasks.
If your workload is too heavy, or you need clarification on a certain task, it’s vital that you say something to your coworkers or manager. Struggling by yourself will only serve to worsen your anxiety and affect the quality of your work.
Your manager might realise that they have been unrealistic with their expectations and allow you to adjust your deadlines and targets accordingly.
Set realistic deadlines
We’ve all been in situations where we agree to unrealistic deadlines. Everyone wants to be a team player, after all. There comes a time, however, when you need to be honest with yourself and your coworkers.
It’s always better to manage people’s expectations by asking for some wiggle room with deadlines than to have to apologise when it’s too late to complete a task on time. Plus, if you end up finishing earlier than expected, you’ll look all the better for it.
If you’re dealing with a deadline that is set in stone, follow the previous point and ask your coworkers for help.
Mix up your communication channels
With the rise of remote working and hybrid working, it’s no surprise that many employees find themselves primarily communicating with their coworkers and managers over digital channels. Unfortunately, workplace anxiety can make it difficult to interpret other people’s emotions and intentions from written words.
If you’re feeling nervous about a task, or find yourself growing frustrated with a particular coworker, reach out for an in-person conversation (or, at the very least, a Zoom call). This can help soothe your anxiety and reduce any negative feelings that have been festering.
You can combat your procrastination and stress by taking short breaks throughout the working day. When you feel overwhelmed, get up and walk away from your desk. You can do some stretches, make a brew or have a quick natter with one of your coworkers.
You might even consider going on a walk during your dinner break to give your legs a stretch and clear your mind.
One reason your workplace anxiety might persist is that you keep bringing your work home with you. This might include checking your emails before bed or finishing a task outside your working hours. Blurring the lines between your work and home life will only make your anxiety worse.
You need to maintain a healthy work-life balance by:
- Setting strict working hours that you do not deviate from
- Taking a dinner break every day
- Avoiding checking your emails and other channels outside of work
- Prioritising social activities that are good for your wellbeing
Think about your successes
It can be easy to get mired down in your apparent failures and slow progress, which is why you need to savour every win. It doesn’t matter if it’s a simple task that you completed quickly or a presentation that you smashed; celebrate the victory!
It’s important to remind yourself that you are doing a good job and that your anxiety does not eclipse your successes.
Face your fears
Workplace anxiety can cause us to avoid new opportunities out of fear that we’ll fail. Unfortunately, avoidance will only exacerbate your problems. So, if you’ve been putting off upskilling, or trying out for a new job opening, bite the bullet and give it a go.
More often than not, our imagined fears are far worse than the actual outcome. And, once you’ve done it, it will help to improve your confidence and self-esteem.
Look after your body and mind
Try relaxation techniques
Relaxation techniques can be incorporated into your daily routine to help reduce the various symptoms of anxiety.
- Breathing exercises, like box breathing and diaphragmatic breathing, can help to regulate your breathing and slow down your heart rate. They can be done at your work desk, during your commute or before sleep.
- Guided imagery involves visualising yourself in a calm environment, using your five senses so that you can reach a state of relaxation. You can use your imagination or follow an audio recording.
- Progressive muscle relaxation can help you release tension in your body and alleviate anxiety symptoms. It is most beneficial before bed and can be completed by following audio recordings.
Even something as simple as listening to your favourite music, reading a good book or trying a new hobby can help you unwind after a hard day at work.
According to the NHS, mindfulness is a process that involves paying attention to what is going on around you in the present moment. Studies have shown that regular practice can help to alleviate stress, anxiety and depression.
You can try mindfulness meditation at the start or end of each working day to ground yourself and soothe your anxiety. It involves sitting down and focusing on the sensations of your body, the sounds around you and your present thoughts.
If you’re looking to practise mindfulness on the go or in the office, you can try the 5-4-3-2-1 technique, which involves naming:
- Five things you see
- Four things you hear
- Three things you feel
- Two things you smell
- One thing you taste
Exercise has been shown to reduce the symptoms of anxiety significantly. It distracts us from our negative thoughts and releases endorphins that make us feel good. It’s also a great way to socialise and build up confidence.
Don’t feel like you’re limited to intense cardio! You could go on a relaxed bike ride, try weight lifting or opt for a low impact pilates workout. Anything that keeps you moving and increases your heart rate will help.
Consider your diet
Changing your diet will not cure workplace anxiety, but it may help mitigate some of the symptoms.
- Eating breakfast with some form of protein can help to keep you fuller for longer and give you more energy to face the day.
- Drinking plenty of water will keep you hydrated and ensure every system in your body is functioning correctly.
- Getting into the habit of eating at the same time every day will remind you to eat, even when your anxiety starts to affect your appetite.
- Adding complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruit and vegetables can help you maintain a more even blood sugar level.
Develop a healthy bedtime routine
Getting a good night’s rest is key to starting the day with full energy levels and a good mood, but it can seem all but impossible to achieve with workplace anxiety.
If your negative thoughts and worries are affecting your ability to sleep, you need to develop an evening routine that allows you to relax fully before bed. Get yourself into the right frame of mind by:
- Avoiding caffeine before bed
- Having a warm bath
- Putting on a soothing candle
- Reading a book
- Writing down your worries to get them out of your mind
- Reducing screen time an hour before bed
- Listening to calm music
- Trying guided sleep meditation
If that doesn't work, you might want to give sleep treatments like CBT-I and MBT-I a try.
If you're not sure exactly where to start with improving your body and mind, give these 3 healthy habits a go.
Make a change
Your workplace anxiety could be a sign of a deeper problem than just your line of thinking and way of working. It could indicate that your job role, work environment or colleagues are toxic to your mental health and wellbeing.
You may want to consider:
- Switching job roles to something more suitable within your organisation
- Looking for a job at a more supportive organisation
- Trying a different job role altogether
A change of pace might be just what you need to lessen the hold that workplace anxiety has over you.
Seek professional help
If you’re struggling to manage your workplace anxiety, it’s important to reach out for help. Your GP may recommend anti-anxiety medication that can help to curb some of the symptoms you’re experiencing. Alternatively, therapy can be effective in helping you understand the root cause of your anxiety and overcome it.
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