Everyone experiences stress to some degree. Whether it stems from our personal lives, our jobs, or both, stress is a shared human experience that can actually have positive effects. However, when stress boils over into anxiety, it can begin to interfere with a person’s day to day life, including their workplace performance. Left unchecked, workplace anxiety can negatively impact project delivery and the social fabric of a team.
Keep reading to learn more about the signs and symptoms of work anxiety. You’ll also discover some tips and techniques to reduce anxiety, and ways to find help if you are experiencing workplace anxiety.
What is workplace anxiety?
Workplace anxiety can refer either to work-related stress that leads to anxiety or the impact of an anxiety disorder on a person’s work. In either case, the symptoms of work anxiety often look very similar. Workplace anxiety is not a diagnosable anxiety disorder. However, people with generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, or other specific phobias may experience work anxiety.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults every year. While highly treatable, only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment for their anxiety.
What are the symptoms of workplace anxiety?
Anxiety can manifest in many different ways. Some of the symptoms common to anxiety disorders include:
- Excessive worry over everyday things
- Difficulty controlling worries or nervousness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Being easily startled
- Feeling tired all the time
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Trembling, twitching, or trouble swallowing
- Constantly feeling irritable or on edge
In the workplace, anxiety may look like:
- Overreacting to situations
- Taking an unusual amount of time off
- Struggling to focus or complete tasks by deadline
- Making excuses to get out of team lunches, office parties, or other events
- Turning down promotions that may require public speaking, travel, or more social interaction
Can workplace anxiety affect you when working from home?
In a word, yes. Those suffering from anxiety disorders may find some relief in working from home, especially if theirs is a form of social anxiety. However, there may be new or different stressors that trigger anxiety with a remote work setup. What's more, people who do not normally experience overwhelming stress or worries in shared workspaces may find that working from home leads to newfound anxiety. This stress can stem from a number of factors involved with working from home, including:
- Unstructured schedules
- Unclear boundaries, expectations, or goals
- Loneliness, isolation, and disconnection from co-workers
How does work-related anxiety affect your work?
Symptoms of anxiety such as fatigue, sleeplessness, and difficulty concentrating can have obvious negative impacts on workplace performance. If you are struggling to focus on work-related tasks, you run the risk of making potentially costly mistakes like overlooking critical workflow steps, forgetting responsibilities, or blowing deadlines.
Work anxiety can hamper job performance in less overt ways, too. For instance, work-related anxiety may prevent you from offering ideas and contributing feedback during team meetings. A person with severe work anxiety may even compromise their career and pass on a promotion because the role would require public speaking, travel, or frequent social interactions.
What’s more, anxiety disorders are associated with short- and long-term workplace disability. According to a 2014 study, an average of 4.6 workdays every month and 18.1 workdays every three months are lost to disability stemming from anxiety.
How to deal with anxiety at work
The good news about anxiety disorders is that they are treatable. Plus, there are some proactive steps you can take to help reduce work-related anxiety. Here are a few:
- Get to know the people on your team by name
Interpersonal relationships are one of the biggest sources of workplace anxiety. The better you get to know the people on your team, the stronger your relationships will be — and that all starts by knowing everyone’s name. It seems like a small thing, but it can go a long way.
- Be mindful of workplace cliques
The bigger your organization, the more inevitable it becomes that there will be office cliques. After all, it’s human nature to group with others who are like-minded or similar to us. The problem is when office cliques become exclusive and make others feel like outcasts.
If you suffer from anxiety, avoiding cliques that exhibit negative behaviors like gossiping can help you minimize additional work-related stress. Even though venting about a co-worker can feel relieving in the moment, it only really serves to increase tension, stress, and toxic energy.
- Pursue in-person contact as much as possible
In the pre-pandemic days, this was easier said than done. In a post-COVID world, though, it’s even more critical to hold regular Zoom meetings to retain as much face-to-face interaction as possible. Alternatively, pick up the phone and call someone if you need to have a serious conversation. Electronic communication leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation, which can be a severe anxiety trigger.
- Set realistic deadlines
People with work anxiety will sometimes agree to deadlines they know they can’t meet out of fear of upsetting someone or perceived confrontation. The irony is that this can only lead to more anxiety down the road as the deadline looms. Instead, be honest and give a realistic timeline. Even if a deadline is non-negotiable, you can reduce anxiety by being upfront and working at a manageable pace.
- Ask for help
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Anxiety can build when you are assigned a task that you are unfamiliar with or have never done before, but the discomfort of seeking help on the front end can save you plenty of stress later.
How to get help for workplace anxiety
If you are experiencing work-related anxiety, you may be able to access resources such as counseling through your HR department. Alternatively, simply talking to a trusted friend or co-worker about what you’re feeling can help. You may also seek professional help by finding a licensed therapist near you.