Work Anxiety - Causes, Symptoms, and How to Manage Feelings of Anxiety
Work anxiety refers to the stress caused by work that leads to the symptoms of anxiety, or the impact of an anxiety disorder at work. Suffering from work-related anxiety can have a significant impact on you and your career, and may even force you to make career decisions based on your anxiety. This may include the feeling as if you have to turn down a promotion if it involves more management responsibilities, public speaking, or travelling to new places.
Whether you find yourself worrying about specific things, like imminent deadlines or an upcoming presentation, or you simply have a formless feeling of dread, you may find that you’re telling yourself that you have to get back to work or to stop worrying and obsessing about things.
Failing that, people who suffer from anxiety about going to work are prone to catastrophising; which means worrying about the absolute worst-case scenario after a minor event. Worries can range from being fired to being severely reprimanded, and you may even find yourself triggering a full-on panic attack.
Below, we take a look at some of the signs to look out for to determine if you are suffering from work anxiety, as well as some ways of how to deal with anxiety and work effectively.
Work Anxiety Symptoms and Signs
Although there is no categoric work-related anxiety disorder, there are certain work anxiety symptoms that you may be suffering from that are similar in terms of anxiety disorders, and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).
Below, you’ll find a list of work anxiety symptoms to look out for to determine if you are suffering from work anxiety:
- Irrational or excessive worrying
- Difficulty falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, insomnia
- A hyperreactive startle reaction
- Feeling jittery Feelings of fatigue or tiredness
- A lump in your throat for prolonged periods
- Dry mouth or needing to drink a lot of water
- Sweating or cold sweats
- A racing heart or heart palpitations
In addition to these feelings of general anxiety, there are also some further work anxiety symptoms for employers to look out for that could indicate if someone is experiencing work anxiety.
For employers, here’s an overview of what to look out for:
- Staff taking an unusual amount of time off work
- Overreacting to situations whilst on the job
- Focusing too much on the negative aspects of their job
- Struggling to concentrate or complete tasks within their deadline
A person who is suffering from work anxiety symptoms and anxiety about going to work may also seek medical help, which could result in being diagnosed with a certain type of anxiety disorder:
- Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Panic disorder Social anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Specific phobias
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
What Causes Workplace Anxiety?
There are many factors that can contribute towards the development of work anxiety and anxiety before work, and they may be caused by various characteristics of the actual work environment. It is not an unusual occurrence for certain major events to make an employee feel anxiety at work, or feel temporary moments of anxiety. These events can include things like starting a new job or leaving an old one.
If you’re the type to spend a lot of time at work worrying about things not going the right way, or how you planned, feelings of anxiety at work can become overwhelming. While this may not always rise to a level of ongoing anxiety, it can be helpful to discuss with someone you trust any of these issues that make you feel anxious at work.
Some causes for anxiety about going to work can include:
- Being victim to workplace bullying or dealing with conflicts
- Meeting deadlines Returning to work after time away
- Maintaining positive relationships with coworkers
- Managing staff Ill health
- Underlying medical conditions
- Working long hours
- Having an overly demanding boss, or a micromanaging boss
- Dealing with an overly high workload compared to their pay
- Having a lack of direction on new tasks
- Perceiving a lack of fairness
- Feeling a lack of control
- Having a low reward, i.e: not enough pay or recognition
Anxiety is Affecting my Work, What Can I Do? Managing Anxiety at Work
There are many solutions that can help you to manage your stress and anxiety in the workplace.
A log keeping track of what kind of anxious feelings you’re having, and when you begin to feel anxious or uncomfortable throughout your workday, can help you to track trends in your anxiety - maybe it’s more prominent in the morning when you’re first looking at your workload, or maybe its at the end of the day when you still have a lot to do but need to leave to collect your children from school.
Making sure to listen to your internal voice and facing some of your anxious and negative thoughts head-on can also help. If you’re constantly thinking that your colleagues think you’re “stupid” or “oh, they’re ignoring me”, could there be any other explanations as to why they went by your desk or didn’t hear you on the Zoom call?
You’re not trying to convince yourself that everything is okay, that’s just unrealistic. What this will help to do is give you a more realistic interpretation of the situation, rather than a catastrophic and worst-case one.
Some further tips for you to consider which can help to calm and reduce anxiety before work include:
- Adopt healthy habits: Making sure to get enough sleep, eat healthfully, exercise regularly, and not oversaturating yourself with alcohol or caffeine can all help to keep your body and mind in the best possible shape. Making sure to eat foods that are rich in magnesium has also been proven to help with anxiety symptoms.
- Be organised: Although clearing your computer and desk may not seem like a high enough priority, making sure to stay organised can help to clear your mind and do wonders for your mental health in the long run.
- Be honest with yourself: If you don’t have enough time for extra tasks, don’t take them on. Overburdening yourself with too much optional work will make you feel stressed and anxious about deadlines.
- Communicate: If you need help, ask for it. If you have too much work on your plate, let someone know. Your manager may not realise that you’re spreading yourself too thin.
- Celebrate your successes: Before you decide to move on to the next task or large-scale project, take a moment to celebrate your work; make sure to thank the people who helped you to get it all done.
- Educate yourself: Learning to spot the first signs of anxiety will help you to get an idea of how to handle these symptoms effectively whilst at work.
- Get it right the first time: We know this is a difficult one, but spending a bit of extra time getting all the details right on the first try will mean that you don’t have to redo your hard work.
- Prepare and plan: If you have any major projects coming up that you know will bring a lot of anxiety and stress, try to get a head start on them before they begin and set mini-deadlines for yourself. It can also help to set aside some time in the event issues or problems arise so that you have adequate time to deal with them.
- Set clear boundaries: Never bring work home with you. Blurring the lines between your home life and your work life can make you feel anxious whilst at home. Try to make it a rule to not check your voicemails or work emails once you clock out for the day.
- Steer clear of toxic coworkers: Another difficult one, but try not to listen to gossip or negativity in the workplace. It’ll only make your mental health worse.
- Take breaks when you need to: Tear yourself away from your papers or your screen and try out some deep-breathing techniques - maybe even take a walk to clear your head. This also includes using your annual leave and holiday allowance. You’ll feel more refreshed and ready to get back to it once you return, rather than letting yourself burn out.
- Tell a coworker you trust: Having a friend at work who knows about how you suffer from anxiety can offer some level of comfort, and may even help to relieve some stress and fear knowing you have someone you can talk to.
- Use your time management skills: Practicing time management can also help to alleviate some of the anxiety you may be feeling regarding work. Falling behind on deadlines is an inevitable cause of stress and work anxiety, so prioritising your tasks with to-do lists can help you to set aside enough time to complete each task efficiently.
What to Remember With Work Anxiety
Your Feelings Are Valid
When you’re at work, you can feel overwhelmed with the expectation of having to be and perform at your best at all times. It can be a very difficult thing to admit your vulnerabilities and cut yourself some slack, but if you try remembering that your feelings of anxiety are as real, and very much as valid, as a painful migraine or a bad stomach ache, you will realise that taking care of yourself is paramount - just as you would with those physical conditions.
Your Employer Won’t Fire You
A major trigger of having an anxiety attack in the workplace can be the very real fear that you’ll get fired because of your condition. The good news is that, well, it is highly unlikely that this will come to fruition.
The fear of getting canned is also a part of the catastrophising mechanism that is a telltale sign of workplace anxiety, and anxiety disorders in general. But should this worst-case scenario actually come to fruition because of your anxiety, the law is on your side.
Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash