Anxiety in the workplace is endemic – we are embedded in a toxic culture that takes pride in workaholism, multitasking, and living a frantic lifestyle. The busier we are at work, the more respect and prestige we can gain from co-workers, supervisors, and other employees. But jumping from task to task, meeting to meeting, and deadline to deadline certainly comes at a cost.
Last year, episodes of stress, anxiety, and depression accounted for 50% of work-related sick days in the UK. Behind those statistics are hardworking people who work every day and try to do their best for their organisation, employer, and colleagues. But sometimes, doing our best implies taking a moment to pause from the fast-paced rhythm we live in and look inwards.
Do we feel hope, inspiration, and fulfilment when we think about our work? Or does it make us feel on the verge of having an anxiety attack?
What Is Work Anxiety?
“In our increasingly complicated and anxious world, we need more time to do less and be less.” – Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
Most people spend from eight to 12 hours working, whether in the office or home. If we consider that each day has 24 hours, this means that we spend approximately 60% of our time working. As a result, anything that happens at work may significantly impact our mental health and other areas of our life.
Work at times may feel stressful. Public speaking, convincing a vital stakeholder, or submitting major projects before a deadline can trigger anxiety and stress. None of us are exempt from experiencing those feelings from time to time. However, when anxiety at work becomes an inherent part of our professional life, rather than a sporadic event, we may be suffering from workplace anxiety.
Workplace anxiety is not a mental health diagnosis, but it certainly can feel equally unsettling and painful. It refers to those overwhelming worries we may experience in the context of doing our job. In some cases, anxious thoughts can become so rampant that they may trigger panic attacks in work-related situations, undermining self-esteem and job performance. This creates a harmful cycle in which underperformance could heighten anxious feelings, making daily life at work almost miserable.
But why does work make us feel this way?
Four Causes of Work Anxiety
Mental health issues are complex. Many factors contribute to anxious feelings at work, such as personality, past traumatic experiences, job discrimination, or problems in our personal lives.
However, studies suggest that in most cases, workplace anxiety is a response to any of these four reasons:
We are social beings, and part of our identity and self-esteem comes from how others perceive us. However, we may be overly focused on other people’s feedback, judgement, or criticism in some instances. This is especially true when we think other people’s perceptions will significantly impact our job position, promotion, or salary.
Performance anxiety was a concept first used to explain stage fright performers feel in front of an audience. However, as our societies become more visual and extraverted, current organisational roles feel like always being on stage for many people.
Those who experience performance anxiety may experience fear of negative evaluation upon delivering a presentation, talking to clients, speaking during a Zoom meeting, or networking at staff lunches.
Impostor phenomenon – or impostor syndrome – is a misconception qualified people have about their accomplishments. Often, imposter syndrome causes people to think that their successes occur because of good luck or other unrelated factors – this is different to false humility.
In the workplace, imposter syndrome causes many people to believe that their work performance is not up to standards despite the positive feedback they receive from their colleagues or supervisors. Unfortunately, the ramifications of imposter syndrome may push people to work in excess, which in turn compromises their mental and physical health.
Social Anxiety Disorders
Social anxiety disorders include performance anxiety that goes beyond performing in front of an audience. Social anxiety is the fear and worry that arises when people are required to engage in any social interaction with others, including having a coffee with a co-worker or attending office events.
Social anxiety has nothing to do with having an introverted personality. Instead, it is a mental health condition that triggers constant fears of being judged by others that can cause employees to avoid social interactions at work and other social contexts.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
In some cases, workplace anxiety is a reflection of generalised anxiety disorder – a mental health condition that affects approximately 5% of the adult population in the UK. When a person suffers from GAD, they may experience anxiety, worries, and fears at work and in other areas of their life, which gradually affect their entire well-being.
For example, someone with GAD may suffer from anxiety attacks whenever their child feels sick, when they watch the news, or when they find obstacles for a planned holiday. However, as opposed to performance anxiety or impostor phenomenon, which are context-related, people suffering from GAD may feel anxious most of the time.
Are You Experiencing Work Anxiety?
Now that we have reviewed the potential causes of work anxiety, let’s unpack some of the signs of this mental health condition. After all, the first step to healing is identifying the problem.
So please, take a moment to reflect on whether you are experiencing the following symptoms and how strong they are impacting your work performance:
- You struggle with perfectionism.
- You encounter anxiety or stress almost all of the time at work.
- You avoid engaging in social interactions with colleagues, supervisors, or clients.
- You feel anxious or nearly paralysed every time you have to meet deadlines or complete part of your job responsibilities.
- You find it difficult to enjoy the present moment due to constantly feeling worried about your work.
- You fear receiving negative feedback from other people in your organisation.
- You manage anxiety at work by engaging in unhealthy coping strategies, such as consuming alcohol or drugs, or participating in a gambling or gaming addiction.
- You find it difficult to obtain adequate sleep because of work-related stress.
- You feel tired or experience low energy most of the time, especially at work.
- You increase your consumption of caffeine, salty, fatty, or sugary food in an attempt to boost your energy levels.
- You experience physical symptoms or unexplained physical sensations unrelated to a medical condition, such as headaches, stomachaches, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, or hyperventilation.
Coping With Work Anxiety
Anxiety in the workplace can feel devastating. Sadly, it significantly impacts many people’s job performance by pushing them to overwork or blocking their creativity, decision-making, focus, or problem-solving skills.
Workplace anxiety may also lead to more serious physical or mental disability. Though difficult to talk about, there is no need to prolong a type of suffering that has solutions. If you are struggling with anxiety at work, here are some steps to take.
Talk to Your Manager
Anxiety is a fear-based condition that causes many people to avoid talking to others. However, hiding any problems encountered takes more mental energy than having an honest talk.
If you feel anxious about your workload, deadlines, or other job responsibilities, consider talking to your manager. Doing so may help uncover ways to make your job more manageable. Likewise, talking to your manager may guide you towards your organisational employee assistance programme.
Practice Good Health Habits
Anxiety is a condition triggered by things we cannot control. For this reason, developing a routine that is within your ability to control may reduce your anxiety levels. If you do not feel ready for significant lifestyle changes, you can start with simple healthy living strategies. This may include daily walks, eating healthy meals, or even creating quiet night routines.
Engage in Healthy Coping Strategies
Learning to manage anxiety with healthy coping strategies will benefit your well-being in the long run instead of resorting to quick fixes (i.e., substance use). It is true that for an anxious mind, sitting still and meditating for 30 minutes may feel like torture. However, as in the previous case, you can start small.
There are many activities that may help you be mindful, feel refreshed, and better deal with stress. From gardening to yoga and doing puzzles to praying, take some time to explore the activities more suitable to your personality and lifestyle.
When You Can’t Cope
Sometimes there are times when people need extra support. The Revoke Programme designed to give those in need the calming space required for healing.
In our centre, clients find a caring team of mental health professionals who provide suitable treatments to help them deal with workplace anxiety and manage stress in their life. Our therapists continually monitor each person’s progress and adapt treatment to meet their healing and mental wellness needs.
If you are ready to find out more, we welcome you to contact us via email or phone.