How to Deal with Anxiety at Work

Published on: 02 Jun 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Meaghan Rice PsyD., LPC
man in wheelchair sitting at desk with coworkers

Anxiety and stress can rob you of joy in your days, not only at work, but in all areas of your life. However, when we’re talking about anxiety and its impact on your professional life, the stakes can seem even higher. Anxiety can lead to job burnout and eventually a myriad of stress-related health problems, including heart disease, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome. It can also lead to things like insomnia, depression, a weakened immune system, and over (or under) eating.

Anxiety at work can affect your productivity and your focus. Anxiety disorders are known to have a potential impact on relationships with coworkers and clients, and they can cause you to withdraw and be less effective at collaborating.

What is Workplace Anxiety?

Workplace anxiety can involve feeling uncomfortable, stressed, nervous, or tense about work. The anxiety might stem from worries about losing your job, about your job performance, or even about relations with your coworkers. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), as many as 40% of American workers suffer from workplace anxiety.

While a little bit of work-related stress and anxiety can actually help you focus and improve work performance, too much can be harmful and affect your quality of life — both at work and outside of the office.

Causes of Anxiety in the Workplace

Many situations can contribute to or lead to work anxiety. These can include conflicts with your boss or coworkers, coworker bullying, uncertainty about job stability, unrealistic deadlines, or even absent or ambiguous instructions that make your job more difficult.

“I took a class in school that opened my eyes to an interesting concept. We take on the roles that we had growing up in our families in the workplace for our own healing. This helped me tremendously because I began to see my role, and instead of blaming, I started healing.”

Talkspace therapist Dr. Karmen Smith LCSW DD

Many people believe that all anxiety is the same, but the truth is, there are many forms of anxiety. In fact, there are a few different types of anxiety that you may be dealing with. Knowing the differences can help as you try to address the issue and learn better, healthier thought and behavior patterns. 

Generalized anxiety

Generalized anxiety disorder is an overall nervous feeling, or a feeling like something is going to go wrong, even if you don’t know what, exactly, is going to happen.

Performance anxiety

Work performance anxiety is more specific. This type of anxiety can be felt when you’re worried about not being able to do your job well enough. For example, you might have anxious thoughts about your boss or client not liking the report you spent all week preparing.

Imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome refers to feeling like you’re a fraud or having an irrational fear that you’re not good enough for your job position. This type of work anxiety is especially prevalent in high-achieving people who might have difficulty accepting their success. Imposter syndrome can, in part, be caused by low self-esteem or subtle bullying by coworkers that undermine someone’s confidence in their work.

Feeling a sense of urgency

Feeling like you have too many tasks to complete in too little time is another type of work anxiety. This can come from your boss making unreasonable and unattainable demands on your time. It can also be the result of pressure you put on yourself, too. 

Social anxiety (social phobia)

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is an anxiety condition marked by intense self-consciousness and overwhelming anxiety in daily social situations. This can be anything from being afraid to speak in both formal and informal situations, to experiencing anxiety symptoms by just being around other people. Perhaps you experience social anxiety with co-workers in the office or when meeting new clients.

Tips for Dealing with Anxiety at Work

There is some good news, however. You don’t just have to accept workplace anxiety. Below are a few tips on how to deal with anxiety symptoms at work so you can be as productive and content in your job as possible, and achieve a better work-life balance

“See your role in the situation, analyze your expectations — are you taking on the role you had/have in your family? Are you ready to see it differently and make changes? All of these are good questions to ask, and they allow you to go inward.”

Talkspace therapist Dr. Karmen Smith LCSW DD 

Talk to a trusted coworker

Sometimes just being able to discuss a work situation with someone else can reduce anxiety. However, make sure that if you talk with a coworker, it’s someone you can trust. You don’t want your words to be turned against you. That said, if you have someone you feel you can confide in, coworkers can be great sounding boards. They understand the context and environment you’re struggling in but may have a slightly different (or even detached) viewpoint of the situation. This might allow them to offer you some insight on how to handle things and reduce anxiety.

Talk to your manager

Assuming your manager is not the source of your anxiety, you might want to discuss your stressful situation with them. If someone is bullying you, being inappropriate, or undermining your work, your boss might be able to help. If it’s your boss who’s giving you anxiety about going to work, you might want to discuss the situation with someone in your human resources (HR) department.

Use a task manager to plan and prepare

If the source of your anxiety is having too many tasks each day and feeling overwhelmed or unorganized, task manager software might be able to help. This tech solution manages your daily or weekly to-do list and helps you avoid putting too many tasks on each day’s list. You’ll be more successful at completing your list, and you will reduce the risk of inadvertently dropping items that are continuously being pushed to the next day. Using a task manager is a huge time saver and can help you improve your productivity dramatically.

Be realistic with deadlines

Sometimes it can be easy to tell your boss or your client that you’ll have a project completed by a specific date until you get in the middle of the project and realize you’ve drastically underestimated the time the project will take to complete.

Feeling like you don’t have enough time to finish a project (and be proud of a job well-done) can create a lot of anxiety about going to work. 

Avoid this by putting a bit more thought into how much time a project will take, and then adding a cushion to your timeframe before you commit to a deadline. Don’t be afraid to be honest and push back if your boss or client tries to get you to agree to complete a task in a time that’s simply not realistic.

Take a mental health day

Taking a periodic mental health day can be a great way to reduce anxiety, sharpen your focus, and increase your productivity. Use your day away from the office to do something enjoyable for yourself, not to catch up on housework or chores (or, it should go without saying, work). You also may be eligible to take a stress leave from work for more than one day under the Family Medical Leave Act.

Seek a therapist

A therapist can be a resource for you if you need to discuss your workplace stress and anxiety. This is especially true if you don’t have a confidant in a co-worker, friend, or family member who you feel like you can talk to. Yes, therapists can help give you perspective, but beyond that, their worth can be much more instrumental in your health and wellbeing. 

A skilled therapist can determine if your anxiety triggers are normal, or if your anxiety is so extreme that it might be worth exploring serious change…like finding a new job. Don’t worry, though; most often, anxiety is manageable, especially if you have the tools and coping skills to reduce or overcome it. 

Anxiety at work is common, but it can be a destructive dilemma. You don’t have to live with it, though. Get rid of the dread when you have to go to work by admitting that you feel anxious. Then,  address the cause and learn how to eliminate the parts of your work life that are increasing your anxiety. You can do this, and help is there if you need it with Talkspace.

Sources:

1. Agnvall E. Stress and Disease – Conditions that May Be Caused by Chronic Stress. AARP. https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2014/stress-and-disease.html. Published 2014. Accessed April 30, 2022.

 2. Radvansky G, Krawietz S, Tamplin A. Walking through Doorways Causes Forgetting: Further Explorations. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 2011;64(8):1632-1645. doi:10.1080/17470218.2011.571267. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17470218.2011.571267. Accessed April 30, 2022.

3. Cheng B, McCarthy J. Understanding the dark and bright sides of anxiety: A theory of workplace anxiety. Journal of Applied Psychology. 2018;103(5):537-560. doi:10.1037/apl0000266. https://doi.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fapl0000266. Accessed April 30, 2022.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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