An Overview of Work Anxiety
Work anxiety is a type of anxiety that is directly related to the sufferer’s job.
They may experience anxiety when they go to work, talk about work, or even just think about work.
Most people with work anxiety will also suffer from anxiety in general (whether that’s generalised anxiety disorder or a type of social anxiety), but this is not always the case.
What Causes Work Anxiety?
As anxiety is a mental health condition, work anxiety does not necessarily have to be related to one’s job. In other words, someone could enjoy their job and still struggle with anxiety while they are there, for a variety of reasons.
They may experience stress regarding the structure of their life, which means work-related tasks can make them feel anxious e.g., commuting, team meetings, or working 9-5.
They could also experience social anxiety due to the expectations placed on them to interact with their colleagues on a daily basis.
Sometimes, people are so stressed in other areas of their life that going to work can be incredibly anxiety-inducing, not because they hate their job, but because it is simply the nail in the coffin.
For example, if they are going through a divorce, this is the main stressor, but they may develop anxiety about work as they have to put their emotions aside when they get there, and this can be challenging.
Other times, people experience work anxiety because they dislike their job, or it is not well-suited to them.
If you don’t enjoy your job, you may feel anxious about going every day as it takes up such a big part of your life, and this can contribute to chronophobia (the fear of time passing).
If your job is highly stressful, you may feel anxious about the tasks you have to complete, as you are under pressure to perform well and to be as productive as possible. This will be compounded if you suffer from impostor syndrome, as you may feel anxious that you do not fit in at your job and that you cannot keep up with the workload.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people to have unkind managers, and this can lead to work anxiety as you have to deal with a challenging individual every day.
Not only does this cause anxiety due to the negative atmosphere, but as your manager has an influence over your career, you may worry that they will hinder your progression.
Some parents suffer from work anxiety as they have to leave their children to go to work, and this makes them feel guilty for not giving all of their time to their children. When they are at work, they may struggle to think about anything except the fact that they are not with their children.
Finally, people who work long hours are more likely to suffer from work anxiety, as they have less time to recuperate after work, and they may not have enough time to focus on the things they enjoy, such as spending time with loved ones or getting involved with their favourite hobbies.
Who is Affected By Work Anxiety?
As we have discussed, if you have problems with your job you are more prone to work anxiety, as there are more stressors for you to deal with.
This means if you dislike your job role, you dislike your colleagues or manager, you struggle with your hours, you hate the commute, or you have any other strong negative feelings about work, you are more likely to experience work anxiety.
Women are more likely to be affected by work anxiety than men, and this is simply because they are more likely to deal with anxiety in general.
Statistics show that women are twice as likely than men to have anxiety.
Something that is interesting to note is that men are more likely to deal with this by turning to drug use, whereas women tend to adopt an avoidant approach and stay at home as much as possible.
In terms of age, work anxiety is at its highest in people aged between 15-34.
This is promising in the sense that it implies work anxiety reduces with age, but it is of course a worrying statistic for people in their early careers.
That being said, anyone can be affected by work anxiety; it is a very common condition. Studies show that 58% of employees are experiencing mild anxiety symptoms, and 24% are dealing with clinically relevant symptoms.
Work is the most common stressor in our lives, as confirmed by the statistic that 34% of people find their work to be more stressful than their financial problems (30%) or health problems (17%).
The same studies show that 1-in-5 people have developed anxiety as a direct result of their job.
Both the employed and the self-employed can face work anxiety at some point in their life.
Employed people are more likely to develop anxiety surrounding work structure, challenging colleagues and supervisors, whereas the self-employed may be more anxious about challenging clients, managing finances, and taxes.
What is the Link Between Regular Anxiety & Work Anxiety?
Work anxiety is no different from standard anxiety in the sense that it has the same symptoms.
The only difference is that it is caused by or experienced at work, whereas standard anxiety can be caused by a wide variety of factors.
That being said, it is possible for someone to have severe work anxiety, and yet not experience anxiety in other areas of their life.
This is because they are not suffering from generalised anxiety, which can target any aspect of the patient’s life.
The Symptoms of Work Anxiety
As we have described, the symptoms of work anxiety are no different from the symptoms of standard anxiety.
Here are some common symptoms of anxiety:
- Shortness of breath
- Dry mouth
- Sleep problems e.g., insomnia
- Sense of impending doom
- Increased heart rate
- Muscle aches
- Digestive problems
- Overactive thoughts
- Pins and needles
The Signs of Work Anxiety
If someone is experiencing work anxiety, some of their physical symptoms may give this away, but not always.
Here are some particular signs to look out for:
- Avoiding work, or specific aspects of work (e.g., meetings, presentations, or extra hours)
- Reduced concentration
- Failing to meet deadlines
- Submitting low-quality work
- Being more irritable
The Effects of Work Anxiety
Work anxiety affects people differently, but it has the potential to impact the physical and mental health of sufferers, which could cause any of the following situations:
- Social isolation
- Lack of job satisfaction
- Impaired relationships with colleagues
- Lack of self-confidence
These symptoms are bound to affect individuals more when they do not seek help for their work anxiety. Though therapy will not necessarily solve work anxiety, it tends to help employees to cope with the anxiety.
What to do if you Have Work Anxiety – Top 10 Tips
1. Speak to your employer
If you have work anxiety, the first thing you should do is speak to your employer. Of course, this only applies if your employer is supportive and has not been the cause of your work anxiety.
The likelihood is that your employer has had this experience with their employees in the past, and they will know exactly how to support you.
Your employer may be able to help you access professional help and, as they will be aware of your struggles, they will be able to support you throughout your process of waiting for a referral and getting therapy and/or medication.
Once your employer is aware of your work anxiety, they will be less likely to put unfair pressure on you. You may be able to avoid an unrealistic workload, extremely long hours, and a lack of training as your employer will be keen on helping you to keep your anxiety symptoms to a minimum.
2. Open up to a trusted colleague
If you are fortunate enough to have colleagues you get along with and trust, we strongly advise you to speak to them about your struggles with work anxiety. If they have dealt with this at some point, you will be reassured that you are not alone.
If not, they could still provide you with emotional support, and it will be comforting for you to know that there is someone to go to whenever you need to vent about work, or to get advice about dealing with your anxiety.
There’s a chance that your colleague is stressed by similar things to you, whether it be the commute, the workload, the hours, or another aspect of the workplace.
This means you will be able to relate to one another and share your every day worries.
3. Find healthy coping mechanisms
It is easy for us to identify unhealthy coping mechanisms for anxiety, such as avoidance or substance abuse.
However, it can be trickier to think of healthy coping mechanisms, especially as they do not all work for everyone.
Some people refrain from taking medication as they believe they need to work on the problem themselves.
Though there is truth in the idea that medication can treat the symptoms and doesn’t get to the root cause, it is sometimes a necessary way to keep your anxiety low, which would then allow you to spend time unpacking your anxiety.
4. Improve your life outside of work
If you are struggling to make improvements to your work life, something you could do is make changes to your life outside of work and reduce anxiety in other areas.
]Though this won’t change that you are anxious about work, it could reduce your general anxiety levels, and therefore reduce your symptoms at work.
For example, you may want to work on your self-care and make sure you are dedicating a good amount of time to yourself every day.
If you have the time, this could look like going on long walks, having a long bath in the evening, playing sports or going to the gym.
If you do not have the time for this, you can still prioritise self-care in simpler ways.
Perhaps you could listen to your favourite music on your morning commute, get an early night on weekdays, call a friend a couple of times a week, or watch your favourite programme each evening.
Not only will this make you feel calmer overall, but it ensures you always have something to look forward to when you are suffering from anxiety at work.
It will remind you that work is not your entire life.
5. Go to therapy
Therapy is not just a last-resort option for people who have been through severe trauma. It is a way for people to tackle their emotions rather than repressing them, and to learn how to handle challenges in their life.
This means therapy can work very well for people suffering from work anxiety.
One common type of therapy that is used for anxiety is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
If you have this type of therapy, you will compare your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours about work to figure out why you are experiencing anxiety, and how you can change this.
This works by taking note of your thoughts about work, and analysing them to see whether you can find any flaws.
For instance, if you have the thought ‘work is ruining my life’, you may feel depressed as a result, and this lead to avoidant behaviour.
If you look at this thought, it is easy to spot the flawed logic in it. You are catastrophising by implying your job is your life, and by judging work as entirely negative. A therapist would encourage you to list the positive things in your life and the positive aspects of work.
When you change your thoughts about work, it is less likely that you will experience strong negative emotions relating to it, and this will impact your behaviour. Eventually, you may be able to be less anxious at work.
6. Lower your standards
You may not have expected to get this advice as, without context, it sounds like it could land you in trouble. This is especially true if you have a large workload and plenty of responsibilities.
However, we are not advising you to stop attending meetings or stop interacting with colleagues, but to stop bringing perfectionism into the workplace.
There are small changes you can make to ensure your working day is less hectic.
Some examples are: not taking on voluntary projects when you are already busy, not responding to emails or phone calls outside of working hours, listening to music or a podcast while you work, calling a friend on your lunch break, and taking regular breaks between difficult tasks.
If you have told your employer about your work anxiety, they would hopefully be happy to help you ‘lower’ your standards, by encouraging you to take regular breaks or moving you to a desk next to a colleague you get along well with.
7. Celebrate the little wins
When you have work anxiety, you tend to focus on everything that is going wrong, which may make you feel like you are a useless employee. We recommend celebrating the little wins to balance out this negativity, and to remind you that you have something to bring to the table.
For people with mild work anxiety, this may involve celebrating projects you have completed or meetings you have held.
Take a moment to appreciate the fact that you have succeeded in these areas, and maybe even journal about it so that you don’t forget the good moments.
If you have severe work anxiety, you may not be completing projects, or at least not to a high standard. In this situation, praise yourself for simply showing up to work.
This may sound counterproductive, but praise works much better than criticism when it comes to motivating yourself.
If you spiral every time you take the day off, you are more likely to avoid work further as you feel like a failure.
However, if you see it as a natural consequence of anxiety, and you focus on the times you manage to make it to work, there is more chance you will have better attendance as you won’t conflate staying at home with being a failure.
8. Adopt a healthy lifestyle
Anxiety is a complex condition that could be caused by a number of factors, so healthy people can still have work anxiety, and unhealthy people may be anxiety-free at work.
However, adopting healthy habits can potentially reduce your symptoms of anxiety.
One example of this is to practise good sleep hygiene by having a set night routine, going to bed early, avoiding screens before bed, and completing your to-do list before you go to sleep.
Healthy eating is another thing that can keep work anxiety at bay, as it alters the chemicals in your brain and leads to a higher production of serotonin.
Avoiding fast food and caffeine is a good idea, as they are known to make people feel more anxious.
Something else you should avoid is drinking too much alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant, so the happy mood it puts you in is temporary and the after-effects often include increased anxiety.
9. Learn about anxiety
If you have no idea how anxiety works, you are bound to be more intimidated by it as you do not understand why it is happening or whether you have caused it. Educating yourself on the illness is a great way to manage it.
Firstly, learn about the causes of anxiety, to avoid assuming it is a choice you have made. As we have explained, anxiety can be caused by genetics, substance abuse, exposure, trauma, and many other factors.
Usually, there are multiple factors influencing someone’s experience of anxiety.
Secondly, educate yourself on the science behind anxiety. A brief overview is that the amygdala of someone with anxiety is much more sensitive than average, so they go into a fight or flight response much more easily.
Trauma can make the amygdala more sensitive, but this is something that can be reversed in some people with therapy and medication.
Finally, discover what your personal triggers are.
You already know that work is your trigger, but what specifically about work triggers you?
If it’s the hours, you could see whether it’s possible to change them. If it’s your colleagues, remain neutral with the ones you dislike, and try to get to know other people in your workplace.
10. Give up
If you have tried everything else and you are still dealing with intense work anxiety, perhaps the role or the workplace is not for you, and the only thing that will take away the anxiety is quitting.
You could either find a job in another company, change jobs within your company, or look into altering your role i.e., in terms of responsibilities or hours.
Please do not give up without trying the above suggestions. Anxiety can push people to make impulsive decisions, and this could make your situation even worse than it already is.
Try to take some time to think about your job, and whether it would be sensible to quit or to stick it out for a while longer.
We also do not recommend quitting your job if you do not have anything else lined up.
Start looking for jobs and attending interviews, and only leave when you have found another job that suits you in a great workplace.
It is vital that you know the employee satisfaction of the company you are going to work for. Even better if you know someone who works there, and who will be honest with you about the workplace culture.
5 ‘Do Nots’ For People With Work Anxiety
1. Do not stay silent
The worst thing you can do if you are struggling with work anxiety is to stay silent and keep it to yourself. Often, people are much more supportive than you would expect, especially given that some of them are likely to have experienced anxiety at some point in their life.
You may be worried about the risks of speaking up, but the risks of staying silent are far worse, as there is no chance that your situation will improve.
What’s more, when anxiety is kept inside it can worsen your symptoms as you end up repressing it.
We accept that it is very difficult to speak up if your employer is causing the anxiety, but this is when you should go to HR to explain the situation and figure out how they can help you. You can also open up to your loved ones so you have somewhere to go to vent about your work without consequences.
2 Do not people please
If you are a chronic people pleaser, you may decide to make up for your anxiety by taking on more responsibilities at work, and pretending you are able to handle the workload. All this will do is increase your anxiety.
Try to practise asserting boundaries by saying no to projects, not answering emails after work, and not taking on other people’s tasks if you know it is going to cause you a great deal of stress.
People pleasers worry that having boundaries means they have to be unkind, but this is not the case.
The kindest thing you can do at work is to have firm boundaries, as you will be more content, which means you will be in a better position to help out colleagues in a reasonable way.
You will also perform better if you are working on lowering your stress.
3. Do not try to treat it yourself
If you try to treat your symptoms yourself without seeking professional help, the work anxiety is likely to persist for a long period of time. Please research the benefits of therapy and medication, and get yourself on a waiting list as soon as possible.
Lots of people avoid medication, but it can work wonders for people with work anxiety.
Anti-anxiety medication changes the chemicals in your brain to reduce the amount of anxiety you feel.
Beta-blockers can also be used to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety, which has a knock-on effect on your thoughts and feelings while you are at work.
However, you will not be forced to take medication, so do not avoid asking for help in case you have to take it. You could stick to therapy and see whether it makes a big change to your work anxiety.
For most people, the best-case scenario is a combination of medication and therapy.
4. Do not isolate yourself
Many people who struggle with work anxiety resort to isolating themselves at work as a coping mechanism.
They may feel too overwhelmed to interact with their colleagues more than they have to, or they may be ashamed of their anxiety, and therefore they try to hide it away.
Others will isolate themselves from their loved ones too.
Again, they may not be able to cope with their anxiety in a healthy way, so the only way they manage is by hiding away from the world and avoiding their triggers.
Shame can also come into it, as unfortunately some people perceive anxiety to be a sign of weakness.
Though it may be tempting to isolate yourself, you have to remember that this does not solve work anxiety.
It will only make things worse, as you do not have a support system to help you, and your situation is likely to feel more daunting when you are hiding away in your home.
However, we know that it can be very difficult to put yourself out there at work when you are feeling so anxious.
The best way to go about this is to take baby steps each day or even each week.
Try to approach people you already know first, and ask them questions so that the spotlight isn’t on you.
The next day, you may want to be more open about your life, and then the day after that you could try approaching someone that you do not know as well.
Each time you accomplish one of the small steps, praise yourself and remind yourself that you are capable of more than you think you are.
As you reinsert yourself into your workplace, others will most likely gravitate more towards you, so it will not just be you making the effort.
5. Do not be complacent
It is easy to hate your job and do nothing about it. Even if you are experiencing anxiety at work, you may feel as though the anxiety of getting a new job would be even worse.
However, if you have tried to make changes and you are still experiencing lots of anxiety, you should not resort to complacency – this will change nothing.
The longer you stay in a job you hate, the more unhappy you will be, and this has potentially dangerous consequences i.e., social isolation, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Some situations are unavoidable, such as being contracted to work for a set period of time or being paid by a company to complete a degree.
However, most jobs do not have to be permanent, and you could leave within a matter of weeks or months depending on what the job market looks like for the roles you are qualified for.
Treatment For Work Anxiety
The main treatments for work anxiety are therapy and medication. However, there are many different types of therapy, and many different types of medication, so it is not as simple as making one choice.
When you go to your GP, they will refer you for anxiety therapy that is funded by the NHS, and this is usually short-term (around 2 months).
If you choose to pay for private therapy, you can arrange this yourself by researching therapists near you, or looking for a therapist in the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BCAP).
If you are planning on having therapy online, you do not need to narrow your search to therapists in your local area.
If you go private, you tend to have more of a choice in the type of therapy you can get.
More and more therapists are qualifying in Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, which is great for people with work anxiety who have experienced trauma.
Make sure you check your company’s stance on therapy, as you may be fortunate enough to have an on-site counsellor, or your employer may be willing to pay for you to have therapy.
The second popular treatment for work anxiety is medication.
Perhaps the most common anti-anxiety medication is Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).
They are widely known as antidepressants, but they also work against anxiety, as it can be caused or worsened by reduced serotonin.
The advantage of SSRIs is that they can treat anxiety that is caused by chemical imbalances, and they successfully reduce anxiety symptoms in many patients.
Many patients with anxiety are also at least mildly depressed, and the SSRIs will treat this at the same time as the anxiety.
On the other hand, you shouldn’t take medication before researching it and speaking to your GP, as there are many side effects which ca include:
- Weight loss
- Excessive sweating
- Dry mouth
- Low sex drive
- Blurred vision
It is also difficult to stop taking SSRIs, as it can lead to withdrawal symptoms.
Some people would rather stick to therapy as they do not want to become dependent on medication and be unable to stop it whenever they want to.
What Can I Do as an Employer if my Employee Has Work Anxiety?
Firstly, do not be dismissive when an employee approaches you about their work anxiety. It is vital that you show support, as your employee needs to know that you are not going to punish them for struggling at work and that it is not going to cost them their job.
The more supportive you are, the more likely the employee will feel comfortable coming to you in the future about other problems, and this can increase employee satisfaction.
Secondly, look into how you can support your employee practically.
If there is any way you can help your employee to access therapy, we recommend doing this as this is the best way to ensure long-term recovery. If not, encourage your employee to go to their GP and check in with them regularly to ask for updates.
Next, you need to reconsider how much pressure you are putting on your employee. Stop giving them more work than they can handle, allow them to take regular breaks, and observe whether any other members of staff are worsening the anxiety (and resolve to meet with them about this).
This does not mean that you have to tiptoe around your employee and not allow anyone to criticise them.
However, they should not be under unnecessary stress.
It is also worth looking at the amount of stress other members of staff are under, and whether it is a reflection of the culture of your workplace, or simply an individual issue for this one employee.
Finally, if you don’t already operate an open-door policy, think about introducing this.
Often, people with anxiety frequently worry about things that have an easy solution, and if they can speak to you about it, they will quickly realise there is no need to worry.
It goes without saying that you should set boundaries with this, as you cannot be reassuring them every few minutes.
However, most people with work anxiety will only want to discuss the significant things that are affecting them throughout the day, and you should facilitate this to reduce their anxiety.
What If I Have Work Anxiety at Every Job?
If you have had work anxiety in every job you have ever been in, the issue is clearly not with your role or your company (unless you have been unlucky enough to put up with unsatisfactory jobs thus far).
The first question to ask yourself is: am I anxious outside of work? If you are, it is likely that you have a generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).
You will need to go to your GP about this, as they will be able to help you out with medication and/or therapy.
If you do not experience anxiety outside of work, and the issue is not that all of your jobs have been awful, you may want to consider the idea that you struggle with holding down a job.
We do not say this to berate you, but to encourage you to consider what you struggle with and why this might be.
If you only ever experience anxiety at work, there is usually a consistent explanation for this. For example, you may have a family member who is ill and you are anxious each time you leave for work, in case they need you when you are gone.
Or perhaps you become overwhelmed in crowds, and your morning commute is full of fellow commuters piling onto busy trains.
Take the source of your anxiety (you may need to go to therapy to figure this out), and tackle it. You could either change your lifestyle to make it less stressful (i.e., reducing your hours or changing how you commute), or you could learn how to cope with the triggers of your anxiety.
It is also worth noting that some people do not get along with structured 9-5 work, and they have found happiness in being self-employed or working from home with variable hours. This is worth looking into if your anxiety is related to being employed.
To further discuss issues of work anxiety and how it can be tackled, talk to our expert team today on 0800 088 66 86.