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Anxiety at Work


Anxiety at Work

Do anxious feelings tend to bubble up suddenly while you're at work?  Do you get nervous just thinking about your job?  Does your mood change come Monday morning or Sunday evening?  If your anxiety revolves around work, you might be experiencing workplace anxiety, also known as work stress.  And you're most certainly not alone.

According to Mental Health America’s 2021 Mind the Workplace report, almost 83 percent of respondents felt emotionally drained from their work. And 85 percent — or nearly 9 in 10 workers — reported that job stress affected their mental health.


Of course, you don’t need to go into an office or job site to experience workplace anxiety. You can experience these feelings when working from home, too. (Zoom anxiety, anyone?)


But the situation is far from hopeless. Below is more information about workplace anxiety, along with practical strategies for reducing and managing work stress.

Workplace Anxiety vs. Anxiety at Work

First, it’s not always easy to tell whether you’re experiencing workplace anxiety or symptoms of an anxiety disorder.


The tell-tale sign? Your anxiety is limited to work.


Annia Palacios, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with Tightrope Therapy, offers a few key signs of workplace anxiety:

  • On your days off, you feel pretty good and your anxiety lowers.

  • If you work Monday through Friday, feelings of anxiety and dread overshadow your weekend, especially when you think about work.

  • You have a tough time talking with colleagues due to a competitive work culture, but you have no problem chatting with people outside of work.


How do you know when your symptoms might relate to generalized anxiety disorder or another anxiety condition?


Anxiety disorder symptoms are persistent, consistent, and negatively affect several aspects of your life.


The key difference between the two is that workplace anxiety generally develops in response to stress at work. An anxiety disorder, on the other hand, tends to develop, and persist, regardless of your work circumstances.


Workplace anxiety involves feeling stressed, nervous, uneasy, or tense about work, which could include anxiety about job performance, interactions with co-workers, or even a task, such as public speaking.


While a little bit of work-related stress is normal, excess anxiety may negatively affect your overall health and well-being and cause difficulties at both work and home if not able to address it.  Worries at work may translate into:

  • Forgetfulness

  • Failure to meet deadlines

  • Inability to concentrate

  • In ability to focus or excessive self-focus

  • Physical symptoms (headaches, tension, dizziness, upset stomach, etc.)


Work stress can be all-consuming but it doesn’t have to be.  Coping with anxiety at work is possible through identifying your triggers, taking care of yourself, and knowing when to seek help. Below are some tips to help you manage anxiety while on the job.


Identify your Stress Triggers

The triggers of work stress aren’t always obvious. Writing out moments when you feel nervous throughout the day will help you find patterns or triggers.

Maybe you regularly feel nervous and nauseous before weekly team meetings, or you have trouble concentrating on anything after you encounter one specific co-worker.

Identifying specific situations that increase your stress levels can help you figure out the best strategy to handle them going forward.

To begin coping with stress at work, identify your stress triggers then find ways to tackle them one by one to change the circumstances that are causing the stress.

Take Care of Yourself

Be Gentle with Yourself

When you get anxious and stress levels soar, your natural inclination might be to respond with self-criticism.  Instead, try to be patient and understanding with your reactions.


How? You can start by labeling and leaning into your feelings. You might simply say, “I’m feeling frazzled right now, and that’s okay.”  Similarly, you can also think about treating yourself like you’d treat a close friend or family member. You might say something like, “It’s OK to feel overwhelmed. You’re doing a lot. But you’re doing the best you can.”

Work Within Your Limits

Get to know your limits and learn to work within them.  This may mean:

  • Focusing on a single task at a time and trying not to think too far ahead to everything that needs to get done.

  • Working with your supervisor to prioritize your tasks so you know what needs to get done versus what can wait until tomorrow or next week.

  • Break large projects into smaller steps.  Set small, frequent deadlines to keep yourself focused and on track.

  • Protect your time for an especially important or difficult project.  Block time to work on it without interruption.

Use Quick Coping Strategies

  • Walk away from your desk or task to recenter yourself.

  • Stretch your muscles.  Your muscles tense up under stress.  Relieve that tension by stretching.  While sitting or standing, inhale, raise your arms overhead, lace your fingers together, stretch, release your fingers, and exhale as you lower your arms to each side.  Repeat three times.

  • Practice deep breath work to calm your mind, otherwise known as box breathing (Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4 and hold for a count of 4)

  • Step outside for a breath of fresh air

  • Set aside 5 minutes during your day to do a short meditation, or listen to music, or to connect with a colleague

Try Grounding Techniques

Grounding is a technique that can help positively shift your attention in the moment.  Grounding involves using your senses to connect to your physical surroundings.  This might be:

  • Holding onto a hot cup of coffee or tea, or a holding onto a cold glass of water

  • Listening to calming sounds

  • Noticing specific things you can see in your environment

  • Smelling a candle, perfume, or essential oil

  • Tasking food with a strong flavor, like a lemon or a lime.

Speak with your Manager or HR Benefits staff

Speaking to your manager and/or HR Benefits staff about your anxiety may help.  They may be able to talk through possible accommodations to help you do your job more effectively.

Get Other Points of View

If you tell a trusted friend how you’re feeling, they may be able to help keep you on track, provide insights, or coping mechanisms.  Sometimes simply talking about a stressor can be a relief.

Additional Steps to Take

  • Have an outlet.  To prevent burnout, set aside time for activities you enjoy such as reading, meeting up with friends, walking, pursuing a hobby, keeping a journal.

  • Take care of yourself.  Be vigilant about taking care of your health.  Include physical activity in your daily routine, get plenty of sleep, and eat a healthy diet.

  • Set Boundaries.  Try to make small steps towards setting boundaries between work and your personal life, such as not checking email in the evenings or on the weekends, not going back to your computer in the evening, or keeping a standard schedule.  And set aside time when you don’t use your phone or computer or check social media.

  • Laugh it Up.  Finding something to laugh about can release tension, shift your perspective, and stimulate positive neurotransmitters.  Humor can help you take yourself less seriously.  To give yourself a good laugh, talk or text with your funniest friend, watch a funny video clip, or reminisce about silly memories.

  • Boost your Time Away from Work.  A life filled with relationships, events, and activities outside of work that bring you joy, peace, and happiness.  An active and fulfilling life outside of work can help minimize the impact of work-related stress, build up your resilience int times of stress and crowd out work-related thoughts.  To get started, consider the people, places, and pastimes that bring you joy and calm.  How can you add them to your days?

  • Limit news consumption.  It's important to know the facts and what you can do to protect yourself, but it doesn't help stress levels to obsessively watch the news.

Know When to Seek Help

If you’re dealing with workplace anxiety, professional support can be incredibly helpful.  How do you know when help from a therapist might benefit you?


There’s no right or wrong time to connect with a therapist, so this decision will be unique to everyone.


In general, however, it is recommended that you seek professional help when you want your life to be different, but you haven’t found it possible to make changes on your own.  Specifically, this could mean you:

  • Worry so much you can’t function, meet deadlines, or complete tasks

  • Find it difficult to fall or stay asleep

  • Feel nervous, edgy, and unlike yourself

  • Find your usual coping strategies no longer help

  • Need to take more time off than usual and begin planning your next days off as soon as you return to work


A therapist can offer support with:

  • Pinpointing triggers

  • Making value-based decisions

  • Exploring and practicing helpful coping skills

  • Determining when a new job might be a good option


Contact Information

Anytime your work stress becomes difficult to cope with alone, don’t hesitate to seek professional support either on your own or through GreenState’s Employee Assistance Program. A therapist can offer compassionate guidance with identifying possible causes and exploring your options for addressing them.

  • GreenState EAP Program:  1-800-327-4692

  • Mental Health Hotline:  1-866-903-3787

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