Why Does Work Give Me Anxiety?


Wrote this on, June 26, 2020

Anxiety at work

Anxiety can be induced in many ways and often at times we aren’t aware of the triggers or that it is even anxiety that we are feeling. Today, anxiety is fast becoming common in the workplace. We’re surrounded by pressures socially and professionally and when they collide, it can cause us to spiral and crash.

Workplace anxiety can stem from a number of causes. The most common being; tight deadlines, dealing with difficult colleagues or demanding managers, and facing office politics or gossip. At some stage in our working lives due to the aforementioned, we are all likely to experience some form of anxiety at work. 

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety stems from fear and worry. It is a common mental health issue, and it is real. It can occur out of the blue or it can be something we suffer with for years.

Whilst we all experience worry and fear from time to time, for some it can last over prolonged periods and is apparent most of the time. Whilst other mental health issues can be supported medically when it comes to anxiety, there is no cure. Instead, it is about managing it and in doing so, we have to accept that it is normal. Telling ourselves to block it out only causes the vortex of thoughts to knock louder, resulting in it taking up more space rent-free in our mind.

Trying to turn anxiety off is like forcing yourself to sleep when you don’t feel tired, it’s counterproductive. 

Stressed in bedAnxiety is initially triggered by a threat, however if the symptoms persist after the threat has gone, this might be diagnosed as anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorder is often described as a feeling in the pit of your stomach, a bit like the sensation we experience before an exam. Only the exam never arrives or once the exam is over, the feeling doesn’t go away. Anxiety disorder does need help, if you feel you are suffering in this way, we strongly advise you to speak to a therapist or a medical professional. 

How Does Anxiety Make Me Feel?

Signs of anxiety can vary person to person and case to case, though predominantly you’ll feel as though you are stuck in a loop. The thoughts start small and can lead to your mind catastrophising. If, for example you don’t meet a deadline at work, an anxious mind may then begin to worry about being fired, then you’ll start to worry you’re worrying too much. The thoughts can feel inescapable, and telling your mind to quieten has the opposite effect. Think of your mind as the ocean, and your thoughts as the waves. When you begin to disturb the water trying to calm it, it causes more waves, this is the anxiety loop or spiral and the loop can feel a bit like this:

anxiety loop at work

Signs of anxiety can vary person to person, however at some point during an anxious spell you may experience some of the following:

  • Panic attacks
  • Stomach issues
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Procrastination
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Memory issues 
  • Needing reassurance
  • Lack of patience
  • Constant worry

Rest assured the feelings you experience when you’re anxious are completely normal. And feeling anxious about work is common amongst professionals today. 

Why am I Anxious about Work?

We briefly touched on anxiety triggers in the workplace. And whilst you might not be likely to suffer with anxiety on any given day, certain circumstances can accelerate the mind into an anxious state. Today we feel anxious about work because of the ‘always-on, anywhere’ state we as humans have created. But that is unnatural. The need to always be on and your best self isn’t possible for even the most outgoing and extrovert beings. We all have bad days and moments where we don’t want to face the world, whether circumstantial or not. Trying to smile when we don’t want to is challenging. Studies show that sufferers of anxiety are less likely to talk with their managers about the issue because they feel it warrants less attention than something physical. However, this only adds to the anxiety you already might be feeling.  

How To Deal with Anxiety at Work

Anxiety is our body’s way of telling us something is wrong. Our minds and bodies are intrinsically linked to work in a way that a signal is sent to our brain to let us know something isn’t quite working by displaying physical symptoms. The best place to start is to give your anxiety a name, write it down, and listen to it. Once you begin to understand yourself better, you’ll understand your anxiety better. You may feel as though you are the only person suffering from anxious thoughts but you aren’t. Listen to your body, watch what makes you feel bad whilst at work, notice how it makes you feel and that is the first step in conquering your thoughts. Anxiety happens inside the mind. In many ways it is deeply personal to you so it makes sense that you need to have a clear understanding of yourself in order to manage it. 

dealing with anxiety at work

Become Friends with Your Anxiety 

There is no cure for anxiety, rather it’s about understanding it in order to manage it. Anxiety is restlessness of the mind and the good news is that it can be controlled. With increased work stresses it’s only natural to get caught up in the anxiety loop. It takes just one trigger for us to get stuck and it worsens and worsens. The behaviours you engage in when you’re feeling anxious are a direct result of the thoughts you’ve fed yourself, so now you need to learn to untwist those thoughts and decide how factual those thoughts really are. Try not to fixate on it, rather manage your symptoms by taking deep breaths or taking time out when you need it. Write down the thoughts you’re having and alongside write down a rational thought related to that worry. The idea is to rationalise your thoughts and worries to help you overcome unhelpful thoughts. These thoughts at work could be, ‘The train is late so I am going to be late to work and I will get fired’. The rational thought to this is, ‘The train being late is out of my control and being late is not the end of the world, I will not be fired for this’. 

Become Self-Aware

To manage your anxiety you need to give space to your emotions. Working late into the night two days ago might have been ok at the time, but the anxious thoughts you’re feeling now might be a result of the stress you put your body under. It might be that your anxiety triggers can’t be changed or controlled but it is important you make yourself aware of those triggers to better manage your mind. Remember it is ok to have bad days and good days, human beings are complex. Be honest with yourself about your anxiety and explore your feelings and emotions from a holistic standpoint to begin tackling them. 

Girl writing in diaryEmbrace Your Stresses

Stress isn’t necessarily bad, sometimes it can be trying to send us a message. Acknowledging your stress is the first step to overcoming it, whilst putting on a fake smile is not. Embrace stress is triggered by something you care about. Perhaps you’re really set on getting a promotion and want to impress your boss, therefore the stress you feel to perform is natural. Take the energy you’re putting into trying to manage the stress to accelerate instead. Ask yourself how you can turn those stresses into a driving force to achieving your goals at work. 

Ask for Help

If you’re feeling overworked to a point it’s affecting your personal life, asking for help is no bad thing. Are you struggling to meet your manager’s expectations or hit deadlines on time? Reach out to your colleagues, not only will this build trust between you but they’ll feel as ease coming to you when they need it too. Asking for help isn’t weak, it takes a strong minded and strong willed person to say, ‘I’m not okay, I need help’. It is important to choose wisely who you decide to confide in, particularly in the workplace. Ensure the person you speak to is trustworthy and has your best interests at heart.

Man getting readyEdit your Routine 

How we spend our time, the things we do and the situations we put ourselves in affect our wellbeing, in particular our anxiety. Once you have identified your triggers, look at your routine. You will feel good if you eat well, work out, drink plenty of water and surround yourself with a wholesome network. Draw our your ideal day and try to balance yourself by building around your ideal routine. Working out releases endorphins, and meditation helps train the mind from wandering. Would it help to practise both before work? Wholesome food fuels and calms your mind whereas anxiety is often induced by caffeine, alcohol and too much sugar. Ask yourself what in your daily routine could be triggering your anxiety once you reach the office? What you do in the morning before work is the biggest step in creating a healthier mind. 

Relax Catastrophic Thoughts 

If we revert back to the anxiety loop, we notice that anxiety feeds off itself. Thoughts become entangled and we begin to feel ourselves falling in a downward spiral that we struggle to break free from. Having anxiety at work can leave us down a rabbit hole believing we might get fired if our manager discovers our struggles, but know that this is part of the anxiety loop and not the reality. Once you adapt your routine, you might find these catastrophic thoughts subside. Often saying the worst case scenario out loud can help you realise that even if life ends up that way, everything will turn out ok. However, if you are fired as a result of your anxiety or any other mental health issue, you are protected under the Employment Act and you can take action.

Take Time Off 

Even if you don’t have anxious thoughts, you still need time off. Burnout is real, particularly as we live in a world with so many social and professional pressures. When you take time off, it is important to really disconnect. If it helps, shut yourself off from stimuli, sign out of social media and most importantly do not check your work emails. Anxiety comes and goes and we can’t predict when it is going to strike, so taking time out allows your mind to relax, recalibrate whilst giving you something to look forward to and take stock of. 

Colleagues talking with eachotherShare your Feelings

Talk to colleagues, friends and family if you feel comfortable. Colleagues might be feeling the same pressures at work as you and are equally internalising it. Whilst friends and family can give a fresh perspective as someone out of the equation. Peers can often provide suggestions and ideas that can help. Asking for advice on a negative thought you have had will give you an idea of how rational your panic is, you might be surprised at how normal your thoughts and feelings are. 

Take Aways

Anxiety at work happens to everyone. Becoming aware of what triggers you is the first step and labelling your thoughts helps to combat them. Whilst work is important, if your anxiety is impacting your flow at work don’t ignore it. 

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