Workplace anxiety is becoming increasingly common among Americans. In fact, Verywell Mind reports that about 40% of working Americans feel stressed throughout their day at work. At times, anxiety can be a healthy response to stimuli. Yet, too much anxiety can lead to a decline in an individual’s overall health as well as their ability to perform their personal and professional roles adequately. This is concerning given that, now more than ever, companies must rely on the ability of employees to self-regulate and manage their time efficiently while working from outside of a typical office setting.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease generally associated with uncertainty surrounding the outcome of a specific action or the future as a whole. There are multiple forms of anxiety that can affect an individual and various ways in which they are displayed. It is important for an individual to recognize the symptoms of their anxiety in order to effectively determine how to best mitigate its occurrence and severity. So, what’s the difference between workplace anxiety and general anxiety which affects an individual’s ability to work?
An Anxiety Disorder that Affects Work vs. Workplace Anxiety
When it comes to discerning between these two types of anxiety, the most important factors to consider are the intensity of their symptoms, their impact on daily functioning, and how consistently they occur. While experiencing some moments of anxiety is quite normal, anxiety disorders will typically be all-consuming and will include chronic, excessive, and —at times — debilitating symptoms. If an individual cannot perform their daily personal or professional activities as usual, it is probably worth visiting a mental health professional to understand if what they are experiencing is an anxiety disorder.
Signs and Symptoms of Workplace Anxiety
There are several different elements that we can look for when identifying workplace anxiety. Physiological indicators of anxiety can include things like increased heart rate, short and intense breathing, fatigue, weakness, sweating, trembling, clenched jaw, and tight shoulders. Emotional symptoms can include feeling restless, agitated, and short-tempered in response to the stimuli of others. Prominent psychological signals include difficulty concentrating, chronic worrying, and projections of anger or frustration onto others.
Causes of Work-Related Anxiety
Anxiety is created by the perception of a threat. Oftentimes in the workplace, many of those threats are imagined, although sometimes they can be real. Overworking and overstimulation are common ways that anxiety is produced over an extended period. If we aren’t being mindful of our environment, prioritizing our mental and physical health, and taking time to disconnect from work so that we can reconnect with ourselves, anxiety will likely be a common companion.
Although stress is often villainized, not all stress is bad. There are actually two different types of stress: eustress and distress. Distress is the type of stress that we most commonly think of when we refer to “stress,” and it can have both short- and long-term harmful effects on us. Eustress, however, can engage and motivate us to work hard, elevate performance, focus more intently, be more adaptive, and achieve the goals we have set for ourselves (see diagram below).
Managing Workplace Anxiety
When it comes to managing workplace anxiety, there are two elements that are important to know and implement as practices:
- In the Moment Anxiety Relief
- Anxiety Management Habits
Step 1: In the Moment Anxiety Relief
To be able to relieve anxiety in the moment, we must first be able to identify and bring awareness to the fact that we are feeling anxious. Once aware, we can turn to breathing and grounding techniques to bring ourselves back into the parasympathetic nervous system and feel more tranquil.
One of the most effective “in the moment” breathing techniques is known as box breathing. Box breathing is a technique that navy seals are known for utilizing in high-stress moments to bring calm, clarity, and focus. It’s a simple technique and goes as follows:
- Step 1: Breathe in for a count of 4 seconds
- Step 2: Hold your breath for 4 seconds
- Step 3: Slowly exhale for 4 seconds
- Step 4: Repeat steps 1 to 3 until you feel anxiety subside
Another technique we can utilize is becoming in tune with our senses via grounding. We do this by slowing down our breath, relaxing tense muscles, and identifying three things we can hear, feel, and see in that moment.
Step 2: Anxiety Management Habits
It is important to have daily habits and practices that support the adaptability of our internal systems. It is also vital for us to create patterns that make us more present and aware of our emotional states. We can do this through 10 keystone habits that have been found to be effective in keeping stress and anxiety levels low:
- Adequate Sleep
- Reflecting on Your Day
- Healthy Relationships + Environment
- Meditation or Mindfulness Practice
- Consistent Morning Routine
- Planning Your Day
- Recalibrating (Taking Breaks)
- Nutritious Diet
Workplace anxiety can be caused by a multitude of stressors, plaguing associates and companies alike. It is known to reduce the efficiency of workplace operations, cause miscommunications and distance between peers, and potentially lead to high turnover rates. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of employees and the organizations for which they work to contribute to a healthy workplace environment in which everyone feels valued, respected, and safe.
Some ways that leaders can reduce the incidence of work-related anxiety are to have candid meetings with employees about their successes and areas of possible improvement, create a flexible work environment, set soft deadlines for each project so that employees can prevent procrastination, and offer support when employees disclose their mental health diagnoses. If leaders do all of these things, they will mitigate the incidence of work-related anxiety and aid the overall mental health of employees, who will then be able to show up stronger at work.