Too much anxiety kills performance. Yet anxiety is often ignored in the workplace or considered a sign of weakness that needs to be swept under the desk. So what can those who manage others do about it?
The right amount of anxiety can improve work performance. But if people’s anxiety levels become too high, anxiety can interfere with people’s ability to work effectively. Managers need to be attuned to the anxiety levels of their reports in order to create an environment that elicits employees’ best performances.
Anxiety originally evolved as a valuable survival mechanism. When early man heard a tiger rustling in the bushes, the rush of anxiety that he experienced geared him for action and helped ensure his survival.
In a world where most people are no longer threatened by tigers the utility of anxiety has diminished, but it continues to have an impact because people are extremely good at creating their own “mental tigers.” If these “mental tigers” are too vivid, people become flooded with anxiety and can no longer work effectively.
Anxiety typically arises when people feel that they are about to become victims of situations over which they have no control. Workplaces are particularly fertile grounds for generating such situations. Most jobs no longer come with long-term guarantees and companies can implode in a few weeks resulting in huge layoffs.
Company reorganizations, mergers and change initiatives are a common phenomenon. Current efforts by companies to pare their workforces to a minimum by overloading employees with more work than they can handle are another great source of anxiety.
To monitor employees’ anxiety levels managers need be aware of the various ways in which people manifest anxiety. The stereotypical picture of a person in the grip of anxiety is someone who is tense and agitated. This is misleading and overly simplistic.
Anxiety has many faces. It has physiological, cognitive, emotional and motor effects. Physiological effects can include a pounding heart, sweaty hands, headaches, muscle stiffness and soreness, tightness of breath, indigestion, excess blood sugar, and frequent urination or diarrhea.
Cognitive effects impact people’s memories and ability to focus and process information. People forget names of people they know or forget what they need to do. They have trouble concentrating on their work and often don’t process information well.
For example, when people are anxious, they have trouble understanding and following instructions. No matter how carefully you explain what you want them to do, they can’t seem to get it right. Because cognitive effects directly interfere with the ability of knowledge workers to do their jobs, it is easy for managers to mistake these effects for signs of incompetence or a lack of motivation rather than being the byproduct of high anxiety levels.
Anxiety can also elicit strong emotional reactions. When people are anxious, they are more likely to lose their temper or become impatient with their fellow workers which can lead to damaging office conflicts. Other emotional symptoms are more internal. People become socially withdrawn, eat compulsively, magnify problems, engage in endless checking behaviors or just become too overwhelmed to do their work.
Even motor skills are affected by anxiety. People drop and break things, trip over things, and have trouble performing fine motor movements.
If anxiety is a problem in your workplace, how can you reduce it? One of the best ways is to identify the underlying fears that drive it.
Are there situations in the workplace that are activating people’s anxieties? Is your company going through a lot of changes? Are earnings dropping? Have new policies or initiatives been introduced which employees find threatening? Have there been layoffs? Is there something in your own behavior as a manager that inadvertently raises employees’ anxiety levels?
Once you’ve identified possible sources, you should sit down with your employees to determine if you are on the right track. Listen to their fears and find out what you can do together to help minimize them.
Can you make changes in the way that work is allocated or shared? Do they need more resources? Do work schedules need to be changed? Do they need more feedback and training? Do they simply want to be kept up-to-date on what is happening within the company and how it will affect them?
Even if there are no easy answers, just by bringing people’s fears out into the open and showing that you care and support them will help to reduce employees’ anxiety levels. It is always the unknown rustling in the bushes that is most likely to raise our anxiety levels.
Having to manage social anxiety at work can feel awful. Everyday activities that seem to be no problem for others can lead to a wonderful range of feelings such as dread, fear and embarrassment, less-than-impressive work habits such as avoidance and missing deadlines, all of which can lead to physical symptoms like sweating, headaches, back, neck and shoulder tension (to name a few).
When it comes to dealing with situations at work that make me anxious, my natural reaction has always been to try and avoid them. Obviously, this isn’t always possible when you’re in the workforce, and if you’ve ever done any therapy work for your anxiety , you’ll know avoidance is a big no-no. The reality is that all jobs are likely to include some activities that make you feel uncomfortable, whether you have anxiety or not, so it’s important to find and practice strategies that will help you manage your anxieties so you can get through the day.
Please note: I do not pretend to be a psychologist, psychiatrist or anything of the sort. Everyone is different, and just like anything, there isn’t one strategy that will work for all people who live with social anxiety. All I want to do, as someone who has social anxiety, is to share some of the strategies that have helped me in the hope they will help you too.
My five strategies to manage social anxiety at work:
Exposing the way you’re feeling can often be one of the most terrifying prospects for people with social anxiety, but the more you do it, the less power you give that fear. In my experience, the more vocal I am about having social anxiety and what that means for me, the more I realize it isn’t as big a deal as I’ve built it up to be in my head.
I’m not saying I broadcast the fact I have social anxiety to everyone I meet, because we fear being judged or thought less of, but my supervisor, bosses and closest colleagues know, and I’m now even able to make jokes about it. Telling the people I work with about how my anxiety affects me not only takes power away from the feelings and thoughts, but increases my confidence and strengthens my interpersonal relationships.
2. Practice makes perfect.
In the same way, exposing yourself to the parts of your job that cause you the most anxiety is awkward, scary and uncomfortable, but the more you do it, the better you will feel about it.
For example, one of the greatest causes of my social anxiety at work is talking on the phone.
Whether I know the person on the other side of the phone or not, I worry because I don’t know why they’re contacting me, whether they’re going to be angry at me, whether I’ve done something wrong and they’re going to call me out about it or whether they’re going to ask me a question I won’t know how to answer. But it’s not just the person on the other side of the phone who causes me anxiety — it’s whether there is anyone nearby to hear my side of the conversation. The move towards open-plan offices is the bane of those with social anxiety everywhere! I worry that if any of the above concerns actually occur, the people around me will know I’ve messed up/ don’t know what I’m doing and will judge me.
3. Take baby steps.
If, like me, your anxiety is heightened by the presence of other people hearing your side of the conversation, take measures that will allow you to make the call in private. I’m lucky enough to work in a building with several meeting rooms with phones, so if I need to make a particularly scary call, I’ll pop in there. There’s nothing wrong with starting small.
Sometimes, it can be helpful to write a script to help you make challenging phone calls. This can be particularly useful if it’s a cold call and you’ve never talked to the person on the other side of the phone before and your brain has a tendency of going blank in such situations. My anxiety has been so bad when making phone calls in the past that I’ve had to follow scripts word for word and even had to write my name into the script in case I forgot it. The only thing to be mindful of when relying on a script is you can be too reliant on it, and if the person on the other end of the phone throws you a curve ball, you may have trouble coming up with an answer.
5. Be “mindful.”
Anxious people have a tendency to work ourselves up about the things that make us anxious until there’s no way we can carry out the task we need to complete. To get myself into a more positive, calm mindset, I’ll use a couple of mindfulness exercises I find work for me, such as deep breathing, focusing my attention on touch or sound and envisioning positive outcomes of the task at hand. Even just acknowledging the fact you are feeling anxious can help, because you’ll remind yourself that while it doesn’t feel great, you’ve felt this way before, and it won’t last forever.
There will always be times when your anxiety will make you feel like you can’t do your job, but anxiety doesn’t mean you’re not capable. It just means it might take a bit more time to teach ourselves we can actually do the things we are anxious about. These five strategies are helping me slowly become more comfortable and confident with the tasks that make me anxious at work (although I still have a long way to go), and I really hope they help you too.
But, just as with any health issue, if you haven’t talked to anyone about your anxiety yet or feel like it is becoming overwhelming and hard to manage, reach out to a professional for advice on how to manage your own specific anxieties. Everyone is different. One website I’ve recently discovered that has lots of free resources on the topic is Overcoming Social Anxiety, but there is plenty of information and professionals willing to help you out there — all you have to do is look.
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Having an anxiety disorder can make a major impact in the workplace. People may turn down a promotion or other opportunity because it involves travel or public speaking; make excuses to get out of office parties, staff lunches, and other events or meetings with coworkers; or be unable to meet deadlines.
In a national survey on anxiety in the workplace, people with anxiety disorders commonly cited these as difficult situations: dealing with problems; setting and meeting deadlines; maintaining personal relationships; managing staff; participating in meetings, and making presentations.
Tell Your Employer?
It’s your decision to tell your employer about your anxiety disorder. Some people do so because they need accommodations, others want to educate people about their condition, and some do not want to hide their illness.
If you have a physical or mental disability and are qualified to do a job, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) protects you from job discrimination. Being qualified means you must satisfy an employer’s requirements for the job and be able to perform essential functions on your own or with reasonable accommodation. An employer cannot refuse to hire you because your disability prevents you from performing duties that are not essential to the job. Find out more about employment rights.
Tips to Manage Stress and Anxiety at Work
Getting stressed out at work happens to everyone, and it’s perfectly normal. But stress that is persistent, irrational, and overwhelming and impairs daily functioning may indicate an anxiety disorder. Keep these ideas in mind to keep your work life manageable:
- Work! In addition to financial reasons, working can be important for your self-esteem and it adds to your social identity.
- Tell a trusted coworker. Knowing that someone accepts your condition can be comforting and it may reduce any anticipatory anxiety about having a panic attack at work.
- Educate yourself. Learn to recognize the symptoms of your disorder and how to handle them if you experience any at work.
- Practice time management. Make to-do lists and prioritize your work. Schedule enough time to complete each task or project.
- Plan and prepare. Get started on major projects as early as possible. Set mini-deadlines for yourself. Anticipate problems and work to prevent them.
- Do it right the first time. Spend the extra time at the outset and save yourself a headache later when you have to redo your work.
- Be realistic. Don’t over commit or offer to take on projects if you don’t realistically have enough time.
- Ask for help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask a coworker for help. Later you can return the favor.
- Communicate. Speak up calmly and diplomatically if you have too much to handle. Your supervisor may not realize you’re overextended.
- Stay organized. Filing and clearing your desk and computer desktop may rank low on your priority list, but they can save you time in the long run and may prevent a crisis later.
- Avoid toxic coworkers. Try to ignore negativity and gossip in your workplace.
- Take breaks. A walk around the block or a few minutes of deep breathing can help clear your head.
- Set boundaries. Try not to bring work home with you. Don’t check your work e-mail or voice mail after hours.
- Savor success. Take a moment to celebrate your
- good work before moving on to the next project. Thank everyone who helped you.
- Plan a vacation. You’ll be rejuvenated and ready to work when you come back.
- Take advantage of employer resources and benefits. Your workplace may offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), discounts to gyms, or skill-building courses. Learn what’s available to you.
- Be healthy. Eat healthfully, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and limit caffeine and alcohol. Try to keep your body and mind in shape to handle challenging situations.
It’s important to find help for anxiety, stress, and related disorders. Find a therapist near you.
With treatment, most people find significant improvement. Several standard approaches have proved effective. Your health care professional will use one or a combination of these treatments:
If you’re currently working, you probably know what it feels like to be stressed on the job. A must-do project arrives without warning. Three emails stack up for each one you delete. Phones ring, meetings are scheduled, a coworker drops the ball on a shared assignment.
How does your body react to work stress?
Imagine for a moment that your boss has emailed you about an unfinished assignment (a stressor). Your body and mind instantly respond, activating a physical reaction called the fight-or-flight response. Your heart beats faster, your breath quickens, and your muscles tense. At the same time you might say to yourself, “I’m going to get fired if I don’t finish this.” Then to manage your anxiety and negative self-talk, you work late into the night to complete the task.
Over the course of our evolutionary history, humans developed this coordinated fear response to protect against dangers in our environment. For example, a faster heart rate and tense muscles would help us escape from predators. In the modern era, fear continues to serve an important function. After all, the fight-or-flight response can provide the necessary energy to pull an all-nighter and keep your job.
But what happens if you encounter stressful experiences at work every day? Over time, chronic work stress can lead to a psychological syndrome known as burnout. Warning signs of burnout are overwhelming exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of inefficacy. Certain work-related stressors are closely linked with burnout. Examples are having too much work or too little independence, inadequate pay, lack of community between coworkers, unfairness or disrespect, and a mismatch between workplace and personal values.
How can work stress affect well-being?
Long-term exposure to work-related stressors like these can affect mental health. Research links burnout with symptoms of anxiety and depression. In some cases, this sets the stage for serious mental health problems. Indeed, one study shows younger people who routinely face heavy workloads and extreme time pressure on the job are more likely to experience major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
High levels of stress at work –– and outside of it –– can affect physical health, too. Repeated activation of the fight-or-flight response can disrupt bodily systems and increase susceptibility to disease. For example, repeated release of the stress hormone cortisol can disturb the immune system, and raise the likelihood of developing autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic stress can also affect health by interfering with healthy behaviors, such as exercise, balanced eating, and sleep.
Work stress can also harm companies or organizations. Burnout reduces job productivity and boosts absenteeism and job turnover, and also leads to conflict between coworkers, causing stress to spread within a workplace.
How can you cope with work stress?
All of us can benefit by learning skills to manage fear and anxiety on the job. Several skills taught in cognitive behavioral therapy may help, including these:
- Relaxation strategies. Relaxation helps counter the physiological effects of the fight-or-flight response. For example, progressive muscle relaxation helps reduce muscle tension associated with anxiety. To practice this skill, sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Working from your legs upward, systematically tense and relax each major muscle groups. Hold the tension for 10 seconds; release tension for 20 seconds. Each time you release muscle tension, think “relax” to yourself. This skill and many other relaxation strategies can help reduce symptoms of anxiety.
- Problem-solving. Problem-solving is an active coping strategy that involves teaching people to take specific steps when approaching a roadblock or challenge. These steps include defining the problem, brainstorming potential solutions, ranking the solutions, developing an action plan, and testing the chosen solution.
- Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to the present moment with curiosity, openness, and acceptance. Stress can be exacerbated when we spend time ruminating about the past, worrying about the future, or engaging in self-criticism. Mindfulness helps to train the brain to break these harmful habits. You can cultivate mindfulness skills through formal practice (like guided meditation) and informal exercises (like mindful walking), or try mindfulness apps or classes. Mindfulness-based therapies are effective for reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Reappraising negative thoughts. Chronic stress and worry can lead people to develop a mental filter in which they automatically interpret situations through a negative lens. A person might jump to negative conclusions with little or no evidence (“my boss thinks I’m incompetent”) and doubt their ability to cope with stressors (“I’ll be devastated if I don’t get the promotion”). To reappraise negative thoughts, treat them as hypotheses instead of facts and consider other possibilities. Regularly practicing this skill can help people reduce negative emotions in response to stressors.
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Stress at work (or in any other context for that matter) can tax our body, mind and overall well-being in many ways. I truly believe that meditation and mindfulness can radically reduce stress and anxiety. I am passionate about this topic and I have dedicated a lot of time on the subject of meditation during commute. After all, most people who commute to and from work, spend a considerable amount of prime time on public transport. Time that can be used to improve the quality of our life, not only professionally. For me, meditating on the London Underground on my way to work (and back) has been a life changing habit.
Here is my experience:
I hope this can be useful for the readers.
All the very best
This is a very useful and important article that inspires us to adopt the process of Mindfulness, meditation and Yoga in life to overcome physical and mental stress in today’s stressed society. Your heartfelt thanks for this excellent article.
Here is also a great article on how to out-perform under work pressure
Super easy 5 ways :https://www.gameplan-a.com/2019/04/5-ways-you-can-out-perform-under-work-pressure/?section=main
I have to stress that mindfulness is 100% a key and powerful tool for stress management, and I would generally do not object to the use of technological aids such as apps, however I would not put all my hopes on using apps for meditation and mindfulness.
It could surly be the “gateway” for more advanced Technics and understanding but not an alternative.
Oh..is this to handle the stress I’m so flattered to read this article I didn’t get this type of content yet I’m so glad to read this article…
According to the American Institute of Stress, about 80% of Americans report feeling stressed out as a result of work.
If your job leaves you feeling stressed out on a regular basis, it’s important for you to learn how to manage your stress levels. If you don’t figure out how to do this, you’ll eventually need to figure out how to deal with work anxiety.
Work anxiety is a specific type of anxiety that affects those who struggle with stress in the workplace. It can hurt a person’s performance at work and, in some instances, it can even lead to a person going through a mental breakdown.
You should put managing anxiety at the top of your to-do list if work anxiety has turned into a problem for you. By coping with anxiety more effectively than you are now, you can improve your mental health by leaps and bounds.
Here are seven effective coping strategies for those learning how to cope with stress and anxiety at work.
- Feel like you always have too much on your plate
- Don’t get along with most of or even all of your coworkers
- Hate your boss
- Can’t seem to make advancements in your career no matter how hard you try
- Wish you had picked a different profession
You should strive to pinpoint the source of your work anxiety before you do anything else. You’re not going to be able to figure out how to deal with work anxiety if you don’t know what’s causing it.
2. Establish a Better (Less Stressful!) Routine for Your Workdays
Do you almost always feel like you’re playing catchup while you’re at work? This is one of the leading causes of stress and work anxiety for a lot of people.
If you’re constantly looking over your shoulder and seeing deadlines sneaking up on you, you should try to establish better routines for yourself as you move forward so that you’re not running behind all the time.
One good way to get out ahead of things is by waking up earlier in the morning and making sure you arrive at work on time day in and day out. This will make you feel like you’re more in control of how your workdays will go.
You should also designate certain times for taking breaks, eating, and maybe even exercising throughout the day. This will work wonders for you and make coping with anxiety easier to do.
- Abdomen breathing
- Breath focus
- Lion’s breathing
You can also try meditating at your desk if you want to. Some people are under the impression that they have to spend a long time meditating to benefit from it. But the truth is that you can meditate for just a minute or two and see the results of it almost right away.
4. Lean on Your Coworkers for Help When You’re Feeling Overworked
Are you feeling overworked and suffering from work-related stress and anxiety because of it? Try not to feel like you have to take on everything yourself.
Unless all of your coworkers are in the same boat as you are, you should lean on them for support when you need a hand. Don’t be afraid to ask them to take something off your plate if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the work that you have to take on.
5. Maintain a Healthy Diet and Drink Enough Water on Workdays
When you’re inundated with work while you’re at your job, it’s easy to fall into bad habits when it comes to eating and drinking. Many people will skip breakfast, lunch, and, in some instances, even dinner in an effort to devote more time to work.
This is never a good idea! You need to maintain a healthy diet at all times if you’re going to stand a chance with regard to managing anxiety. You’re also going to need to make sure you’re drinking enough water to avoid dehydration.
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Lemon balm
- St. John’s wort
You should also consider learning more about how CBD helps anxiety sufferers.
7. Make It Your Mission to Achieve a Better Work-Life Balance
Does your entire life revolve around work right now? You’re not going to be doing yourself—or your work anxiety—any favors if the entire focus of your life is work.
Achieving a better work-life balance is one of the best ways to eliminate work anxiety. Look for things that you can do outside of work to make your life more meaningful and fulfilling.
Learning How to Deal With Work Anxiety Can Change Your Life
There are very few people who don’t feel any stress when they’re at work. A little bit of stress at work can actually be a good thing, as it helps to light a fire under most people.
But if you’re always stressed out at work, it’s inevitably going to lead to you having to learn how to deal with work anxiety. You should avoid this by using the anxiety tips found here to knock stress and anxiety out once and for all.
Read the other articles on our blog for more useful tips on managing anxiety and stress. Now that you know how to deal with work anxiety, share this article on social media with a colleague that could benefit from these tips.
For those who live in seasonal parts of the country, working from home may start feeling more confining as the days get colder and darker, preventing us from opening our windows or from setting up our office on our sunny balconies and backyards.
This may make us more susceptible to anxiety and depression during work hours, and we may find ourselves getting caught up in the web of anxiety and seemingly insurmountable stress. Here are five meaningful practices that you can try to handle work anxiety, whether you’re at home or in the office.
Practice mediation to give your mind a mental break
Our brains are constantly receiving noisy, visually stimulating messages that can clutter our minds and fluster our focus. To allow yourself to reset, simply give yourself a few minutes to breathe deeply, relax, and practice gratitude. If meditation doesn’t work for you, then recite a familiar prayer, read something that inspires you, or simply sit in silence without pressuring yourself into meditation. This way, your mind will be able to recharge itself and let go of any negativity that might impede your productivity.
Communicate your anxiety to your coworkers
You are part of a team for a reason. Openly communicating your worries and concerns about projects you have on your plate is a way to tether a hard-working team together and will demonstrate your ability to humble yourself and ask for help. Doing so facilitates the cultivation of a stronger community that allows each member to be lifted, together.
Keeping your anxiety and stress to yourself may cause you to change your attitude without realizing it and may send a negative message to your colleagues. Instead, finding a way to share your struggles in a professional way can pave the way for mutual understanding and collaborative solutions.
Use visuals and music as calming rituals
Art is a source of inspiration that can help you get through analytical tasks, tedious projects, and otherwise mundane work. You can create a sense of peace within your workspace by curating a work playlist that uplifts you without distracting you from the task at hand. Plus, the sense of familiarity lets your mind motivate itself throughout the workday.
Take time to exercise daily
Regular exercise has many physical benefits, but it also makes it easier for us to be happy and productive. Strength training and cardio both release endorphins that make people feel happier and give you an outlet for the anxiety and stress that may be building throughout the day. Commit to working out for at least 15 to 30 minutes a day, and you will experience an enhancement in your quality of life and your general health.
Tackle things one step at a time
Do not fall into the trap of believing you must do it all, all at once, to be perceived as successful at work. Instead, pace yourself by filling your calendar with your project deadlines, and schedule your days intentionally so that you can make the most of your personal peak times when you work the most effectively.
According to the American Institute of Stress, almost 83% of workers are suffering from work-related stress. Some of this stress is mild while at other times, the stress can lead to more complications like anxiety, depression or other types of mental illness.
ANXIETY is basically your body’s essential response to stress when you are encountering with a new and unfamiliar situation, normal feelings of fear or foreboding may arise. May be your palms start sweating and your breath will quicken.
Is work anxiety throwing you off balance and leaving you stressed? Follow these strategies for managing workplace anxiety – you’ll feel better for it
1) Take Breaks Throughout The Day:
It’s easy to get absorbed into the daily routine. We usually get into emails or work calls immediately upon waking, or sometimes we work during a lunch break but taking breaks throughout your day is crucial. Breaks allow you to disconnect from your task which gives your brain some much-needed rest.
2) Ensure You Are Getting Quality Sleep:
This is the jewel of coping with work anxiety. Sleep is undervalued activity but it is so essential and it is directly connected to your productivity as well as your energy levels in the morning.
3) Ask For Help:
If you are feeling affected and buried with a load of work, collaborate to your manager or co-workers. Just ask them about how you are feeling can be a portal to resolving the issue. Many employees accept their workload because they feel hesitant about approaching their bosses.
4) Set Honest Deadlines:
You should set boundaries that you can and cannot agree to do. Work anxiety really crests when you say yes to everything and then comprehend that you can’t complete it all. In order to cease this from illustrating, set your boundaries around your work that you are eager to do.
Anxiety is our body’s way of reacting to stress. One of the most common places we experience stress is at work. Between juggling deadlines, projects, and people, it can be overwhelming to complete and excel at everything we pile onto our plate. This is where anxiety takes the front seat, but you can take it back.
By drawing boundaries around what you’re willing and able to accomplish, you keep yourself from spiraling down into the rabbit hole of stressful work. At the same time, tapping into resources of better sleep and richer nutrition will allow you to handle any anxiety that comes your way with a clearer perspective.
While anxiety may feel crippling, there are tools at your disposal that will bring you back into alignment with yourself and your work.
Working hard should not be confused with overworking at the expense of relationships and physical health.
Everyone who has ever held a job has, at some point, felt the pressure of work-related stress. Any job can have stressful elements, even if you love what you do. In the short-term, you may experience pressure to meet a deadline or to fulfill a challenging obligation. But when work stress becomes chronic, it can be overwhelming—and harmful to both physical and emotional health.
Unfortunately, such long-term stress is all too common. In fact, APA’s annual Stress in America survey has consistently found that work is cited as a significant source of stress by a majority of Americans. You can’t always avoid the tensions that occur on the job. Yet you can take steps to manage work-related stress.
Common sources of work stress
Certain factors tend to go hand-in-hand with work-related stress. Some common workplace stressors are:
- Low salaries
- Excessive workloads
- Few opportunities for growth or advancement
- Work that isn’t engaging or challenging
- Lack of social support
- Not having enough control over job-related decisions
- Conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations
Effects of uncontrolled stress
Work-related stress doesn’t just disappear when you head home for the day. When stress persists, it can take a toll on your health and well-being.
A stressful work environment can contribute to problems such as headache, stomachache, sleep disturbances, short temper, and difficulty concentrating. Chronic stress can result in anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system. It can also contribute to health conditions such as depression, obesity, and heart disease. Compounding the problem, people who experience excessive stress often deal with it in unhealthy ways, such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes, or abusing drugs and alcohol.
Taking steps to manage stress
- Track your stressors. Keep a journal for a week or two to identify which situations create the most stress and how you respond to them. Record your thoughts, feelings, and information about the environment, including the people and circumstances involved, the physical setting, and how you reacted. Did you raise your voice? Get a snack from the vending machine? Go for a walk? Taking notes can help you find patterns among your stressors and your reactions to them.
- Develop healthy responses. Instead of attempting to fight stress with fast food or alcohol, do your best to make healthy choices when you feel the tension rise. Exercise is a great stress-buster. Yoga can be an excellent choice, but any form of physical activity is beneficial. Also make time for hobbies and favorite activities. Whether it’s reading a novel, going to concerts, or playing games with your family, make sure to set aside time for the things that bring you pleasure. Getting enough good-quality sleep is also important for effective stress management. Build healthy sleep habits by limiting your caffeine intake late in the day and minimizing stimulating activities, such as computer and television use, at night.
- Establish boundaries. In today’s digital world, it’s easy to feel pressure to be available 24 hours a day. Establish some work-life boundaries for yourself. That might mean making a rule not to check email from home in the evening, or not answering the phone during dinner. Although people have different preferences when it comes to how much they blend their work and home life, creating some clear boundaries between these realms can reduce the potential for work-life conflict and the stress that goes with it.
- Take time to recharge. To avoid the negative effects of chronic stress and burnout, we need time to replenish and return to our pre-stress level of functioning. This recovery process requires “switching off” from work by having periods of time when you are neither engaging in work-related activities, nor thinking about work. That’s why it’s critical that you disconnect from time to time, in a way that fits your needs and preferences. Don’t let your vacation days go to waste. When possible, take time off to relax and unwind, so you come back to work feeling reinvigorated and ready to perform at your best. When you’re not able to take time off, get a quick boost by turning off your smartphone and focusing your attention on nonwork activities for a while.
- Learn how to relax. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and mindfulness (a state in which you actively observe present experiences and thoughts without judging them) can help melt away stress. Start by taking a few minutes each day to focus on a simple activity like breathing, walking, or enjoying a meal. The skill of being able to focus purposefully on a single activity without distraction will get stronger with practice and you’ll find that you can apply it to many different aspects of your life.
- Talk to your supervisor. Employee health has been linked to productivity at work, so your boss has an incentive to create a work environment that promotes employee well-being. Start by having an open conversation with your supervisor. The purpose of this isn’t to lay out a list of complaints, but rather to come up with an effective plan for managing the stressors you’ve identified, so you can perform at your best on the job. While some parts of the plan may be designed to help you improve your skills in areas such as time management, other elements might include identifying employer-sponsored wellness resources you can tap into, clarifying what’s expected of you, getting necessary resources or support from colleagues, enriching your job to include more challenging or meaningful tasks, or making changes to your physical workspace to make it more comfortable and reduce strain.
- Get some support. Accepting help from trusted friends and family members can improve your ability to manage stress. Your employer may also have stress management resources available through an employee assistance program, including online information, available counseling, and referral to mental health professionals, if needed. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by work stress, you may want to talk to a psychologist, who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behavior.
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Whether you are going into work or working from home, the COVID-19 pandemic has probably changed the way you work. Fear and anxiety about this new disease and other strong emotions can be overwhelming, and workplace stress can lead to burnout external icon . How you cope with these emotions and stress can affect your well-being, the well-being of the people you care about, your workplace, and your community. During this pandemic, it is critical that you recognize what stress looks like, take steps to build your resilience and manage job stress, and know where to go if you need help.
- Feeling irritation, anger, or in denial
- Feeling uncertain, nervous, or anxious
- Lacking motivation
- Feeling tired, overwhelmed, or burned out
- Feeling sad or depressed
- Having trouble sleeping
- Having trouble concentrating
Know the common work-related factors that can add to stress during a pandemic:
- Concern about the risk of being exposed to the virus at work
- Taking care of personal and family needs while working
- Managing a different workload
- Lack of access to the tools and equipment needed to perform your job
- Feelings that you are not contributing enough to work or guilt about not being on the frontline
- Uncertainty about the future of your workplace and/or employment
- Learning new communication tools and dealing with technical difficulties
- Adapting to a different workspace and/or work schedule
- Communicate with your coworkers, supervisors, and employees about job stress while maintaining social distancing (at least 6 feet).
- Identify things that cause stress and work together to identify solutions.
- Talk openly with employers, employees, and unions about how the pandemic is affecting work. Expectations should be communicated clearly by everyone.
- Ask about how to access mental health resources in your workplace.
- Keep a regular sleep schedule external icon .
- Take breaks from work to stretch, exercise, or check in with your supportive colleagues, coworkers, family, and friends.
- Spend time outdoors, either being physically active or relaxing.
- If you work from home, set a regular time to end your work for the day, if possible.
- Practice mindfulness techniques external icon .
- Do things you enjoy during non-work hours.
- Connect with others through phone calls, email, text messages, mailing letters or cards, video chat, and social media.
- Check on others. Helping others improves your sense of control, belonging, and self-esteem. Look for safe ways to offer social support to others, especially if they are showing signs of stress, such as depression and anxiety.
If you feel you or someone in your household may harm themselves or someone else:
- Toll-free number 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
- The Online Lifeline Crisis Chat external icon is free and confidential. You’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor in your area.
- Call 1-800-799-7233 and TTY 1-800-787-3224
- Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by persistent worry or anxious feelings. People with this disorder worry about a number of concerns, such as health problems or finances, and may have a general sense that something bad is going to happen. Symptoms include restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, and generally feeling on edge.
- Panic disorder is marked by recurrent panic attacks that include symptoms such as sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, or a feeling of choking; a pounding heart or rapid heart rate; and feelings of dread. Such attacks often happen suddenly, without warning. People who experience panic attacks often become fearful about when the next episode will occur, which can cause them to change or restrict their normal activities.
- Phobias are intense fears about certain objects (spiders or snakes, for instance) or situations (such as flying in airplanes) that are distressing or intrusive.
- Social anxiety disorder is also known as social phobia. People with this disorder are fearful of social situations in which they might feel embarrassed or judged. They typically feel nervous spending time in social settings, feel self-conscious in front of others, and worry about being rejected by or offending others. Other common symptoms include having a hard time making friends, avoiding social situations, worrying for days before a social event, and feeling shaky, sweaty, or nauseous when spending time in a social setting.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by persistent, uncontrollable feelings and thoughts (obsessions) and routines or rituals (compulsions). Some common examples include compulsive hand washing in response to a fear of germs, or repeatedly checking work for errors.
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after a severe physical or emotional trauma such as a natural disaster, serious accident, or crime. Symptoms include flashbacks of the trauma, nightmares, and frightening thoughts that interfere with a person’s everyday routine for months or years after the traumatic experience.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety:
Anxiety disorders can severely impair a person’s ability to function at work, school, and in social situations and can interfere with a person’s relationships.
Everyone worries or feels nervous from time to time. Anxiety is a normal human reaction to stressful situations. But for people with anxiety disorders, those fears and worries aren’t temporary. Their anxiety persists, and can even get worse over time.
Anxiety disorders can severely impair a person’s ability to function at work, school, and in social situations. Anxiety can also interfere with a person’s relationships with family members and friends. Fortunately, though, there are effective treatments for anxiety.
In some cases, medications have a role in treating anxiety disorders. Yet research shows behavioral treatment, alone or in combination with medication, is a highly effective treatment for most people with an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are common in both adults and children. About 18% of U.S. adults and 25% of adolescents age 13 to 18 will experience anxiety, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. About 4% of adults, and nearly 6% of teens, have anxiety disorders classified as severe.
There are several major types of anxiety disorders:
Seeing a psychologist about anxiety disorders
Though many types of anxiety disorders exist, research suggests that most are driven by similar underlying processes. People with anxiety disorders tend to become easily overwhelmed by their emotions, and they tend to have particularly negative reactions to those unpleasant feelings and situations.
Often, people try to cope with those negative reactions by avoiding situations or experiences that make them anxious. Unfortunately, avoidance can backfire and actually feed the anxiety.
Psychologists are trained in diagnosing anxiety disorders and teaching patients healthier, more effective ways to cope. A form of psychotherapy known as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is highly effective at treating anxiety disorders. Through CBT, psychologists help patients learn to identify and manage the factors that contribute to their anxiety.
Through the cognitive component of therapy, patients learn to understand how their thoughts contribute to their anxiety symptoms. By learning to change those thought patterns, they can reduce the likelihood and intensity of anxiety symptoms.
With the behavioral component, patients learn techniques to reduce undesired behaviors associated with anxiety disorders. Specifically, patients are encouraged to approach activities and situations that provoke anxiety (such as public speaking or being in an enclosed space) to learn that their feared outcomes (such as losing their train of thought or having a panic attack) are unlikely.
Psychotherapy for anxiety disorders: What to expect
Psychotherapy is a collaborative process, where psychologists and patients work together to identify specific concerns and develop concrete skills and techniques for coping with anxiety. Patients can expect to practice their new skills outside of sessions to manage anxiety in situations that might make them uncomfortable. However, psychologists won’t push patients into such scenarios until they’re sure they have the skills they need to effectively confront their fears.
Psychologists sometimes use other approaches to treat anxiety disorders in addition to CBT. Group psychotherapy, which typically involves several people who all have anxiety disorders, can be effective for both treating anxiety and providing patients with support.
Family psychotherapy can help family members understand their loved one’s anxiety and help them learn ways to interact that do not reinforce anxious habits. Family therapy can be particularly helpful for children and adolescents suffering from anxiety disorders.
Anxiety disorders are very treatable. Most patients who suffer from anxiety are able to reduce or eliminate symptoms after several (or fewer) months of psychotherapy, and many patients notice improvement after just a few sessions.
Psychologists are highly trained and will tailor a treatment plan to address the unique needs of each patient. To find a licensed psychologist in your area, visit Psychologist Locator.
The American Psychological Association gratefully acknowledges Shannon Sauer-Zavala, PhD, Lynn Bufka, PhD, and C. Vaile Wright, PhD, for contributing to this fact sheet.