Working with anxiety

Cost of living crisis, pandemic, global warming, information overload, increasing pace (and quantity) of work… it’s no wonder so many of us suffer from anxiety. In fact, a Champion Health study suggests that 60% of employees have at least mild symptoms and 25% have clinically relevant symptoms; meanwhile, the Health and Safety Executive has stated that workplace anxiety (together with stress and depression) accounts for half of all work-related cases of ill health. Both individuals and organisations need to understand workplace anxiety better, and what to do about it.

Possible symptoms of workplace anxiety

The first question is how to recognise anxiety – in ourselves or our colleagues. At base, anxiety is focused on worrying about what might or could happen, it’s focused on the future, on ‘what-if’ scenarios. This state of worry often feels uncontrollable and can manifest in a number of ways. A person suffering from workplace anxiety may be:

  • Constantly worried or apprehensive
  • Irritable
  • Fatigued / lacking energy
  • Disengaged and demotivated
  • Preoccupied / unable to focus
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Impatient, even angry
  • Suffering from panic attacks
  • Avoiding usual social contact

Let’s be clear, feeling nervous at work – about a specific task, such as an important meeting or presentation – is not unusual; it’s normal. With workplace anxiety, we’re talking about persistent symptoms that usually show a change in a person’s characteristic behaviour. Unsurprisingly, if these kinds of symptoms continue there can be an inevitable impact on performance, teamwork, and absence.

Contributing factors

Why do people suffer from anxiety at work? The reasons are many but context can play a big role. As mentioned above, the world can seem a stressful place. Arguably, it always is, but in just the last couple of years or so, between COVID-19’s impact on the workplace (including how poorly handled new flexible working arrangements often are), rising inflation and stationary wages, and not to mention wider global events such as wars and conflicts that come with frequently ‘emotional’ press coverage, the context of our lives feels increasingly unstable.

Add to this more personal job factors, such as excessive hours, tight deadlines, imposter syndrome, and the constant expectations of colleagues and managers, and it’s little wonder anxiety is a common feature of the workplace for most of us.

Finding a way forward

On a personal level, it’s important to identify what triggers or drives feelings of anxiety – it may be certain behaviour around you, it may be a certain time of day, it may be a negative internal monologue… the first step is to know what sets it off.

Striving for a degree of organization can help – a structured schedule, reasonable deadlines, clear boundaries, etc. This is, of course, complicated by the fact that you don’t always have the necessary control in a work environment; other people require things of you. The logical (but often difficult) step is to confide in someone – a manager, a colleague – that you’re feeling anxious and/or that you need some assistance.

For the organisation, it can help avoid an environment or culture of anxiety, starting with some employee relations/engagement basic principles such as open communication and transparency, empowering people to make decisions about their own work, encouraging employee health, and making reasonable adjustments wherever possible.

 

Naturally, in the scope of a few hundred words, this is all surface-level stuff. For a closer look at how to tackle anxiety in the workplace, try our free taster webinar on Friday 8 December – sign up here to learn about recognising triggers, CBT techniques for relationship management, and several other coping techniques that can be applied in a work context. The webinar offers an insight into our programme of wellbeing and resilience events and development opportunities – check them out here, or give us a call on 01582 463460, we’re here to help.

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