Based on a survey from the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, while only 9% of individuals are living with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, 40% experience ongoing stress or anxiety in their daily lives.
Work anxiety refers to stress caused by work that leads to anxiety, or the impact of an anxiety disorder at work. Either way, work anxiety can have negative effects and must be addressed to prevent poor outcomes both for employees and organizations.
Signs of Work Anxiety
Although there is no work anxiety disorder, there are certain symptoms that are common in terms of anxiety disorders and anxiety in general. Below is a list of these symptoms:
- excessive or irrational worrying
- trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- exaggerated startle reaction
- feeling jittery
- tiredness or fatigue
- feeling like there’s a lump in your throat
- shaking or trembling
- dry mouth
- a pounding/racing heart
In addition to these general symptoms of anxiety, there are also some signs to watch out for that may indicate that someone is experiencing work anxiety:
- taking an unusual amount of time off work
- overreacting to situations on the job
- focusing too much on negative aspects of their job
- inability to concentrate or complete tasks by the deadline
A person with work anxiety could also be diagnosed with one of the following anxiety disorders:
- generalized anxiety disorder
- panic disorder
- social anxiety disorder
- obsessive-compulsive disorder
- specific phobias
- post-traumatic stress disorder
Causes of Work Anxiety
Work anxiety may be caused by a variety of characteristics of the work environment. It’s not at all unusual for certain major events to make you nervous or feel temporary moments of anxiety. For example, starting a new job or leaving an old one is sure to make anyone feel skittish. You spend so much time at work that if things aren’t going your way, it can feel overwhelming at times.
This may not always rise to the level of ongoing anxiety, but it can be helpful to talk to someone about any of these issues are causing you to feel constantly anxious about work:
- dealing with work conflicts
- meeting deadlines
- relationships with coworkers
- managing staff
- long working hours
- having a demanding boss
- a workload that is overly high
- lack of direction on tasks
- lack of perception of fairness
- lack of control over the work environment
- low reward (not enough pay, benefits, etc.)
Effects of Work Anxiety
If you are living with work anxiety, it has probably taken a toll on multiple aspects of your life. Below are some of the most common effects of work anxiety, which can occur both within and outside the workplace:
- reduced job performance and quality of work
- effects on relationships with coworkers and superiors
- effects on personal life
- effects on your relationship with your romantic partner
- problems with concentration, fatigue, irritability, reduced productivity
- turning down opportunities due to phobias (e.g., fear of flying, fear of public speaking, fear of speaking in meetings)
- reduced job satisfaction
- reduced confidence in your skills
- feeling like what you do doesn’t make a difference
- reduced goal setting and achievement
- job loss
- less likely to take risks and more likely to plateau in your career
- feeling isolated
- development of clinical levels of anxiety (e.g., a diagnosable disorder)
- effects on the organization if you are an executive
- reduced social skills and ability to function within a team
- poor planning skills
- avoiding innovation
Telling Your Employer
If you are experiencing work anxiety, you may wonder whether you should share this with our employer. In addition, if you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, you may be unsure whether this needs to be shared as well.
Know that if you have a disorder, you have certain rights according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as far as accommodations at work, so it might be worthwhile.
If your work anxiety is being caused by stress at work, it’s unlikely this will resolve itself on its own.
While you may fear that sharing how you feel will lead to being labeled weak or treated poorly, most employers will probably be responsive and offer help.
You may be offered a referral to a mental health professional if you do not already have one, or you could be given access to something such as a stress management class. In other words, you don’t know until you ask.
Below are some tips for employers about how best to help employees with work anxiety:
- treat all employees with respect and offer transparent, open communication
- talk to employees about private matters behind closed office doors
- Ask how things are going in general rather than tackling work anxiety head-on
- Give your employee time to answer and try to see things from their perspective
Coping With Work Anxiety
There are some strategies you can use to help you manage your anxiety about work. Know that anxiety at work can be contagious, and try to stay away from people who make you feel worse, as much as possible.
Take a break and talk to someone if you are feeling anxious. Use self-help techniques to help you calm down and seek professional help if work anxiety is interfering with your daily life both at work and at home.
Avoid unhelpful coping strategies such as binge eating, substance abuse, overuse of caffeine, abuse of prescription medications. Here are some strategies you can try during and after your workday to help with your anxiety:
- Be sure to make time for yourself away from work.
- Find things that make you laugh and smile.
- Take lunch breaks and share a meal with others outside of your work area.
- Go for walks outdoors on your breaks when possible.
- Change your scenery to get out of an emotional rut.
- Focus on life outside of work such as hobbies and friends.
- Reflect on the good things in your job and your life.
- Examine what you fear will happen and ask yourself whether it is an irrational fear.
If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
Making a Change
Everyone experiences work anxiety from time to time, but if your job is a constant source of stress and nothing you have tried has given you any relief, it might be a sign of a deeper problem. Work can be anxiety-provoking, but excessive anxiety might also be a sign that the job or workplace itself is problematic.
Toxic culture, excessive demands, unhealthy pressures, or a poorly matched position can all be sources of work-related stress and anxiety.
If you’ve tried to manage your work anxiety, either through coping strategies or other treatments, and haven’t found any relief, it might be a sign that you need to change positions and work or even change jobs entirely. Rather than simply assuming that the problem is you, consider things about your job that are making you unhappy and causing you stress. How would changing those aspects of your job help relieve your anxiety? This might mean:
- changing job roles and duties
- changing jobs to find a healthier, more supportive workplace
- changing careers to find something better suited to your needs
A Word From Verywell
If you are living with work anxiety, it is important to reach out for help. Undiagnosed clinical anxiety can have devastating effects while chronic stress at work can precipitate later anxiety disorders. Make sure to reach out to your employer or a mental health professional to discuss your options.