If you experience high levels of anxiety and stress that affect your motivation and focus, you may have work anxiety.
Work anxiety can impact your workplace performance, quality of work, and relationships with colleagues and supervisors.
Some anxiety at work is normal. For example, preparing for an upcoming performance review or giving a presentation to your colleagues may cause you to feel nervous or fearful.
For someone who lives with an anxiety disorder, even tasks like sending an email or coordinating with coworkers might start to feel overwhelming or fill you with dread.
If you feel uneasy about your job, you’re not alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), over 50% of Americans say work anxiety impacts their day-to-day lives. But it’s possible to manage your work anxiety using a variety of strategies.
Anxiety is a normal human emotion that can bring up feelings of fear, dread, uneasiness, and worry.
General signs of anxiety include:
- dry mouth
- feeling depressed or irritable
- muscle tension
- racing heart
- trouble sleeping
- social withdrawal
In addition to general symptoms of anxiety, signs of work anxiety can include:
- avoiding taking on new tasks
- less tolerance for work stress or feedback
- fear of not performing to standards
- loss of interest in work
- reacting to work stressors with more anxiety than fits the situation
- taking more time off from work than usual
- difficulty concentrating or focusing
Many people with work anxiety find it stressful to work in groups, speak up in meetings, and interact with supervisors.
You may stress about meeting deadlines, lose sleep over an upcoming performance review, or be preoccupied with worries that you’re letting others down.
You can’t control everything in your work environment. But putting energy behind factors you can control could reduce stress levels and help you regain a sense of empowerment and enjoyment at work.
It’s not uncommon for anxiety at work to become all-consuming. When you feel yourself catastrophizing situations and worrying about things outside of your control, it can be helpful to “zoom out.”
You can start by stepping away from the situation for a moment to broaden your perspective on the situation at hand.
Once the bigger picture has come into focus, you can “zoom in” to look at specific and practical ways to move forward and accomplish what you need. This is a good way to shift your perspective, address your stress, and persevere.
All work and no play is a surefire way to burn out. Finding a work-life balance, or harmony, can help you manage anxiety and make you more effective at your job.
The Pomodoro technique is a time management method in which you set blocks of time for working — typically 25 minutes — followed by short breaks. The technique is meant to:
- increase focus
- reduce distraction
- maintain motivation
- reduce mental fatigue
With cellphones that often grant access to work emails around the clock, you may feel pressured to be available for work 24/7. These constant demands can deplete your energy, focus, and mental health.
Setting boundaries — such as not checking your emails or taking work calls during evenings and weekends — can make the difference between burnout and professional fulfillment.
For many, anxiety is seen as the enemy, holding you back from taking the action you need to get things done at work. What if you used anxiety to your advantage instead of seeing it as a burden?
Anxiety causes a surge in adrenaline in the body, which can help give you the drive you need to tackle your to-do list. Research suggests that moderate levels of anxiety can boost productivity and improve performance.
And while anxiety can feel like a weakness, you might find some ways to see another side of it. If it feels like you spend a lot of time fighting yourself, it could help to take a closer look at what your anxiety brings to the table.
You might be able to use your emotions as a guide to help you make positive change. For example, you may feel worried as you think about an upcoming work presentation. Sit for a moment with your fears, and then create a plan to deal with the sources of your stress. Your anxiety might ease up when you have a plan in place.
Making simple adjustments to your self-care routine can go a long way toward reducing anxiety, increasing energy, and sharpening your focus. Small lifestyle changes that can help you feel stronger and more resilient include:
- Moving regularly. Taking a walk on your lunch break could help boost both your mental and physical health.
- Getting the right nutrition for you. Eating nutrient-dense foods during mealtimes can support your energy levels and focus. Consider avoiding processed sugars where possible, as they can worsen anxiety symptoms.
- Sleeping well. Though it may feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done, prioritizing sleep can help you feel more focused and less anxious during your waking hours.
If you’re feeling stuck in your anxiety, it can be helpful to talk with a mental health professional. They can often help you determine the root of your anxiety and work with you to make changes to manage it.
If your anxiety is due to an anxiety disorder, some mental health professionals may also recommend medication or other treatments to help you manage anxiety.
Some workplaces offer benefits that include mental health care. You can check your benefits package or speak with someone in your organization’s human resources office to see if resources are available to you through your employer or health insurance.
No matter how perfect someone’s life looks from the outside, everyone has bad days. It’s important to remember that you can’t control other people, things that trigger your anxiety, or even anxiety itself. Accept what you can’t change, and remember to be gentle with yourself.
It’s OK not to feel 100% all the time. When you get caught in an anxious loop where you’re thinking negative thoughts about yourself, remember that you deserve grace, patience, and kindness, too.
Sometimes, the best thing to do for yourself is start fresh. If you’re truly unhappy in your job and nothing you’ve done has improved the situation, it may be time to look for a new job. No job is worth more than your mental health and well-being.
If you’re working in a toxic environment, hate your job, or feel intense anxiety no matter what you try, it’s OK to give yourself permission to move on.
You could even channel your anxiety into envisioning what kind of workplace, lifestyle, or job might be less anxiety-provoking for you. Try using that as a starting point when you explore other opportunities.
Work anxiety can have a big impact on your daily life and well-being, but it doesn’t have to be all-consuming. Using strategies to help you manage your anxiety can go a long way in reducing anxiety’s impact on your mind and body.
If you’re struggling with work anxiety, support is out there. Some helpful organizations and resources for work anxiety include:
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). This online resource can help you locate a licensed mental health professional in your area who specializes in helping people with anxiety.
- Anxiety Resource Center. This not-for-profit organization is dedicated to educating people about how to live with anxiety and how to overcome it. It includes information about addressing anxiety in the workplace.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). This large, grassroots mental health organization is dedicated to building better lives for Americans with mental health conditions. NAMI has a helpline staffed with trained volunteers to help answer questions, offer support, and provide practical next steps.