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Find yourself constantly obsessing over work worries? Or feel like the anxiety from your job is literally killing you?

High pressure jobs can def lead to anxiety, but how do you know if your work anxiety is you or side effects of the job itself? And more importantly, how do you get through it?

Work anxiety is basically anxiety caused by work. Technically, work anxiety isn’t a specific diagnosis for people who feel anxious due to work. But, that doesn’t mean your job isn’t amplifying or causing your anxiety.

Anxiety comes in all shapes and forms, but if you find yourself most anxious when in a work environment, your job and/or an anxiety disorder may be to blame. Here’s everything you need to know about work anxiety and how to cope.

It could be the idea of being in a work environment surrounded by people that causes you panic (especially if you’re returning to work or are an essential worker during a pandemic).

Or it could be having to meet deadlines, worrying that you’re not doing a good job, or fretting that you’re going to be let go.

Symptoms of work anxiety can include:

  • excessive or irrational worrying
  • trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • a pounding, racing heart
  • feeling shaky
  • loss of interest in your work
  • difficulties in concentration
  • muscle tension
  • a desire to be perfect
  • irrational fear of making mistakes
  • feeling irritable
  • relationship trouble
  • reassurance-seeking

It’s not just you!

What you’re feeling at work it totally valid. Work anxiety can cause issues outside of the workplace and can affect your daily life out of the office.

Anxiety is very common. The National Institutes of Health estimates about 31 percent of adults in the U.S. have had an anxiety disorder.

Worldwide stats from the World Health Organization (WHO) note that about 300 million people have an anxiety disorder. If you’re a woman, you’re also more likely to experience anxiety compared to men.

While your anxiety could stem from the workplace itself, it could also be caused by issues outside of work and increased stress. A 2015 study of 129 men and women found job insecurity and home stress were strongly associated with depression and anxiety symptoms.

Here’s what could be causing your work anxiety.

An increase in workload

Stress and anxiety come hand in hand, and an increase in workload can cause the both of them. An increase in workload may leave you feeling overwhelmed, incompetent, and panicked that you won’t be able to cope with the amount of work you have been assigned.

Conflict with coworkers

Arguing with people is never fun, and if you’ve found yourself disagreeing with a colleague, or you find yourself simply not getting on with people at work, this may cause you some anxiety over actually going into work.

It may also leave you feeling paranoid that people are talking about you, or worried about future confrontation.

Work performance

We all want to be great at what we do for a living, and so the intensity of performance reviews can weigh on our minds. Anxiety about performance is very common. This includes worries that you’re not going to do a good job or you’re going to be told you’re being fired.

Relationship troubles

If you’re having relationship troubles, it’s hard to get them off your mind (meaning you can bring the anxiety it’s causing into work). This may lead you to being unable to focus on any work, and the quality of your work slipping because your mind is elsewhere.

Debt problems

If you’re having problems with money, it’s only natural to be anxious when it comes to your job. You may have unwelcome thoughts about losing your job, and not being able to pay off any debt.

A diagnosed anxiety disorder

If you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, work anxiety may be more prevalent.

You may find the symptoms from your anxiety disorder are increased by work issues, and may cause more irrational worries such as losing your job, having a poor work performance or becoming paranoid that your colleagues dislike you.

Anxiety disorders that someone with work anxiety might have include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder. A person with this disorder has chronic anxiety that often comes with exaggerated worry and tension — even when there isn’t anything to physically cause it.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). A person with OCD has unwanted thoughts or repetitive compulsions. This could include performing certain rituals, such as mental checking, counting, or washing your hands. These tasks can provide temporary relief, but the anxiety always comes back in full force.
  • Social anxiety disorder. Social Anxiety Disorder is an anxiety disorder where a person feels overwhelming anxiety in everyday social situations. It can be limited to just one type of situation, such as public speaking, or it may be so broad that a person can experience symptoms any time they are around people.
  • Panic disorder. Folks with a panic disorder experience repeated episodes of intense fear, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as chest pains, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and dizziness. This is often called a panic attack.

There are many methods to help you deal with anxiety that you can practice on your own. But, when your work anxiety is stemming from the workplace, here’s what might help.

Open up to your family and friends

Let your family and friends know how you’re feeling, so that it doesn’t have a negative impact on your relationships. Doing so will make them more aware and understanding of your symptoms, including extra stress and irritability.

Take some time off work

It may be time to take some time off of work. You could ask your primary care doctor to provide a note to receive a few days off, or use accrued vacation time if available to you.

The family medical leave act (FMLA) also makes provisions for people who are experiencing health issues (including mental health issues related to a job).

Don’t see this as failure, see this as an opportunity to deal with your issues, to go back into the office better prepared and brighter.

Practice breathing exercises

Breathing exercises can be really helpful when it comes to anxiety. Focusing on your breathing is a known technique to reduce anxiety, It will help your body to relax, and to release tension.

Practice positive thinking

It’s easier said than done, but try to look at the positives. Have you recently done something great at work? Is your relationship healthy? Focus on the positives in your life and the good things you have done instead of allowing yourself to think negatively.

It could even be simpler things such as “Isn’t it great I’m employed?” and “We’re lucky to have such nice weather today.”

Examine your fears

It can be therapeutic to write about how you’re feeling. Sometimes, getting your worries out onto paper can help to clear your mind, while allowing you to read them back, and perhaps realize how irrational your fears are.

This will help you to become more rational when it comes to your symptoms, so that you’re more easily able to recognize when you’re experiencing anxiety as opposed to normal fears.

Plan and prepare

If you’re stressed at work, try to plan and prepare better. Take some extra time in the morning to get ready for work, if you have a deadline, start on the work a little earlier. Having a plan in place can be less anxiety-inducing.

Go for walks outside on your lunch break

Get outside on your lunch break instead of being stuck in the office (or home, if you work remotely). Fresh air is refreshing and a walk is a great way to clear your mind. Taking that break between work hours can help you de-stress, which in turn will improve your work afterward.

Have a conversation with your manager about how you’re feeling

It’s important to let your boss know how you’re feeling if you need changes at work to help your anxiety.

Be open and honest with them. It might feel scary at first, but it’ll be a weight off of your shoulders, and your boss may be able to decrease your workload, and be more sensitive toward what you’re going through.

Chat with a therapist

It can be really helpful to talk with mental health provider if you’re struggling with anxiety.

It may even be helpful to write down a list of your symptoms to give to your therapist or doctor. This can be an easier way to get across what you’re going through without becoming overwhelmed and forgetting everything.

Speaking about your work anxiety with a medical professional can also help you determine if an anxiety disorder is the root cause of your anxiety at work.

It can be super daunting if you decide you to talk to you employer about your anxieties at work, either to make a change or take a leave of absence for your mental health.

It’s important that you’re open and honest with them about your issues, so that they can be fully aware of what you’re struggling with, and to know how to help you. Set up a meeting and preface what you need to talk to them about beforehand.

Can you get fired for your anxiety?

If you’re gearing up to have a conversation with your boss, you’re probably worried about getting fired.

The good news is that’s probably not going to happen. And if it does, there are laws in place set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to help protect you if you have an anxiety disorder.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which applies to businesses with 15 or more employees, defines a disability as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

In the case of anxiety, an employee who feels anxious about meeting new people, but can get through it with a few deep breaths, wouldn’t qualify for ADA protection. However, a person who feels overwhelming anxiety or panic symptoms that negatively impact their daily life may qualify.

You can read more about your rights, here.

Your work anxiety could also be an indication that it’s time to move on from your job. Signs it’s time to move on include:

  • Talking to your boss didn’t help. You’ve spoken to your employer about how you’re feeling, but they haven’t attempted to accommodate you or help improve the situations causing your anxiety.
  • You really hate your job. If you find yourself waking up and dreading going to work every morning, or being at work makes you unhappy regardless of your anxiety, it’s time to look for a new job.
  • Your workplace is toxic. This could be the case if there’s a lot of bad communication, you and your co-workers are all unmotivated, and you have bad leadership. All of these things could have a significant impact on your mental health.

Plan your exit strategy

If you’re about to start the new job hunt, it’s probably not the best idea to quit on the spot and potentially leave yourself in financial difficulty.

Start applying elsewhere and focus on the fact that you’ll be getting out of that role as a positive.

Work anxiety can have a significant impact on your well-being and your daily life.

If you’re struggling with anxiety at work, it’s important to get to the bottom of what’s causing your fear and stress. You may also want to consider talking with a mental health professional.

If you can’t make changes on your own, try to find the courage to explain how you’re feeling to your employer. This could help you discuss any steps that can be taken to make your work life easier and to improve your anxiety.

But, if you’re truly unhappy in your place of work and no steps you’ve taken have improved that, it’s probably time to look for a new job.