How To Successfully Deal With Workplace Anxiety. In today’s world, the office is like a second home to many. Many people spend more time in the office than at home, arriving first thing in the morning and staying till late in the evening. However, the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a work from home revolution.
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This arrangement inevitably means that much of life is experienced through the lens of work, and in the course of spending so much time at the workplace, stresses arise from time to time. To most, this is manageable; to some, workplace anxiety can at times be overwhelming.
How do you successfully deal with workplace anxiety? Is there a process in which workplace stresses can be handled professionally and effectively? When is it time to seek help?
Let’s first have a look at what workplace anxiety is and work our way to answer these questions.
What Causes Workplace Anxiety?
The Anxiety And Depression Associaton of America (ADAA) states that an indication of anxiety disorder is a “persistent, excessive, and irrational anxiety that interferes with everyday functioning.” It also found that 72% of people who have daily stress and anxiety say it interferes with their lives at least moderately.
This is, of course, worrying news. Some people find workplace pressures to be so great that it interferes with their ability to carry on normal lives. Let’s look at some ways that the workplace can produce anxiety:
Working Under a Demanding Boss
Unless you own your own business or are self-employed, you’ll most likely be working under a boss. Bosses come in all forms – some can be open-minded and easy-going; others can be more authoritative and traditional. Regardless of the type of boss we have, if we’re on their payroll, we’re answerable to them.
A major cause of workplace anxiety is having a boss who makes demands that you feel unable to fulfill.
What does this look like? Well, your boss might routinely ask you to complete tasks that you feel are outside your skillset to fulfill. For example, you might be a junior staffer being asked to complete tasks that are at a senior level. Your boss might ask you to complete tasks in an extraordinarily short amount of time, making you feel like you’re drowning in work.
Regardless of the actual demands that are being made, what matters most is what you feel and whether you feel able to cope. If you feel crushed under seemingly impossible expectations set by your boss, you’ll likely experience some form of workplace anxiety. This, of course, is made worse if your boss habitually uses derogatory or insulting language.
Having Unsupportive Colleagues
Another certain fact of office life – other than having a boss – is having colleagues. Much like having classmates all throughout your schooling life, you’re bound to be sharing your office space with colleagues.
Having colleagues is actually a good thing – it means having people you can talk to, befriend, have lunch, and exchange ideas. In times of tight deadlines, our colleagues are there to work alongside us. Oftentimes, they’re what makes going to work worthwhile. Skip Weisman, a leadership and workplace communication expert, says that, “a high morale work environment will always produce more than a low-morale work environment.”
However, this isn’t true for everyone. Some colleagues can be unsupportive and even downright competitive, especially if your workplace encourages that kind of atmosphere. When there is gossip happening behind your back and your requests for help go unanswered, you know that you might be dealing with difficult colleagues.
When you have unsupportive colleagues, the people you tend to count on instead become a source of anxiety. Instead of looking forward to going to your office to spend time with the people you work with, you become filled with dread. Having unsupportive colleagues can make an already stressful workplace that much more stressful.
Struggling With The Workload
When you’re working as an employee, an interesting relationship is formed between you and your employer: your employer will want to get the most out of hiring you, while you would want to have a workload that you find manageable. This relationship is a delicate balance – once you feel like your employer is making demands that you’re unable to fulfill, you’ll find yourself struggling at work.
Ryan Kahn, a career coach, says that, “If you find your project list growing and changing rapidly and performance targets increasing, you just may have an overly demanding boss.”
We all find meaning and purpose in work; a job well done and recognized for what it is can generate immense satisfaction. When we’ve submitted an excellent report, or closed a difficult deal, or won over an important client, we feel a sense of pride at what we’ve managed to contribute to our workplaces.
However, if we feel unable to be productive at work, workplace anxiety may kick in. Workplace satisfaction only happens when your skills and talents fit the tasks that you are given. Consequently, a mismatch can bring your mood and your self-esteem down.
If you have to constantly work overtime and yet still feel the growling displeasure of your boss, your work might start to take a toll on you. Having an unmanageable workload is a surefire way to feel stressed and overwhelmed at your workplace.
Lack of Direction
Stephen Hawking once said, “Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it.” Many people value the ability to grow, progress in their career, and become more successful. These are the essential opportunities that should be provided in any workplace.
However, your workplace might not provide you with any of these things. Instead, you might find yourself in a spot where you feel a lack of direction, whether it’s because your superiors aren’t providing it, or that you feel like your career is going nowhere. Both can result in workplace anxiety.
When you’re in a thriving workplace, the tasks given should always be clear. You should always know what you’re there to accomplish, from the minute you arrive at work to the minute you leave. You should know who your teammates are and what you’re all trying to achieve. In other words, there should always be a sense of direction and purpose at work.
If you arrive at work unsure of the tasks of the day and of the chain of communication that you need to report to, you’ll inevitably feel bored and listless. Even worse, you might start questioning why you’re in the job in the first place. Why bother coming to work when you’re accomplishing nothing? You might be tempted to just call in sick and stay at home.
If you’re unsure of what to do at work, and you experience pressure from your superiors to perform, you might start to feel stressed. Good pressure pushes you to excel; the bad kind of pressure makes you feel hopeless. Ask yourself – what kind of pressures are you routinely experiencing at work?
If you’re lacking direction from your superiors, are they willing to provide it when asked politely? If you’re feeling a lack of direction in terms of where you’re heading in your career, is there something that you can do proactively to deal with the problem? Remember, the lack of direction in any job can significantly add to the stress you’re feeling at work.
What Are Some Tips To Deal With Workplace Anxiety?
Asking For Help
There is a famous Chinese saying that roughly translates to, “do not fear asking for help, even if it’s to someone who is below your rank.”
Asking for help may seem like the most obvious step to take when encountering a problem; however, it can also be the most difficult.
If you’re experiencing workplace anxiety, it is worth voicing up your problems to your boss and your colleagues. Chances are, if you don’t say anything, people will assume that you’re doing fine.
If you feel that your boss is making demands that you are unable to fulfill, try scheduling a meeting with him. You might fear a negative reaction; however, it is better to let him or her be aware of what you’re really feeling than to assume that your boss is aware of the pressures that you are experiencing. You can always communicate your struggles to your boss in a respectful and thoughtful manner.
The most important thing here is to not remain silent. Silence can eat you up. When you remain silent about your struggles, all that pressure remains pent up inside of you – and what is pent up will eventually explode out. Remember – the first step to confronting a problem is to acknowledge that it exists in the first place.
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Practicing mindfulness is one of the best ways to combat stress. Mindfulness is about being in the present; it is about focusing all your thoughts and energy into being in the moment.
The Mayo Clinic defines mindfulness as “a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.”
The words ‘mindfulness’ and ‘meditation’ are often used interchangeably. In a nutshell, this process involves eliminating thoughts and worries about the future and the past, and focusing solely on what you can do in the present.
If you’re struggling with workplace anxiety, mindfulness is a useful tool. Think about where you are right now, and breathe deeply; the goal is to completely relax. This clears your mind to think about the tasks of your present day and about the goals that you want to achieve.
Ironically, it is often our dreams and idealistic expectations about life that create unnecessary anxiety. While it is good to set high goals for ourselves, sometimes lofty expectations can come back to disappoint us.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by workplace anxiety, a great thing to do is to pause and reflect on what’s actually causing you stress – is it your working environment? The tight deadlines? The people you’re working with? Identify the problem and list them down if you have to.
The next crucial thing to do is to ask yourself what you can handle. Do you need to cut down your working hours so that you can have more time for yourself? Would you be more comfortable if the workload was lighter? What kind of support do you need from your boss and colleagues?
The important thing about being realistic with yourself is that it gives you an opportunity to see the problems as they are, not just as you imagine them to be. Being realistic allows you to ask yourself whether the solutions are within grasp – and if they’re not, what you can do to bring yourself a step closer to them.
Being realistic isn’t being pessimistic either. Be honest with yourself about the challenges you are facing, ask yourself whether you have room to address them, and do your best to work through them.
Consider A Workplace Change
This might seem like an extreme step for some, but it is worth remembering that no workplace is permanent. Although the stability of having a job is great, nothing is worth sacrificing your mental health for.
Research has shown that “an unhealthy work environment or a workplace incident can cause considerable stress and exacerbate, or contribute to, the development of mental illness.”
If you have taken the steps of speaking to your boss and your colleagues about your struggles with workplace anxiety, and they do not seem to understand or appreciate them, then it might be in your best interest to consider a workplace change.
To truly thrive in a workplace, you need to feel supported and equipped to complete the tasks that you are given. If you feel that these goals are impossible to achieve in your current workplace, it is worth seriously contemplating a change.
When searching for your next job, consider what it is that you’re missing in your current workplace, and try to identify a workplace in which these needs can be addressed adequately. When you’re going for an interview, it’s important to gauge whether your potential future employer values the same things as you do.
Do not be afraid of voicing your concerns (with tact, of course). When you’re looking for a new job, by all means, put your best foot forward. However, it is also worth asking the right questions – will there be adequate support? What are the expectations? What is the work culture like?
Of course, no workplace is perfect; you’ll definitely experience ups and downs in the next job as well. However, if you can correctly identify a job that fits your personality and character well, you can drastically reduce workplace anxiety and put yourself on course for a happier, more productive working life.
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When Should I Seek Professional Help?
Workplace anxiety is not merely an inconvenience. When you are constantly feeling overwhelmed by your work, it may be appropriate to seek professional help.
The question is – what is the threshold for you to seek help?
Mental Health America advises to seek professional help if you if the problems in your life stop you from functioning well or feeling good. Only a third of people struggling with anxiety get treatment, even though this is highly treatable.
Without professional training, you’re unlikely to be able to assess yourself effectively. You might feel like you’re managing your stress well, but a professional will assess your coping ability in different areas of life and make a more objective conclusion.
A professional will ask you questions about your sleep, mood, and energy levels to determine how well you’re coping with workplace stress. If you’re found to be struggling in any of these areas, a professional will be able to recommend to you treatments to help you cope better.
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If nothing else, a professional will be able to offer you a pair of listening ears to your problems and be a supportive presence in your life. Because everything you say to the professional is confidential, you can be as open and honest as you want. You might also pick up tips on dealing with your workplace stress that you haven’t considered before.
The most important thing is to make sure that you voice out your need for help and ensure that you get support. Whether it is in the form of a colleague, a friend, or a professional, be honest about the stress you’re facing and how it is making you feel. Only by being open about your struggles can others support you.
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We all experience stress at our workplaces from time to time. After all, no boss, colleague, or job is perfect. Expectations and deadlines are part and parcel of working life.
However, if the pressures of the workplace ever become too much and you begin to struggle with workplace anxiety, make sure you don’t bottle all of it in. Speak to someone; reach out. Be realistic about your expectations and your abilities. Practice mindfulness.
Remember – no job is ever worth sacrificing your mental health for. With this in mind, you’ll know just how far to challenge yourself to go.
With practice, a successful work-life balance is on the horizon. As long as you never give up, you’ll achieve your workplace goals and find yourself thriving while doing so.
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- Anxiety And Depression Association of America (2020) Highlights: Workplace Stress & Anxiety Disorders Survey Retrieved from: https://adaa.org/workplace-stress-anxiety-disorders-survey
- Mayo Clinic (2020) Mindfulness Exercises Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/mindfulness-exercises/art-20046356#:~:text=Mindfulness%20is%20a%20type%20of,mind%20and%20help%20reduce%20stress.
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- Bodycare Workplace Solutions (2017) Workplace mental health and wellness – Not just a tick and flick Retrieved from: https://www.bodycare.com.au/workplace-mental-health-and-wellness-article/#_ftn3