Work related stress and anxiety
If you find yourself getting stressed at work, know that it happens to everyone and it’s completely normal. But if you realize that stress is constant, overwhelming, and prevents you from living your life, it could be an anxiety disorder.
Having anxiety at work can have a huge impact on you and your career. People who feel anxious at work might even make career decisions based on their anxiety. For example, you might feel like you have to turn down a promotion if it involves more managing, public speaking, or traveling to new places.
If you have workplace anxiety, you might have symptoms like:
- Avoiding friends or family
- Constant worrying
- Feeling irritable, tired, or tense
- Feeling like you need to be perfect
- Having trouble sleeping
- Having trouble concentrating or remembering things
- Losing interest in your work
- Overeating or undereating
What Causes Workplace Anxiety?
Lots of things can cause anxiety in the workplace. Darcy E. Gruttadaro, JD, the director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health at the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, says anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the United States.
“It’s not uncommon for people to feel nervous about a big presentation, meeting with clients, or working directly with senior leaders,” Gruttadaro says. “Anxiety disorders involve more extreme, often crippling, and persistent levels of fear, apprehension, and worry.”
In fact, co-workers and managers might not realize a person they work with has an anxiety disorder. Gruttadaro says some red flags that might suggest a person has an anxiety disorder include:
- A drop in performance
- Excessive missed days of work
- Not appearing engaged in work
- Physical complaints, like sweating, upset stomach, and not sleeping well (without another explanation)
- Poor job productivity
Debra Kissen, PhD, a clinical psychologist, says it can be helpful to take a look at how you’re feeling throughout the workday.
“[Evaluate your anxiety] in terms of how severe it is and how disabling,” Kissen says. “Maybe it’s showing up and you’re still operating pretty effectively or when you’re feeling that way, maybe you’re only 10% as effective as you would be otherwise.”
The root cause of anxiety at work depends on the person. For some people, extra-long work hours, high stress, a lack of support from managers and co-workers, and related factors can lead to someone developing anxiety at work, Gruttadaro says.
Other situations that might make you anxious include:
- Dealing with issues at work
- Giving presentations
- Keeping up with personal relationships
- Meetings, staff lunches, and office parties
- Meeting and setting deadlines
- Speaking up during meetings
Having an anxiety disorder can make a major impact in the workplace. People may turn down a promotion or other opportunity because it involves travel or public speaking; make excuses to get out of office parties, staff lunches, and other events or meetings with coworkers; or be unable to meet deadlines.
In a national survey on anxiety in the workplace, people with anxiety disorders commonly cited these as difficult situations: dealing with problems; setting and meeting deadlines; maintaining personal relationships; managing staff; participating in meetings, and making presentations.
Tell Your Employer?
It’s your decision to tell your employer about your anxiety disorder. Some people do so because they need accommodations, others want to educate people about their condition, and some do not want to hide their illness.
If you have a physical or mental disability and are qualified to do a job, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) protects you from job discrimination. Being qualified means you must satisfy an employer’s requirements for the job and be able to perform essential functions on your own or with reasonable accommodation. An employer cannot refuse to hire you because your disability prevents you from performing duties that are not essential to the job. Find out more about employment rights.
Tips to Manage Stress and Anxiety at Work
Getting stressed out at work happens to everyone, and it’s perfectly normal. But stress that is persistent, irrational, and overwhelming and impairs daily functioning may indicate an anxiety disorder. Keep these ideas in mind to keep your work life manageable:
- Work! In addition to financial reasons, working can be important for your self-esteem and it adds to your social identity.
- Tell a trusted coworker. Knowing that someone accepts your condition can be comforting and it may reduce any anticipatory anxiety about having a panic attack at work.
- Educate yourself. Learn to recognize the symptoms of your disorder and how to handle them if you experience any at work.
- Practice time management. Make to-do lists and prioritize your work. Schedule enough time to complete each task or project.
- Plan and prepare. Get started on major projects as early as possible. Set mini-deadlines for yourself. Anticipate problems and work to prevent them.
- Do it right the first time. Spend the extra time at the outset and save yourself a headache later when you have to redo your work.
- Be realistic. Don’t over commit or offer to take on projects if you don’t realistically have enough time.
- Ask for help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask a coworker for help. Later you can return the favor.
- Communicate. Speak up calmly and diplomatically if you have too much to handle. Your supervisor may not realize you’re overextended.
- Stay organized. Filing and clearing your desk and computer desktop may rank low on your priority list, but they can save you time in the long run and may prevent a crisis later.
- Avoid toxic coworkers. Try to ignore negativity and gossip in your workplace.
- Take breaks. A walk around the block or a few minutes of deep breathing can help clear your head.
- Set boundaries. Try not to bring work home with you. Don’t check your work e-mail or voice mail after hours.
- Savor success. Take a moment to celebrate your
- good work before moving on to the next project. Thank everyone who helped you.
- Plan a vacation. You’ll be rejuvenated and ready to work when you come back.
- Take advantage of employer resources and benefits. Your workplace may offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), discounts to gyms, or skill-building courses. Learn what’s available to you.
- Be healthy. Eat healthfully, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and limit caffeine and alcohol. Try to keep your body and mind in shape to handle challenging situations.
It’s important to find help for anxiety, stress, and related disorders. Find a therapist near you.
With treatment, most people find significant improvement. Several standard approaches have proved effective. Your health care professional will use one or a combination of these treatments:
American Psychological Association Workplace Issues
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
Fit Small Business: Article: How to Prevent and Deal with Discrimination in the Work Place, May 15, 2017
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Facts About the Americans With Disabilities Act
Mental Health America
Work-related stress is a growing problem around the world that affects not only the health and well-being of employees, but also the productivity of organisations. Work-related stress arises where work demands of various types and combinations exceed the person’s capacity and capability to cope. Work-related stress is the second most common compensated illness/injury in Australia, after musculoskeletal disorders.
Work-related stress can be caused by various events. For example, a person might feel under pressure if the demands of their job (such as hours or responsibilities) are greater than they can comfortably manage. Other sources of work-related stress include conflict with co-workers or bosses, constant change, and threats to job security, such as potential redundancy.
In Australian, more than $133.9 million was paid in benefits to workers who had made claims related to workplace stress during the 2004/2005 tax year. According to the National Health and Safety Commission, work-related stress accounts for the longest stretches of absenteeism.
What one person may perceive as stressful, however, another may view as challenging. Whether a person experiences work-related stress depends on the job, the person’s psychological make-up, and other factors (such as personal life and general health).
Symptoms of work-related stress
The signs or symptoms of work-related stress can be physical, psychological and behavioural.
Physical symptoms include:
- Muscular tension
- Heart palpitations
- Sleeping difficulties, such as insomnia
- Gastrointestinal upsets, such as diarrhoea or constipation
- Dermatological disorders.
Psychological symptoms include:
- Feelings of being overwhelmed and unable to cope
- Cognitive difficulties, such as a reduced ability to concentrate or make decisions.
Behavioural symptoms include:
- An increase in sick days or absenteeism
- Diminished creativity and initiative
- A drop in work performance
- Problems with interpersonal relationships
- Mood swings and irritability
- Lower tolerance of frustration and impatience
What are the main work-related stressors?
All the following issues have been identified as potential stressors at workplaces. A risk management approach will identify which ones exist in your own workplace and what causes them. They include:
- Organisation culture
- Bad management practices
- Job content and demands
- Physical work environment
- Relationships at work
- Change management
- Lack of support
- Role conflict
Causes of work-related stress
Some of the factors that commonly cause work-related stress include:
- Long hours
- Heavy workload
- Changes within the organisation
- Tight deadlines
- Changes to duties
- Job insecurity
- Lack of autonomy
- Boring work
- Insufficient skills for the job
- Inadequate working environment
- Lack of proper resources
- Lack of equipment
- Few promotional opportunities
- Poor relationships with colleagues or bosses
- Crisis incidents, such as an armed hold-up or workplace death.
Self-help for the individual
A person suffering from work-related stress can help themselves in a number of ways, including:
- Think about the changes you need to make at work in order to reduce your stress levels and then take action. Some changes you can manage yourself, while others will need the cooperation of others.
- Talk over your concerns with your employer or human resources manager.
- Make sure you are well organised. List your tasks in order of priority. Schedule the most difficult tasks of each day for times when you are fresh, such as first thing in the morning.
- Take care of yourself. Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
- Consider the benefits of regular relaxation. You could try meditation or yoga.
- Make sure you have enough free time to yourself every week.
- Don’t take out your stress on loved ones. Instead, tell them about your work problems and ask for their support and suggestions.
- Drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco, won’t alleviate stress and can cause additional health problems. Avoid excessive drinking and smoking.
- Seek professional counselling from a psychologist.
- If work-related stress continues to be a problem, despite your efforts, you may need to consider another job or a career change. Seek advice from a career counsellor or psychologist.
Benefits of preventing stress in the workplace
- Reduced symptoms of poor mental and physical health
- Fewer injuries, less illness and lost time
- Reduced sick leave usage, absences and staff turnover
- Increased productivity
- Greater job satisfaction
- Increased work engagement
- Reduced costs to the employer
- Improved employee health and community wellbeing.
Work-related stress is a management issue
It is important for employers to recognise work-related stress as a significant health and safety issue. A company can and should take steps to ensure that employees are not subjected to unnecessary stress, including:
- Ensure a safe working environment.
- Make sure that everyone is properly trained for their job.
- De-stigmatise work-related stress by openly recognising it as a genuine problem.
- Discuss issues and grievances with employees, and take appropriate action when possible.
- Devise a stress management policy in consultation with the employees.
- Encourage an environment where employees have more say over their duties, promotional prospects and safety.
- Organise to have a human resources manager.
- Cut down on the need for overtime by reorganising duties or employing extra staff.
- Take into account the personal lives of employees and recognise that the demands of home will sometimes clash with the demands of work.
- Seek advice from health professionals, if necessary.