While anxiety disorders are America's most common mental health issue, they don't affect us equally. Women are twice as likely as men to develop an anxiety disorder. This holds true for women professionals and their male coworkers. Why do women feel more job pressure than men? How can women living with work anxiety stay productive?
While studies show biological factors like hormone fluctuations and pregnancy can affect women's mental health, anxiety triggers are just as often external as they are internal.
Greater responsibilities at home frequently lead women to struggle more with work-life balance. Likewise, being socialized to say "yes" and smile through the pain can pressure us to take on unrealistic workloads. Even our fear of confirming stereotypes by underperforming compared to male colleagues can set off work anxiety symptoms and sabotage our chances of success.
5 Ways Anxiety Destroys Your Productivity at Work
1. You can’t focus.
Since our nervous systems are on overdrive, those with work anxiety are often easily startled by ordinary office distractions and find concentrating difficult. Meanwhile, racing thoughts, compulsive worrying and obsessive thought patterns steal our focus and bring work to a standstill.
2. You become restless.
Panic attacks at work tend to make us feel trapped. As our fight-or-flight responses tell us to flee from immediate danger, it can be tough to keep sitting at our desks or calmly presenting at a meeting when we’re anxious.
3. You lack motivation.
Overwhelming feelings of fear or dread can lead us to delay finishing projects. Anxiety becomes a self-feeding cycle: we're afraid of failure, so we procrastinate on finishing new projects. Then, we miss deadlines and perform poorly.
4. You struggle with insomnia.
The same worries that plague us during the day also tend to keep us up at night. Without enough sleep, people with anxiety often come to the office tired, irritable and on-edge.
5. You miss work.
Along with its mental and emotional effects, high-functioning anxiety comes with physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, body aches and digestive problems. Taking more sick days naturally makes it hard to gain momentum on important projects.
6 Ways To Work Through Anxiety and Boost Work Productivity
Ultimately, living with work anxiety means figuring out what makes your job easier. You might need to try a few techniques to land on the combination that works for you. Still, the following methods can help you learn to accept yourself, gain confidence in your abilities and enjoy a more productive workday.
1. Track what triggers you.
The first step to dealing with anxiety is figuring out what tends to set off your symptoms. Try recording anxious moments in a journal to log what was happening around you or what you thought as you experienced a panic attack. This way, you can look for patterns, identify possible triggers and try to minimize, avoid or prepare for those situations in the future.
2. Develop coping routines.
One of the scariest things about a panic attack is the sense of helplessness. Developing a set response to anxious moments at work can make you feel more in control and minimize your symptoms. A quick walk around the building or restroom break might shake off some restlessness, while meditation or soothing music can help you calm down.
3. Optimize your workspace.
A desk bursting with papers and sticky notes can reflect and feed feelings of being out of control. To help yourself feel confident in your abilities and more on top of projects, try clearing off your desk. Maintaining a neat office and organizing your materials takes the stress out of finding what you need and even leaves room for pretty decor that inspires your creativity.
4. Break big tasks into smaller ones.
When a work project feels overwhelming and you want to procrastinate, split one objective into several micro-tasks to keep the productivity ball rolling. Create a short, doable list of steps you can take today to start a project, then enjoy the feeling of momentum as you tick them off one by one.
5. Be good to yourself.
Trying to muscle through an anxiety attack often makes symptoms worse. When your body says you need a break, give yourself a moment to breathe. Then, take a mental walk back through your week. Have you taken on too much lately? Are you giving your body and mind the support they need with healthy food, plenty of water, enough sleep and downtime outside of work?
6. Be part of the change.
Whether you live with anxiety or know women who do, a work culture that stigmatizes mental health challenges can only change if we decide to support each other. Employers who are vulnerable enough to speak out about workplace stress and anxiety in their own lives make it okay for employees to share their struggles and needs.
How to support others with work anxiety.
A 2019 Harvard Business Review report found the most desired job resources for mental health are the simplest: a more open and accepting culture, clearer directions about where to find help and targeted training. Supporting women in fulfilling careers begins with acknowledging our human needs. By providing or asking for practical solutions, we can create a healthier workplace for all.