7 Ways to Cope with Workplace Anxiety

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Leslie W. Price10
Theatre director, writer, and arts educator.
April 13, 2024 at 6:31AM UTC

Anxiety is a normal part of everyday life. For many people, it acts as a motivator to keep up with to-do lists at home and at work. For 18.1% of the population, however, anxiety manifests itself as worrisome and sometimes crippling fear about life and about their jobs, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). The good news is that anxiety disorders are very treatable. The bad news is that fewer than 40% of people with anxiety seek treatment. Read on for some strategies to overcome anxiety at work and tackle your day feeling capable and confident.

Can anxiety affect your work? 

In a word, yes. The ADAA reports that 56% of people surveyed say that anxiety impacts their workplace performance, 51% say it affects their relationships with coworkers, 50% feel that the quality of their work is affected and 43% say it impacts relationships with superiors. 

Even if you’re able to avoid those issues, anxiety at work can simply make your day unpleasant. Feeling stressed out and worried for such a big chunk of your life is no fun, it’s not healthy and you aren’t alone. It’s possible that your anxiety is due to your brain chemistry. Some of us are sort of hardwired to experience life with more anxiety. However, other situations may be adding to your stress. 

Causes of workplace anxiety

  • Perfectionism
  • A challenging boss
  • Workplace bullies
  • Being overworked
  • Being underpaid
  • A schedule that is incompatible with the rest of your life
  • Having more than one job
  • A demanding job
  • An unfulfilling career
  • Deadlines
  • Trying to juggle too many tasks at once
  • Not having the tools you need to do your job well
  • Uncollaborative coworkers
  • Unexpected challenges
  • Open office space that causes distractions
  • Not taking enough breaks
  • Feeling pressured to work when you’re sick
  • Worrying about your responsibilities at home
  • Comparing yourself to others
  • Not feeling heard 
  • Not feeling valued
  • Other people taking credit for your work and ideas
  • Lack of career growth opportunities
  • A long or unpleasant commute
  • Trying to please everyone all the time
  • A physically demanding job that’s uncomfortable for your body 
  • Dangerous working conditions
  • An unresponsive HR department (or a lack of an HR department)
  • Not having enough lead time to accomplish tasks well
  • Procrastinating
  • A desk set up that isn’t ergonomically friendly
  • Feeling isolated and alone
  • A supervisor who isn’t understanding or compassionate
  • Working when you have chronic health issues
  • Worrying about every decision you make
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Not asking questions
  • Not being offered additional training or support when needed

7 ways to deal with anxiety at work

1. Go to therapy.

It’s easier said than done, but seeking professional help is generally the way to go if you’re able. A therapist can help you pinpoint exactly what is causing your anxiety, figure out what kind of anxiety you’re specifically experiencing and assist you with coping strategies. If you’re reluctant to go to a therapist, consider bringing up your challenges with workplace anxiety at your next physical or even reach out to an online therapist. Your mental health is important, not only at work but throughout the rest of your day, and it’s simply not worth it to suffer when you don’t have to. 

2. Advocate for yourself.

Is there something in particular about your workplace that’s causing your stress? If you can figure out a change that would benefit your workflow and productivity, talk to your boss and coworkers to see if that change is possible. Maybe you’d do better at a standing desk. It’s possible that a walking meeting would help you with your creativity. Ask to work on the projects you’re most excited about. Think through the source of your anxiety and what you can do about it, and take charge of your well-being at work.

3. Step away from your desk.

Even the best job can cause anxiety, but that might not mean you have a true anxiety disorder. If you’re feeling stressed because of a deadline or important presentation, try to take a moment for yourself. Breathe. Take a quick walk, get some fresh air, and have a little stretch. Taking a pause can be especially helpful when you're feeling a little bit stuck, and allowing yourself to reset and regroup can allow you to get back in there and do your best. 

4. Make sure you’re fed and hydrated.

Getting "hangry" is a real issue, and waiting too long between meals and water breaks can impact your workday. While eating and drinking by themselves can’t remedy anxiety disorders, making sure you’re not hungry or thirsty really does make a difference in your overall well-being. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that even mild dehydration can impact mood in otherwise healthy young women. Take the time to have lunch. Your body — and your coworkers — will thank you! 

5. Try a mindfulness app.

If you listen to podcasts or read health magazines, you’ve probably heard about mindfulness apps. They can lead you through meditations, help you track your thoughts and moods and even offer health and depression screenings. These are not meant to replace actual therapists or even more formal meditative practices, but they do offer quick and easy ways to check in with yourself and adjust your way of thinking during the workday. Many of them are free, and lots of folks are finding that mindfulness apps are quite helpful. Give it a try, and see if one of these tools can help you.

6. Create a new ritual.

Making sure you start and end your workday with something pleasant can both ease you into and out of work. Listen to a favorite podcast on your drive, read a fantastic page-turner on the subway, try to find the most scenic walk to and from the office — these rituals can be calming and help ease your mind. They might not eliminate your anxiety, but giving yourself these small moments can help improve your outlook and leave you feeling more satisfied with your day.

7. Change jobs.

Changing jobs is perhaps the most challenging way to deal with workplace anxiety, but a toxic workplace isn’t going to improve no matter how much therapy you seek. If your job is impacting the rest of your life and pushing you to the point that anxiety is ruling the roost, start looking for something else if you can. You should still consider getting that therapy, though. Living through a traumatic job situation can have long-lasting effects even after you get away from the original trigger for your anxiety.

Workplace anxiety is manageable with some personal strategies and a bit of professional help. The ideas listed here are just the tip of the iceberg, and a therapist can help you personalize your anxiety management to get the best results possible. There are behavioral techniques, interpersonal approaches, and even medications you might want to consider. However, no job is worth long-term impacts on your mental health. Listen to your mind, body and heart, and make sure the payoffs are worth the work you’re putting into your workday. In the long run, feeling great at your job will be the best way to have the career you want.

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Leslie W. Price is a theatre artist, educator, and writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find her on LinkedIn or visit her portfolio.

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