Understanding Work Anxiety (And What to Do About It)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published September 5, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Anxiety is a feeling of unease and discomfort that can affect your mood, decision making, and performance at work. Workplace anxiety refers to negative feelings that may arise during work or in response to your work environment. Learning about workplace anxiety can help you recognize when these feelings arise and acquire helpful tools to overcome them. In this article, we define work anxiety, discuss potential causes, and explain what to do if your workplace is anxiety-inducing.

What is work anxiety?

Work anxiety refers to a combination of negative feelings that can arise while performing your duties and impact your mood and performance. Anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways, from a feeling of discomfort to an elevated heart rate and rapid breathing. It can arise naturally as the result of anticipating a future challenge, such as an upcoming project. Everyone experiences anxiety differently, and it can affect people in unique ways.

Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life, and dealing with anxiety is a key component of facing fears and overcoming challenges. But when feelings of anxiety become too strong, they can affect your long-term health and mental state. Many careers involve performing under pressure, taking responsibility for others, and achieving results. Learning how to handle your responsibilities at work can help you manage your stress levels and maintain your mental health.

Related: 11 Ways You Can Overcome Performance Anxiety at Work

Causes of work anxiety

Here are some potential causes of workplace anxiety:

Personal triggers

Sometimes workplace anxiety can come from associations. If you have experiences in your past that cause anxiety, the reappearance of similar circumstances that remind you of that period can cause stress. In this case, your workplace may not cause challenges directly, but may still lead to the same results. For example, if you had an encounter with a dog that made you nervous of them as a child, and another employee regularly brings a support animal to work, it may cause you anxiety.

Excessive responsibilities

If your workplace gives you a heavy workload, imminent deadlines, and excessive responsibilities, it might cause anxious feelings. Every manager strives to find a balance between challenging their team and creating a supportive environment. Taking responsibility for a team and working under pressure can lead to success, but if the pressure becomes too much, it may decrease productivity. If you feel like your responsibilities don't suit your time constraints or abilities, it might affect your mood and cause you to feel less positive about your work.

Potential danger

Safe working conditions are essential to mitigating safety-related anxiety at work. For example, if your team isn't following proper safety precautions or your work situation changes suddenly, you may feel some anxiety concerning your safety. Those who work in dangerous environments often have extensive safety training and understand how to mitigate potential risks. If you're required to perform tasks you aren't comfortable with, or if you feel unsafe in your work, anxiety can often arise. Speaking to your manager or employer about ways to avoid hazards and make the workplace safer can benefit everyone on the team.

Managers and colleagues

Managers and colleagues can cause anxiety if they treat you less well than others or become demanding. Personal workplace relationships often significantly affect how you feel at work. If you have positive relationships with your colleagues, they can help you manage your anxiety and lower your stress. Alternatively, if your colleagues make you feel unwelcome or excluded, they might cause you to feel anxious. Managers often have the power to assign tasks and distribute work, so feeling that they value your work and understand your capacity can improve your mental health and avoid anxiety.

Poor career fit

If you don't feel confident that your job matches your interest and career goals, it may cause you to feel uncertain about the future. As you develop in your career, you might find that your current position doesn't align with your values or goals. You are likely to feel more confident in your career progression when you feel confident in your abilities and enjoy your workplace.

Related: 10 Ways to Handle Anxiety about a New Job (With Tips)

What to do if your workplace causes anxiety

If you find that your work causes you anxiety, there are several steps you can take to make things better. Here are steps to follow for dealing with anxiety from work:

Develop self-awareness

If you notice anxious feelings arising in the course of your work, it can help to take time to assess yourself and consider the source. Self-awareness involves understanding your moods and triggers and evaluating potential causes of anxiety. Remember that some anxiety in the course of your work is natural and that challenging days or weeks can occasionally occur in a positive work environment. Try to consider your feelings over a longer period of time so you can gain a clear understanding of the situation. Try to be mindful of when you're experiencing anxiety and what might be causing it.

Related: How to Improve Self-Awareness (With Steps and Tips)

Record your thoughts

You can record your thoughts so you can understand your moods and identify potential issues. Developing a journaling habit can provide an outlet for your feelings. You can work to reduce anxiety by recording your thoughts and releasing them in a healthy way. Your journal can also provide a guide concerning the situations that cause anxiety to arise and can help you identify potential patterns. You can use a notebook to write down your thoughts at the end of the day or use an app on your phone or computer to make it easier to record them.

Connect with others

Contact your colleagues or friends to share your feelings and express yourself. Connecting with others can provide an outlet for your emotions and help you move past less positive feelings. Colleagues can relate to you and share their own feelings. This can help you realize that your anxiety is normal and that you aren't the only one experiencing it. Friends can help provide advice and share their own methods for reducing anxiety. Contacting people in your network can help you put your anxiety into perspective and find strength.

Take time off

Taking time off allows you to restore your mental health and regain energy. Many workplaces offer leave for employees experiencing mental health challenges. Many employers understand that time off can help team members stay productive and content in their positions. Consider your workplace's policies concerning leave, mental health days, and vacation time. Try to use your available vacation time to take a short break, and take longer leave if necessary. You can use your time off to assess your mental health, develop coping mechanisms, and determine strategies for success.

Related: Mental Health Days: Definition, Importance, and How To

Consult a professional

Consulting a mental health professional can help you determine if your anxiety levels are normal and learn strategies for dealing with your issues. Mental health professionals such as counsellors, psychologists, and psychiatrists have extensive training concerning anxiety causes and symptoms and can listen to your concerns to understand the situation. They can teach you ways to manage your anxiety, prescribe medication to help lower anxiety levels, or refer you to additional treatment programs. If your anxiety persists, a professional can provide guidance concerning next steps.

Related: What Does an Anxiety Counsellor Do? (With Skills and Salary)

Ask for accommodations

Ask your employer for accommodations to help reduce anxiety triggers and make it easier for you to do your job. Human resource (HR) departments understand that employees frequently undergo challenges and can work with you to solve your anxieties. If you get a diagnosis from a medical professional, it can make it easier for the HR department to assist you. Try to consider your workplace's policies before you reach out for assistance. If you follow appropriate procedures and document your issues, your employer can often work with you to find solutions.

Consider a change

If you find that your anxiety levels are consistently high and you can't find a solution, consider making a career change. This might mean moving to a different company in a similar role or finding a new career to pursue. Consider the causes of your anxiety at work.

You might find satisfaction in changing companies if it stems from challenging colleagues. If your anxiety stems from the nature of your work, you might consider pursuing training for a new position. If all other methods for reducing anxiety at work aren't effective enough, a career change might be a good option to restore your mental health.

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