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Anxiety and the Workplace

Posted on October 19, 2019

For years, stress and stress management have been mainstream topics of conversation in regards to our work life. Increasingly, especially in America, we have become more stressed at work, which results in a negative impact on our mental health, as well as our overall wellbeing. What started as stress turned into chronic stress, and what sustained as chronic stress has now become anxiety at the workplace for many people, across multiple generations. 

Anxiety is a diagnosable, clinical mental health disorder. However, anxiety is also a response that has been programmed into our minds and bodies over thousands of years. The challenges we needed the function of anxiety for in the past, like running from large predatory animals, are not the challenges we face today, like long work hours and climbing corporate ladders of success. Still, if we have developed anxiety in our lives, it can follow us to work, creating a new host of challenges as we try to survive the workday. 

Who Struggles With Anxiety At Work?

From powerful executives handling multimillion-dollar companies, to taxi drivers, no one is immune from experiencing anxiety in the workplace. For first responders such as firemen and police officers, the effects of anxiety and stress can have a major impact on their lives – and the lives of those they work daily to help. As is the case with any mental health disorder, anxiety, who it affects, and the way it operates in someone’s life cannot be overly generalized. There are, on the other hand, general symptoms of anxiety and clear research which defines those most likely to struggle with workplace anxiety. 

“The Most Anxious Generation”

Highlighting a landmark study, Wall Street Journal called the post-Millenial generation, Generation Z, “the most anxious generation. These young, currently 20-somethings who are entering the workforce are struggling more with their mental health than previous generations, but are also more inclined to open up to their employers about the challenges they face. Citing a survey of 3,458 adults 18 and over conducted by the American Psychological Association, the article explains that, “Some 54% of workers under 23 said they felt anxious or nervous due to stress in the preceding month… Close behind are millennials, with 40% reporting anxiety – surpassing the national average of 34%.”

Effects Of Anxiety At Work

People with workplace anxiety often struggle in silence. The “work hard and keep your head down” mentality, while beneficial in many respects, leads people to suppress mental health concerns. Unfortunately, staying silent about struggles with anxiety can lead to issues. Harvard Business Review took a more intimate, inside look at the experience and effect of anxiety at work in “What Anxiety Does To Us At Work.”

Struggling with anxiety at work is less about stress management than it is about managing the underlying thoughts of worthlessness, insecurity, and fear which comes with anxiety. A common symptom of anxiety is a persistent fear of being found out, judged, or criticized for being anxious and the effects of being anxious. Living in fear of what others think about you or may find out about you causes an ongoing level of reactivity caused by skewed perception. Anxiety in the workplace can manifest as:

        • Overthinking, overanalyzing, or catastrophizing simple situations 
        • Taking skewed ideas of how others view you personally, professionally, or performance-wise to a debilitating level
        • Skewed ideas which affect the ability to communicate effectively or complete work tasks
        • High reactivity or defensiveness to feedback, critical or constructive
        • Difficulty receiving praise
        • Avoiding challenging situations which have caused any feelings of anxiety
        • Feeling shame about avoiding challenging situations
        • Unclear communication, purposely avoiding communicating about topics which cause anxiety

How to Manage Anxiety At Work: Employees

There are a number of evidence-based and research-proven ways to navigate the symptoms of anxiety, in all areas of life, including work. One of the top proven ways to help reduce the intensity of anxiety symptoms is mindfulness. Daily mindfulness meditation, in addition to regular mindfulness practices throughout the day, can significantly reduce the stress caused by anxiety. Mindfulness throughout the day can take a few different forms, each of which has different benefits. Taking focus breaks during which you get up from your workstation, walk around, drink some water, and step outside help mind, body, and spirit. Spending a few minutes outside in some fresh air and sunshine bright sunshine can recalibrate an entire day. 

The more you practice mindfulness and being in the present moment, the greater the foundation of tranquility you build for yourself. Operating from a headquarter of peace rather than reactivity, you can embrace facets of your anxiety more readily rather than operate from a place of shame. 

Challenges In Opening The Conversation About Anxiety  At Work

Shame and stigma surrounding mental illness of any kind prevent millions of people from speaking up, speaking out, and getting the support that they need. Talking about anxiety at work is especially challenging when an employee is aware of expectations regarding performance and productivity. Though the American with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from firing an employee based on mental health issues, the fear of being fired or demoted can be intimidating. 

Forbes explains that, generally, conversations about anxiety between an employee and their employer go well… to begin with. An employer naturally expresses concern about steps being taken in order to help manage and control anxiety as much as possible. However, initial conversations about awareness and action are typically the last conversations about anxiety. “Once these questions are asked, the discussion generally ends,” Forbes explains. “Unless the anxiety or panic attacks become debilitating, or cause the employee to miss work, the manager typically does not talk to the employee about these issues again. Why? The answer is simple: Most people who suffer from panic and anxiety put their game faces on and continue coming to work.” 

Millions of people work with anxiety – from high powered CEOs and executives to those new to the workplace. Without therapeutic intervention or treatment, these concerns can spiral into addictive behaviors and substance use disorders. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety in the workplace, reach out for help now.


Origins Behavioral Healthcare is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 561-841-1296