What to do if you have anxiety about your work

If you’re living with anxiety, it doesn’t make you any less worthy of experiencing the benefits of work.

Having anxious feelings about work from time to time is common, but if anxious feelings don’t go away, come up out of the blue or make it hard to cope, it could be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Living with anxiety can have a huge impact on your day to day life. In the workplace it can make it hard to concentrate, cope with pressures or perform to the best of your ability. 

Social anxiety can make you avoid social situations and feel isolated from your coworkers. 

Panic attacks and the fear of having a panic attack can make it hard to get through the day, let alone get your work done.

The good news is, there are many tried and true ways to manage anxiety when you have the right support. 

Anxiety disorders should be managed alongside help from a professional, but there are also many things you can do yourself. Focusing on the small things you have control over is a great first step.

Here are some tips you can get started with today:

Learn about your anxiety

In order to look after yourself well, it’s important to understand what anxiety is and the specific things that trigger your anxiety. Learning about your own journey with anxiety alongside a professional can help you find solutions and coping strategies that are a good fit for you.

Look after your health

The things you eat, the quality of sleep you get and the amount of physical activity in your lifestyle can all have an impact on your mental health. Try developing healthy habits one at a time with easy, achievable goals rather than making large changes all at once. 

Try mindfulness exercises

A lot of anxiety comes from worrying about the future or ruminating on the past. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing deeply on what is happening in the present. 

For example, you could eat a meal mindfully by observing every taste, texture and smell. Other great mindfulness exercises include focusing on your breath for 2 minutes or closing your eyes and listening to music. 

In fact, whatever task you’re working on, you can bring mindfulness principles to it and try to focus on exactly what you are doing rather than letting your mind fixate on anxious thoughts.

Get organised

Scrambling to get things done last minute or feeling overloaded with work tasks can be a great source of anxiety. Using organisation apps and time management strategies can help you better manage your workload without the last minute panic.

Plan ahead

If you know a certain situation causes you anxiety, preparing for the situation can help you feel more in control when it comes up. 

For example, if work meetings make you anxious, ask your team leader to provide you with an agenda before the meeting so you can write down notes of points you want to share. That way in the meeting you can focus on your notes rather than your anxious thoughts.

If social situations and work functions make you feel anxious, prepare some questions earlier that you can ask your co-workers. If cold calling a client makes you nervous, write down what you want to say beforehand.

Take a break

High levels of anxiety and stress can lead to burnout and serious health consequences. In your weekly routine, make sure you set boundaries around your work and take time off to recharge. 

If you work from home, it’s particularly important to create a safe space for yourself where you can unwind and not be reminded of your work.

Taking days off for your mental health is important. If you are finding it hard to keep working, speak to a therapist about whether a longer break is needed.

Keep working

Taking a break from work might be important for your health and recovery in the short term. However, experts say that in the long term continuing to work is important for people with anxiety. 

Not only can work help alleviate anxiety about money, it can give you a sense of purpose and focus. It also helps you stay connected with other people which is crucial for mental well being.

Rethink your work

Some types of work may be worse for your anxiety than others. If you are struggling to cope in your current job or workplace, you may find another role more empowering for managing your anxiety. Find out what your options are by researching jobs for people with anxiety and speaking with an employment consultant.

Changing jobs or re-entering the workforce can be a source of anxiety in itself, but you don’t have to tackle it on your own. If you’re living with an anxiety disorder, you could be eligible for disability employment assistance to help you make the career choices that are right for you.

Build a support network

Staying connected can be challenging, especially if you’re dealing with social anxiety. But connecting meaningfully with others is crucial for your mental well being. Take steps towards building a network of people in your life that you feel safe with. 

Having a trusted colleague at work can help you feel safer and more confident in the workplace. If you don’t have someone yet, set yourself small goals to develop your workplace relationships. Ask someone to have lunch with you or invite someone to have a drink after work.

Consider telling your boss

It’s your choice whether or not to tell your employer about your anxiety. Some people decide to tell in order to be transparent with their employer about why their performance is suffering. Others decide to tell so they can ask for accommodations at work. 

Australian employers are required to provide reasonable adjustments to the workplace to help you do your job safely and properly. That could include things like working from home some days, relocating your workstation to a quieter area or providing a safe break room that you can use throughout the day.

Practice positive self talk

Pay attention to the way you talk to yourself and the stories you tell in your head. Be careful not to assume what others are thinking about you or predict that things will always end badly. Take a step back and try to focus on the facts instead. Speak to yourself gently with a positive tone, like you would encourage a friend. 

Learning to effectively manage your anxiety can take time. Don’t forget to celebrate your small wins along the way.

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