Imagine feeling overwhelmed at your desk: hands shaking, heart pounding, adrenaline racing through your veins. You feel dazed. Your anxiety spikes, but you can’t leave because you have a job to do. Which do you prioritize: your mental health or the bills that are due soon?
In recent decades, anxiety has been a growing problem in the United States specifically in the workplace. Research has found that 40% of Americans reported feeling anxious during their workday, and 72% of Americans experience constant anxiety that interferes with their productivity, as well as their personal lives. It’s important to note that a certain level of anxiety in the workplace can promote efficiency. For example, the excitement to present a new project or the drive to reach specific goals can be positive forms of stress. However, anxiety becomes a problem when the excitement factor is not there because this triggers the fight or flight instinct that tells our bodies to flee from danger or to stay and challenge the obstacle at hand. This response becomes problematic when we are not able to regulate it; when we are not able to determine the appropriate level of anxiety, positive or negative, we are conflicted on whether to fight or flight. The negative effects of workplace anxiety can inhibit one from performing at their true capacity, therefore limiting an individual from their true potential.
Someone suffering from workplace anxiety is constantly looking for a threat to appear (Highlights: Workplace Stress & Anxiety Disorders Survey, n.d.). In return, they are constantly distracted and cannot focus directly on the tasks at hand. The anxiety can stem from negative experiences at the workplace, poor management, or simply because an individual can be their own biggest critic. So, why do these individuals continue to suffer in silence most of the time? As if the work-induced anxiety was not already enough to deal with, there is also the fear of appearing weak in front of others. Due to pride, individuals with workplace anxiety will not admit to struggling with the tasks at hand. This is especially true when promotions are involved; they have a need to feel indestructible and able to handle any obstacle that comes their way because promotions inevitably come with more responsibility and stress.
Along with almost everything else in life, women and men have different ways of coping with workplace anxiety and stress. Women are more likely than men to eat more (46 percent vs. 27 percent) and speak with family and friends (44 percent vs. 21 percent) about the difficulties that they are having. Men are more likely to cope with their workplace anxiety and stress by having more sexual intercourse (19 percent vs. 10 percent) and using illicit drugs (12 percent vs. 2 percent). Other ways to cope with work-related anxiety that both men and women partake in include increasing their daily dose of caffeine, over-the-counter medication, smoking, drinking, and exercising.
Both employers and employees should encourage people to feel safe when discussing their stressors, in order to reduce work-related anxiety. There are a multitude of ways to significantly reduce this situational anxiety. One action authoritative figures can take is to establish a safe space and clearcut policies to ensure privacy and security for employees. The feeling of a safe environment will decrease workplace anxiety for employees, as they will be able to communicate effectively about their stress while also reaching their job performance goals. Every individual should have support from their coworkers, helping them against workplace anxiety. They deserve to know their work efforts are appreciated. They deserve to know they are valued in their workplace.
Cheng, B. H., & McCarthy, J. M. (2018). Understanding the dark and bright sides of anxiety: A
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Highlights: Workplace Stress & Anxiety Disorders Survey. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Pyc, L. S., Meltzer, D. P., & Liu, C. (2017). Ineffective leadership and employees’ negative
outcomes: The mediating effect of anxiety and depression. International Journal of Stress