Everyone feels anxiety at times. You might think about the upcoming stressful week with many deadlines and feel slightly overwhelmed. What about coworkers who regularly suffer from anxiety? At worst anxiety at workplace can make employees less productive, cause them to turn down new opportunities in fear of the challenge, and finally, make them unhappy. Read through our tips on how to tackle anxiety at work.
Workplaces are often a high pressure environment where we are constantly pushed to react quickly, to succeed, to develop ourselves, to evolve and to adapt. Whilst trying to be the best version of ourselves is stressful, it’s a good reminder to everyone that feeling anxiety is a human trait.
Anxiety is a response to a threat we detect in our surroundings, and it causes a fight or flight reaction. It can be helpful to understand the mechanisms that you use to deal with the moments you feel anxiety. Your reaction to anxiety can cause a domino effect, and transform a simple task to a challenging, overwhelming monster.
How Does Anxiety Affect Work Environments?
Some people might experience different degrees of anxiety or nervousness during meetings or presentations. Nervousness is a transitory reaction to a stimulus, such as having to give a speech. However an anxious person is in a constant state of worry. In worst cases, this can be diagnosed as SAD (Social Anxiety Disorder), or social phobia. An intense anxiety occurs usually due to fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected.
As a result, people suffering of SAD might try to avoid new situations and to remain in their comfort zone. Risk and hazardous situations are unknown, and potentially cause further anxiety. Having to take part in discussions, expressing opinions publicly or even socialising with coworkers can make people anxious. At worst this can bring everyone’s mood down, jeopardise results, and slow down the productivity of workplace.
Research encourages another way of thinking: what if anxiety could be turned from a threat into a challenge? Coworkers’ performance can be improved by helping them to acknowledge their anxiety, rather than suppressing it.
12 Tips to Help an Anxious Coworker Overcome Their Fears
- Firstly, it’s good to understand where anxiety comes from. Does it occur always in similar situations? If your coworker can pinpoint what makes them uncomfortable, understanding anxiety and dealing with it in the future will be a bit easier.
- If you know what causes them anxiety, ask them, what could go wrong? What is the worst they can imagine happening — and how realistic is that actually? Will this still matter in a year? Most likely not.
- Anxiety often occurs when we feel we are too stretched out and we start to worry about our performance. Even the smallest task can feel huge. Hands start to sweat, blood pressure shoots up… Easy way to make sure you don’t run out of time, is time management. Help your coworker to list down everything they need to do and in what timeline. This helps them to keep track of their progress and to prepare in advance. They should always ask for help if they can tell they won’t be able to do everything.
- Don’t forget empathy. We are all familiar with a certain degree of anxiety, either at work or in our personal sphere. Dig into your experiences and show you understand. ‘I know what you are going through: I was so nervous/anxious when…’
- However, if you really don’t understand, don’t try to push your knowledge and experience either. Sometimes just being present and available can make your coworker feel better.
- You could propose: ‘Let’s take a walk together, it will get your mind off things for a while.’ What is exercise not good for? Encourage exercising as a way to get out negativity and stress.
- Sometimes an anxious person might just need a chance to talk about the issue profoundly stressing them. Be that listening ear. Let them know they can talk to you and you are there for them. Some people process things while talking about them, so rather than keeping them bottled up inside, they can maybe start seeing how to deal with them.
- Ask if carrying a personal object could actually help in feeling more relaxed. Where children want to have their blanket with them at all times, adults might get some comfort from carrying a lucky charm, something that psychologically relieves their stress.
- If the situation is really bad, offer alternatives your coworker might feel more comfortable with. Sitting instead of standing can help.
- Anxiety eases when you slowly challenge yourself, and succeed. It is by conquering one small challenge at the time, that the ‘Oh, it was not so bad at all’ feeling can surprise and encourage them.
- Make it clear that no matter what happens during a meeting, nobody is going to die, the sun will rise again and soon that meeting will have been just one in many.
- Make sure you help your coworker in a way that they feel comfortable with. The fundamental question to ask from an anxious person is: What do you want me to do? Don’t walk away until you get an actual answer and act on it!