Some coworkers experience different degrees of anxiety or nervousness during meetings or presentations. Where nervousness is a transitory reaction to a stimulus, such as having to give a speech, an anxious person’s behaviour is a constant state of worry and fear that can, in worst cases, be diagnosed as SAD (Social Anxiety Disorder), or social phobia, where an intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected occurs. As a result, people suffering of SAD try to avoid social or performance situations, which could cause them significant anxiety and stress.
How does anxiety affect work environments?
An anxious person can bring everyone’s mood down, can jeopardise results, can slow down the natural course of events. Why? Because anxiety tends to constraint people suffering from it to stay in their comfort zone, to not risk anything by avoiding any hazardous situations, such as actively participating to a discussion, expressing an opinion, even inviting a colleague for lunch. Some recent research though, (a study in the Journal of Individual Differences in 2017), encourages another line of thinking: what if anxiety could be turned from a threat into a challenge? Helping coworkers to acknowledge their anxiety rather than suppressing it, improved their performance.
What can you do? 8 tips to help an anxious coworker overcome his/her fears
- The first thing is 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, say something like: ‘I know what you are going through: I was so nervous/anxious when…’
- Say: ‘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 to open up and talk about the issue profoundly stressing him or her. Be that listening ear. Say something like: ‘Talk to me, I am here’. 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.
- Anxious people tend to make mountains out of molehills. Even the smallest task can feel huge. Hands start to sweat, blood pressure shoots up… Help your colleague to break down the task into a series of smaller steps he or she can feel more comfortable in taking.
- Ask if carrying a personal object could actually help in feeling more relaxed. Where children want to have their security 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 he or she might feel more comfortable with, such as sitting instead of standing, but remember that the goal for an anxious person should be to challenge him or herself, so they should not be constantly relying on taking the easier way out. 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 that meeting, nobody is going to die, the sun will rise again and soon that meeting will just have been one of the so many. Anxious people do not see anything beyond that particular event. Help him or her understand he or she will still go home in the evening and everything will be fine.
- The fundamental question to ask an anxious person is: What do you want me to do? This is a clear, to the point question, that requires an answer. Don’t walk away until you get an actual answer and act on it!