Experiencing Anxiety in the Workplace

A reader of this blog recently asked me if I would feel comfortable writing about working while experiencing Anxiety. As Anxiety in this setting can be one of the most challenging situations, I can’t say I feel comfortable writing about it. However, it is a topic I am willing to write a post (or posts) about, as doing so is in line with what this blog is all about. First, I don’t want those experiencing Anxiety at work feeling they are alone in the struggle of facing this illness while also doing their best to be a great employee. Second, I want people who don’t suffer from Anxiety to know at least one perspective about what such an experience is like. And, third, there is still a stigma and discrimination directed at people with mental illnesses. This blog is one of the ways I can work to challenge such backward thinking.

I feel it’s worth noting, most of us spend about a third of our adult life at work. If you struggle with Anxiety, it’s likely going to invade your work life now and then. Also, our job (as rewarding as it can be for some) can still expose several triggers that take us down Anxiety’s path.

For today, I want to focus on the reader’s question. This post is more about the internal/personal aspects of experiencing Anxiety at work. At a later date, I may write a post about why I’ve decided to be open at work about struggling with Anxiety and Depression. Also, another idea or two is swimming around in my noggin. But they’re not developed enough even to mention here yet.  

Enough context.  

Let me share a bit about my experience with Anxiety at work. First, for me, when I am anxious (at the office or otherwise), my senses become exaggerated, and my body is in pain. Every noise in the office sounds like a loud “CLANG!” My neck, throat, and head feel taut and constricted at the same time. If I’m experiencing a panic attack, all my nerve endings feel as if they are frayed and burning. Also, my thought process and mood are not at optimal places to churn out great work. These conditions make working on big projects challenging. Along with this, I am afraid others can tell I am not in tip-top shape, and I feel they are judging me. (This is likely not true; it’s just my Anxiety taking me down the rabbit hole of fear.) 

When I have reached high Anxiety levels at work, I think I have four choices (sometimes a combination of them). First, I can go someplace where I can be alone and sit calmly while Anxiety has Its way with me for a short time — don’t fight Anxiety; It loves a fight. Second, I can break whatever project I am working on down into small and doable tasks that, once accomplished, will make me feel better while also distracting my mind. Third, if I have someone who knows about my Anxiety and is willing to help me through the situation, I may see if they are available just to talk. (I find that positive human connection is an excellent Anxiety-fighter.) Fourth, I can decide that I am too Anxiety-ridden to continue working. I’ve often worked at places with liberal sick time off policies, so I have the privilege of “calling it a day.”

I’ll admit it; I experience Anxiety at work now even though I love my job. And I must also acknowledge that I don’t follow my own advice enough of the time. For instance, I haven’t sought out that person who could talk with me as I am trying to work my way through Anxiety or a panic attack. And, even though I’ve used sick time at previous workplaces to “call it a day,” when the Anxiety was too much, I haven’t yet done so at my current place of employment. I could if I wanted to, but I often justify staying at the office by thinking that my work is too urgent. (Yeah, I know, attaching urgency to work is not a productive way to work through Anxiety.)

Thankfully on one approach, I excel. I am a master at breaking a project down into small, doable tasks. For instance, just yesterday, I was feeling Anxiety coming on. I couldn’t focus my mind on how to move a full project forward. So I did a little brainstorming. I came up with several easy tasks I knew I could do. I chose one — just one — and completed it. And then I completed the next task. By then my Anxiety had left, but I still took on another easy aspect of the project. By the end of the day, I had made considerable progress. And my Anxiety was with me for only a short amount of time.

To conclude, I need to provide a disclaimer. I am just one person experiencing Anxiety at work in my unique ways. My example and advice are merely illustrative. My approaches to making it through Anxiety at work may not work for you. Or, you may not have the privilege of a liberal sick time policy, so “calling it a day” is not possible. I am simply trying to point out that there are often positive approaches you can take to address Anxiety at work.

That said, if Anxiety is really getting in the way of you doing your job, a visit with your therapist is likely the best thing you can do. If you even think you could use the help of your therapist, you probably could.