Anxiety disorders are now the most common mental disorders in the US. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 1 in every 5 Americans suffers from anxiety disorders.
Here’s the thing: Anxiety is a part of our biological make-up. It is a natural feeling of worry or fear every one of us experiences at some point in our lives. While experiencing anxiety once in a while is normal, suffering from anxiety disorders is not.
Anxiety disorders are much more than a temporary feeling of stress and worry. People with anxiety might face persistent and severe difficulty completing the most basic tasks that others pull off without batting an eyelid. These can have debilitating impacts on one’s personal life, relationships, and work.
The scenario is even more challenging for people dealing with work anxiety. If your company has employees who suffer from anxiety at work, you will notice that their mental health is interfering with their productivity and performance.
However, the good news is that there are ways to support and help these people fight back and rise above their anxiety. Before you do so, you must understand what an anxiety disorder is. More specifically, what is work anxiety?
This article tells you exactly that.
What Is an Anxiety Disorder And What Are Its Different Types?
Anxiety Disorders are a group of mental health ailments that cause excessive, overwhelming, and constant fear, worry, and anxiety. These feelings can interfere with the normal functioning of one’s life.
There are several types of anxiety disorders.
These are described in brief below:
1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD refers to excessive feelings of restlessness, irritation, anxiety, and worry, about most things like work, health, interpersonal and professional relationships, etc., for at least a period of six months.
2. Phobia related disorders
A phobia is an intense fear of an object or situation. These phobias include fear of some particular animals, fear of injections, fear of flying, social phobia, social anxiety disorder, etc. Social Anxiety Disorders and Agoraphobia fall under these disorders.
People with Social Anxiety Disorders have an intense fear of social or performance situations. They face difficulty in their work environment because of the fear of being negatively evaluated by their peers or seniors.
Agoraphobia is another type of phobia where people experience fear of being in a place that might seem hard to escape. People with agoraphobia might be left feeling anxious while standing in a crowded queue, on a flight, public transportation, etc.
3. Panic Disorder
People with panic disorder suffer from panic attacks. Panic attacks refer to sudden and unexpected moments of excessive fear that reach its peak level within minutes. These attacks are characterized by trembling, shaking, shortness of breath, sweating, heart palpitations, feelings of impending doom, etc.
4. Separation Anxiety Disorder
People with Separation Anxiety Disorder fear separation from the people they love and are attached to. They are always worried that something unfortunate might befall their loved ones while they are separated.
5. Selective Mutism
Selective mutism happens when people with anxiety are unable to speak in specific social situations. This disorder is associated with feelings of extreme shyness, temper tantrums, withdrawal, fear of embarrassment, and compulsive traits.
6. Medication-induced Anxiety Disorder
Some people might also suffer from anxiety due to using certain medications and drugs that trigger the symptoms of anxiety disorders.
What is Work Anxiety?
Apart from the different types of anxiety disorders, there is also another type of anxiety on the rise – work anxiety. Work anxiety refers to anxiety or stress caused by one’s work or job. Moreover, work anxiety is also the impact of an anxiety disorder on one’s career.
Why Should You Care?
If your company employees experience work anxiety, it will harm their productivity, quality of work, and work performance.
According to a survey by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA),
- 56% of employees found that stress and anxiety affect their workplace performance
- 51% of employees felt that fear affects their relationship with their peers
- 50% of employees felt that work anxiety harms their quality of work
- 43% of employees experienced their relationships with superiors being affected by anxiety
All of these statistics and figures directly point out that if your employees suffer from an anxiety disorder at work, your company’s overall performance suffers.
It is thus, crucial, that you, as an employer, or HR professional, care about the employees who are dealing with work anxiety, and figure out ways to support them.
Symptoms of Anxiety
In order to understand anxiety, you first need to understand its symptoms. Feelings of anxiety can manifest themselves in several ways:
- A sense of panic and uneasiness
- Dry Mouth
- Racing Heartbeats
- Shortness of breath
- A feeling of sickness
- Feeling of doom or danger
- Tense Muscles
- Inability to Concentrate
Causes of Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety disorders develop in a person over time. There can be several causes of anxiety, such as:
- Genetics, or history of mental disorders in the family
- Exposure to stressful environments and negative thoughts during childhood
- Brain chemistry that controls emotions and fears
- Stressful life events such as the death of a loved one, experiencing abuse, and neglect, etc.
- Substance abuse or withdrawal
- Different medical conditions such as thyroid problems and heart conditions
People dealing with work anxiety may be suffering from a range of causes, as mentioned earlier. Moreover, they might be struggling with anxiety because of the following work-related reasons as well:
- High and tiring workloads
- Workplace stress
- Conflicting professional relationships with colleagues
- Performance pressure
- Toxic Work Environment
- Toxic and controlling bosses
- Long working hours
- A lack of autonomy
- Meeting deadlines
- Low rewards and recognition
Dealing with Work Anxiety
Work anxiety is no longer a rarity in the fast-paced and competitive work culture. Anxious employees suffer both on the personal and professional front.
Introduce them to the guide by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) that lists the therapies available for people suffering from Anxiety Disorders. You can also recommend them to therapists available within a 5-mile radius from them, with the help of the ADAA directory.
Solutions: 7 Ways You Can Help Employees with Work Anxiety
As an employer, manager, or HR professional, you want to build a healthy and supportive work culture that understands the importance of mental health wellness.
Here are the seven ways you can help employees deal with work anxiety:
1. Be on the Lookout for Signs
The first thing you can do as a supportive boss or manager is being on the lookout for signs. Observe your employees closely and make a mental note to talk to them if you notice any change in behavior.
Try to notice if any of your employees show signs or symptoms of work anxiety. These signs might include:
- Increased sick leave
- Conflict with coworkers
- Excessive smoking/drinking
- Inability to concentrate on work
- Decreased work performance
2. Have an Open-Door Policy
An open-door policy means that you always have your doors open for your employees. Adopting this policy makes you approachable as a boss and a manager.
When your employees know that they can talk to you about their problems, a heavy load lifts off their shoulders.
Offering them an empathetic listening ear is not only an effective way to prevent workplace stress, but it also helps build a healthy work environment and culture.
3. Adopt Flexibility
One of the biggest reasons employees suffer from work anxiety is that they feel that their job and bosses are too demanding and rigid.
You can change that by only allowing some flexibility into the scene.
On days that your employees are struggling with anxiety, let them have some flexible working hours. Allow them the time and space to get back to their optimal selves before they resume work.
You can also try and make adjustments in case of rigid deadlines for projects. Once you allow them a decent time-period to meet their deadlines, you will notice improved performance.
Moreover, instead of being a boss who controls every aspect of your employees’ work-life, trust them to take charge and be autonomous in their decisions.
4. Do Not Dismiss Your Employees’ Anxiety
If you want to stand out as an aware, empathetic boss, or manager, you should acknowledge how your employees are feeling. When they come to you feeling overwhelmed and anxious, do not dismiss them as making excuses.
A survey revealed that around 38% of employees do not tell their bosses about their anxiety disorders in the fear that they will be told off as entirely unwilling to work.
You should instead listen patiently to what they have to say. Show your employees that you are invested in them, and that you trust them. Offer them help in the form of suggestions, forming support groups, and by referring them to a mental health professional.
5. Assure Them That They Won’t Be Fired
As an employer, you are bound by law to not discriminate among your employees who may have a physical or mental ailment. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) protects employees from any form of workplace discrimination and also requires employers to provide them with reasonable accommodation.
You know that, but your employees may not.
As such, it is your job to consistently reassure them that opening up about their anxiety, or panic attacks, does not put them in danger of losing their job.
Your job is to introduce a positive and healthy work environment, where both you and your employees are invested in their holistic well-being.
The more compassionate your approach is, the more faith your employees will have in you.
6. Initiate A Mental-Health Friendly Work Culture
Toxic work environments often disrupt the lives and performance of employees dealing with work anxiety.
Competition is excellent for success, but make sure that it does not turn unhealthy and take total control over your employees’ lives.
Build a mental-health friendly work culture where every member feels seen, heard, and respected. Reassure your employees that you see them as real human beings with real problems, and not just another statistic in the company labor force.
7. Form A Mental-Health Committee
A mental health committee in the workplace can be extremely helpful when you have to deal with employees living with anxiety. This committee should include members who are trained in dealing with people who suffer from mental disorders. They can also facilitate access to resources such as blogs and podcasts that deal with mental health.
This committee can organize mental health awareness sessions, and have open conversations about mental disorders otherwise considered taboo. You can encourage your employees to participate in these sessions.
Moreover, you can also form office support groups, where your employees can openly talk and share their issues, and receive support and acceptance for the same.
You can also invite a mental health professional into your office premises periodically. You can offer these services through your corporate wellness programs that allow your employees to connect to a trusted counselor or therapist onsite or offsite.
Work Anxiety in a Pandemic
In a world hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is expected that the mental health of working professionals will be in shambles. This is a specially tricky time when your employees will be clueless about how to deal with work anxiety.
Unexpected changes in routine, a poor work-life balance, uncertainty about the future, layoffs, salary cuts, and the ever-present risk to one’s health are more than enough reasons to cause work anxiety.
There is an urgent need to pay attention to the mental health of professionals now, more than ever. Make sure you are there for them.
- Communicate with your remote employees extensively
- Give them access to online resources that can help them cope on particularly bad days
- Build a sense of community and togetherness
- Reassure them that their health is your priority as well
- Create flexible deadlines and working hours
- Help them connect to a mental health professional
Related articles: Mental Health for Employees: COVID-19 edition
The Bottom Line
Sound mental health is a prerequisite to deliver to the best of one’s capacity. As such, it is time that you start taking active steps and precautions to safeguard the mental health of your employees as much as you can.
Dealing with work anxiety on their own can be challenging for your staff. Ensure that you keep yourself aware of anxiety disorders and lookout for signs of the same in your employees.
Encourage a positive and flexible work culture, where workplace anxiety and stress are non-existent or bare minimum. Ensure professional assistance at every stage as a part of your employee wellness program.
The above-discussed ways can be a great starting point for you to support employees with work anxiety.
Remember, a little sensitivity and empathy can go a long way.