Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of unease, apprehension, fear, or worry that accompanies an unfamiliar or potentially dangerous situation, such as giving a speech in front of a crowd or discussing your performance review with your supervisor. Sometimes, a person’s anxiety becomes so severe that it becomes debilitating. According to a survey by the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), 72% of people who are stressed and anxious every day say that their condition interferes with their lives at least moderately. The same survey found that stress and anxiety impact workplace performance the most.
The effects of anxiety in the workplace
Anxiety is a handicap that can prevent employees from achieving peak productivity. When left unchecked, it could result in:
- Absenteeism – The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that depression and anxiety in the workplace cost the global economy about one trillion U.S. dollars in lost productivity annually. Beyond causing an organization to lose money, absenteeism also disrupts processes. For instance, an employee who is always absent is prone to missing deadlines, leaving their team or managers to cover up for them, which in turn increases tension among colleagues.
- Violence – Anxiety can drive an employee to exhibit violent behavior; they may yell at their co-workers, physically hurt them, or break company equipment. In remote work environments, violent behavior could take the form of shouting at a colleague during a virtual meeting or hanging up the phone while the meeting is still ongoing.
- Physical stress – Employees dealing with anxiety can often feel weakness or fatigue, stomach pain, nausea, increased heart rate, headaches, or muscle tension. They may also have trouble sleeping. All these make an employee unequipped to work at optimal levels, resulting in low productivity.
How to manage anxiety at work
There is no single way to combat anxiety, but if you or someone you know is suffering from it, doing the following can help:
- Practice time management – Make to-do lists to create a structure in your day; having control over your tasks can help ease the mind. Also, prioritize tasks that are urgent and important, and don’t put too much on your plate. Be realistic with what you can accomplish to increase the chances of reaching your goals. Achievements, even small ones, trigger the release of dopamine or the feel-good hormone.
- Understand your anxiety – Anxiety can be triggered by many things, such as an enormous responsibility (e.g. looming deadlines) or a sudden and uncertain event (e.g. having a new boss). While it’s not always possible to avoid the situations or events that trigger anxiety, knowing the root of your discomfort or fear will allow you to understand why you’re behaving a certain way. This self-awareness, in turn, can help you face your fears.
- Confide in a friend – You don’t have to face anxiety alone. Reach out to a trusted colleague and tell them about your condition. Knowing someone is there for you can make you feel infinitely better. A friend who understands your condition can also help you ground yourself when you get panic attacks at work.
- Lead a healthy lifestyle – Exercise regularly. Eat healthy food. Get enough sleep. Doing these will keep your mind nourished and your body fit, enabling you to be in the best shape to handle challenging situations.
- Take a break – When work becomes overwhelming, stop and breathe. Take advantage of paid leaves to rest, focus on a hobby, or pamper yourself. Spending several days away from work can rejuvenate you and clear your mind.
- Seek professional help – Mental health experts can help you break unhealthy thought patterns. They can also give you strategies on how you can better deal with your anxiety triggers.
Businesses can also help employees manage their anxiety by implementing policies and programs that promote mental health. According to WHO, every dollar invested in treatment for common mental disorders gives a $4 return in improved health and productivity. Some steps businesses can take include:
- implementing health and safety policies that can help identify distress signals;
- involving employees in creating organizational programs that promote work-life balance;
- providing resources and free counseling to employees who suffer from mental health conditions;
- giving adequate employee benefits such as paid leaves or mental health days off; and
- recognizing and rewarding employee contribution.
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