Theoretically, work is the one place where you can escape from worries because you love your job, right? At least, that’s the way it should be. I’m not saying that everything always goes right––something’s bound to go wrong at some point––but, for the majority of time, you enjoy your job and look forward to each workday.
However, what if it’s the opposite? What if your heart flutters, your palms sweat, and you breathe shallowly at work? What if you can’t focus because you’re so overwhelmed or nervous? What if you have a manager you’re so afraid of that you actually make more mistakes than you would normally?
These all indicate a case of workplace anxiety.
How did I know I had it? After taking a few days off work one week and charting how I felt on the weekends––when I didn’t work at that job––I finally noticed I felt incredibly better. I felt happier, had more energy, wanted to finish my homework, and didn’t feel any mental fatigue from a tidal wave of emotions crashing around in my brain.
I also noticed a few habits that affected my work performance. First, I overanalyzed a lot of things and overprepared. I became so worried about not putting cheese in someone’s breakfast burrito that I did it anyway. I became so scared of receiving negative feedback for something petty––which happened frequently––that I started not caring about any kind of feedback I received, whether it was positive or negative.
Second, I always felt moody when I came home from work because I hated all the little comments I received. It seemed like one of my coworkers or my manager scrutinized me the whole day and commented on even the most minor mistakes ever. It annoyed me so much I felt horrible after coming home from work and I didn’t even feel like talking to my roommate.
Third, just stepping into my workplace made me anxious. I went to work a couple days (I work at a coffee shop on campus) just to talk to my manager about scheduling or to work on homework, and that made me anxious for a bit, Thankfully, I overcame those feelings, but it took a while.
Fourth, I wouldn’t talk to my coworkers hardly at all during my first year at that job because I thought they all hated me. This was probably because I worked with a girl that didn’t like me very much my first semester, so I assumed everyone else didn’t like me. Over time, I discovered my coworkers are actually cool people and I even grabbed lunch with a couple of them some days.
Lastly, I stopped wanting to work after a while, even though I needed the money. I reluctantly worked some days and, honestly, I was not the happiest person inside––even though I smiled on the outside. I constantly looked at my watch to see what time it was.
All in all, I’m learning foodservice might not work for me. My manager and coworkers are great, but I can’t handle all the pressure and rigidity the job requires. For my own mental health, I’m thinking of moving to another job that doesn’t cause quite as much anxiety.
Obviously, I stuck with this job for a while. So how did I manage? Here are some tips.
- Don’t take everything personally. We often misinterpret others’ comments and feedback, so we take it much more severely than they intend. Try to put yourself in their shoes and understand if they’re really attacking you or not.
- Decompress after work. If you don’t take time to relax or hang out with friends, work only becomes harder the next day.
- Don’t focus on the mistakes you made, or you’ll just become more anxious. Instead, move on and try your best throughout the rest of the day. If you keep making a mistake, write a note to yourself.
- Remember that your coworkers are people, too. Grab coffee or lunch with them outside of work so you can get to know them personally instead of seeing them as just another person at work. This reduces the mistake of thinking they don’t like you, when they actually do.
- Go to your workplace, even if you don’t work that day (unless you work enough hours to be there over four times a week). It’ll help you get used to the environment.
- Talk with your therapist about anxiety-management strategies related to your experiences at work.
- Talk with your supervisors/shift leads/managers if things become too difficult and explain how you feel. They may not actually know you feel anxious and can make sure you feel supported.
This is how I’ve experienced workplace anxiety, but what about the average population? According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a national survey people with anxiety disorders in the workplace cited the following issues: dealing with problems, setting and meeting deadlines, maintaining personal relationships, managing staff, participating in meetings, and making presentations. These will all differ depending on your specific work environment––open office, cubicles, foodservice, maintenance, retail, etc;.
Calm Clinic reports that toxic work environments or stressful tasks can create chronic stress, which has the potential to cause long-term anxiety. The organization also provides a few workplace anxiety-management strategies that I didn’t have in my list:
- Don’t mope about what happened at work.
- Exercise before and after work.
- Turn work tasks into a game (within reason, of course).
- Make your stresses into a game.
- Tell others stories about what happened at work.
- Depending on your environment, personalize things (e.g. family photos at your office desk).
- Act very confident and happy until you actually feel this way (I’ve tried this and it doesn’t always work, but I’d encourage you to try it).
Here are a few additional tips from the ADAA.
- Get enough sleep.
- Plan vacations.
- Take breaks, if allowed.
- Don’t participate in workplace gossip.
- Set realistic goals.
- Remain conscious of your particular anxiety symptoms.
All these strategies may help, but the bottom line is to take care of yourself. Know if you really need to quit your job due to a toxic environment, take time off for some personal space, or get extra relaxation time on the weekend.