“My anxiety is silent. You wouldn’t even notice a change on the outside but I’m honestly so stressed I can’t even manage simple tasks. People call me lazy when, in reality, I’m just overwhelmed.” (HealthyPlace)
Which of your co-workers lives with anxiety? Are any of them in therapy? Do they take medication?
The likely answer is that you have no idea. Many times we attribute symptoms of anxiety to personality flaws.
That person is lazy.
They never get their work done on time.
They’re not good with people.
He really bombed that presentation.
In reality, anxiety is a silent illness that affects 40 million Americans in the US each year. That equals roughly 18% of the population in this country, or nearly 1 in 5 people.
So, to answer the question above, if you work with 100 people, 18 of them suffer from some form of anxiety. It just might be hard to tell which ones.
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It affects millions of people every year, and many do not speak up until it gets to be more than they can handle.
Anxiety at work
Anxiety was a major factor at all of my post-college jobs. (I am going to lump my irritability that is a result of my bipolar disorder with anxiety, because I think they can be similar.) At my first post-college job, I got hired as a teacher’s assistant at my old school district. I worked with kids with learning disabilities and special needs. It was hard work. Very, very rewarding but hard. I ended up leaving the position after 2 years due to massive interpersonal conflict.
Likely, these conflicts I was having were due to my mental illness.
- For one thing, I had a hard time relating to other people.
- I was very anxious about confrontation.
- I don’t do well with not being liked. (At least, in that stage of my life, that was true. This was 10 years ago.)
- I am a bit absent-minded.
All of this led to a shit storm of little things where ultimately, my boss said, “I like you as a person, but maybe you should quit.”
It took me a long time to realize that my failure there wasn’t due to character flaws.
- I’m not unfriendly.
- I can work well under pressure.
- I don’t need to be liked.
- My flightyness is not my fault.
It took a lot of doing work on myself to realize that my health was the issue, and I needed to get well. The book The Four Agreements really helped me while I was in the process of healing.
Has that ever happened to you? Your emotional health got in the way of your job performance? Or maybe you do not live with anxiety, but you are reading this to better understand your employees or peers in the workplace.
The main thing to remember is that anxiety is incredibly common.
How to spot it in a friend
Maybe you’re not the anxious one. Maybe your loved one is suffering from anxiety. As I mentioned in my previous post about anxiety, it is incredibly common. 40 million adults live in the United States live with anxiety per year, and approximately 4-5 million children.
Here are some common symptoms of anxiety at work:
- Poor communication
- Fear of confrontation
- Obvious nervous symptoms
- Frequent bathroom breaks
- Keeping their office door closed while working
- Taking longer breaks or lunches
- Skipping out on happy hour or other workplace activities
If your coworker has even one or more of these symptoms, they are possibly living with some form of anxiety. Speaking from experience, these are awful feelings to live with, and they can be the reason that many anxious people find themselves not speaking up.
What you can do to manage anxiety
This article about anxiety at work gives an awesome list of ways you can manage your symptoms while working, and I will add a few of my own at the end. Here are theirs.
- Work. (The article states that completing tasks can boost your self-esteem, and I agree.)
- Tell a trusted coworker.
- Educate yourself.
- Practice time management.
- Plan and prepare.
- Do it right the first time.
- Be realistic.
- Ask for help.
- Stay organized.
- Avoid toxic coworkers.
- Take breaks.
- Set boundaries.
- Savor success.
- Plan a vacation.
- Take advantage of employer resources and benefits.
- Be healthy.
I would add the following suggestions:
Make sure you get help.
If you are not taking care of yourself, you are going to struggle to be successful in the workplace. An unwell person is not able to think as clearly, because their mind is often preoccupied with symptoms of their illness. Especially in the case of someone with anxiety, we are very predisposed to obsess about our health.
Exercise is so important for overall physical and mental wellness. It releases feel good brain chemicals that ease our mind and give us a boost of energy to get through the day. It’s not a cure for anxiety, but it can help you to manage the severity of your symptoms.
Take your medication.
My anxiety and depression make me forgetful, and that is very common. But it is very important that you do what you can to remember to take your medicine. I am a fan of setting reminders on my phone. You can also ask a friend or partner to keep you accountable by reminding you.
Get a good night’s sleep.
Sleep is life. Same with exercise, it is not going to cure your anxiety. But find me a person that does not feel a little better after getting quality sleep. There are lots of ways you can freshen up your sleep habits, so make sure you are sleeping enough, but not too much, and that it is restful.
Go out there, and get to work.
Ultimately, the working world was not for me. Not necessarily because of my mental health. I just personally was not happy there. I’m grateful to be able to stay home with my children. But these tips can apply to anyone. Corporate workers, retail employees, nurses, teachers, stay at home parents…
We all need to be doing what we can to nip our anxiety in the bud before it affects our job. I never advocate hiding who you are, but the reality is that a lot of workplaces are not sympathetic to people like us.
They don’t care that you’re having a hard day. They don’t care that it was difficult enough to get out of bed. That’s just a sad reality in our current day and age. Things are getting better, but there is still a long way to go.
I know this from personal experience.
So what we need to do is take care of ourselves and get well. It’s not easy, but you can get to a place where you can work in peace without your symptoms affecting your job.
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