Overcoming Work Anxiety: Causes, Signs, and Professional Tips

Do you feel nervous giving presentations at work? Toss and turn the night before a big meeting? Obsess for hours over a small mistake? Does your heart sometimes race, and your stomach churn so much you can’t concentrate?

If so, you’re not alone. Lots of people battle anxiety explicitly related to their job performance. This disabling condition is known as work anxiety.

The good news? There are some highly effective techniques that help people overcome work anxiety. When understood and managed properly, symptoms back off so you reclaim focus and maybe even enjoy your job.

Let’s go over work anxiety’s causes, impacts, and research-backed coping strategies. Together, we can shrink anxiety’s grasp so that your best work shines through.

What is Work Anxiety?

Work anxiety includes excessive worrying and stress tied specifically to aspects of jobs like:

  • Business presentations
  • Performance reviews
  • Major project deadlines
  • Meetings with the boss
  • Upcoming organizational change

People with work anxiety obsess about worst-case scenarios. “What if I mess up? Then they’ll think I’m incompetent and fire me!” This overthinking feeds physical symptoms like headaches plus mental rumination, which drains concentration.

If left unmanaged over the years, work anxiety grows into a recognized health disorder requiring treatment. But most people regain control way before that point through simple lifestyle tweaks covered later.

First, let’s take a look at what research says actually fuels this challenging condition.

Top Causes of Work Anxiety

Many factors interacting together trigger work anxiety. Major contributors include:

1. Work Overload

Heavy workloads without enough time to complete your tasks make you feel frazzled every day. People anxiously obsess about dropping balls because multiple conflicting priorities compete for your attention.

Trying to constantly multi-task also strains your mental bandwidth until negative emotions flare.

2. Fear of Failure

Some conscientious people, especially perfectionists like Type As, endlessly critique their own work. Minor errors get blown out of proportion as proof of incompetence. You tell yourself you are “just not suited for this job!” despite being the person the company chose to hire. They trust you can do the job, so why can’t you trust in yourself?

3. Fear of Looking Dumb

Have you ever hesitated to share an idea or ask a question at work because you’re worried about looking inexperienced or incompetent? You are certainly not alone!

A lot of people are afraid to speak up, anxious that others will judge or question their abilities. No one wants to be laughed at.

4. Public Speaking

The fear of public speaking is so common that it even has its own name – glossophobia. This weakness can negatively affect many people’s work, making it difficult to communicate and present ideas.

And it’s not just about giving important speeches in front of large crowds; even speaking up in meetings can be intimidating for some.

The fear of public speaking can come from many causes, such as lack of confidence, fear of being judged by others, lack of presentation experience, or lack of preparation. Whatever the reason, this fear can stand in the way of your effective communication and collaboration.

5. Not Fitting In

When starting a new job, you will likely be unfamiliar with many things: a new workspace, new colleagues, a new culture, etc. Being anxious is perfectly understandable. You have no idea if you will fit in or not.

But fitting in isn’t something that only new employees worry about. Even seasoned professionals may find themselves questioning their place in the workplace, wondering if they truly belong or if the team dynamics are no longer conducive to a healthy and collaborative atmosphere.

Unfortunately, colleagues gossip about each other, turn on each other, and may even engage in bullying or harassment.

6. Toxic Work Culture

Demeaning bosses, extreme turnover, and constant uncertainty create unsafe environments, leaving people waiting for the next explosion. Colleagues ruthlessly competing means no one watches your back when times get tough.

Toxic work cultures are a breeding ground for work anxiety. While you can learn different coping mechanisms, your best bet is to start looking for a new job. Even with changes being made, it can take years to detoxify poisoned work cultures.

7. Job Insecurity

With today’s regular restructurings and layoffs, people worry about suddenly losing their jobs.

“Can I quickly find another good job? How would we pay the mortgage?”

Financial instability amplifies why losing our jobs can be a very big deal. Considering 57% of Americans couldn’t cover a $1000 emergency, missing even one paycheck could have serious repercussions.

Common Work Anxiety Symptoms

While unfair workplace practices play a role, your thought patterns also matter. Work anxiety often comes down to feeling out of control and facing too much pressure.

What does out-of-control anxiety feel like?

Unmanaged work anxiety emerges through:

  • Physical: Headaches, muscle tension, nausea
  • Mental: Constant worrying, poor concentration, trouble sleeping
  • Emotional: Irritability, guilt, sadness
  • Behavioral: Avoiding work to reduce fear, procrastinating, taking sick days

Initially, symptoms flare when worrying about presentations or facing unpleasant bosses. Stomachs knot up. Hands shake when opening emails containing feedback. Headaches pound all evening.

These repeated cycles cement unhealthy neural connections from triggers to symptoms. Soon, your anxiety disrupts the enjoyable aspects of work through this conditioning. In time, changes might include:

  • Dreading conferences you used to love attending
  • Distrusting supportive colleagues after repeated paranoia
  • Forgetting things or missing deadlines
  • Sobbing uncontrollably when frustrated

If unrelenting symptoms persist for over a month, seek help. Prolonged work anxiety signifies your brain got stuck in an excessive self-protection pattern requiring retraining. But some simple daily steps can prevent reaching that boiling point.

How Workplace Anxiety Hurts Health and Success

Unchecked workplace anxiety unleashes destruction through:

Declining Performance

Concentration constantly disrupted by worrying leads to costly mistakes. Beating yourself up for those errors worsens your motivation and work quality.

Fewer accomplishments lead to disadvantaged bonuses, promotions, and job security. Supervisors will invest more where effort and outcomes align; unfortunately, you won’t be at the top of that list.

Avoiding constructive feedback to prevent criticism only makes improvement impossible.

Damaged Work Relationships

Defensiveness and blame strain collaborations with colleagues critical for achieving goals. Lashing out erodes people’s trust, leaving you isolated when you need help.

Anxiety also leads to misreading facial expressions and body language, which increases conflict.

Worsening Anxiety

As work anxiety disrupts your concentration, relationships, and advancement both professionally and personally, symptoms worsen: new situations evoke panic, and losses snowball as your confidence in your abilities to cope plummets.

Poorer Health

Chronic mental distress escalates physical illnesses like headaches, infections, and diabetes over decades due to prolonged inflammation weakening your immune protection. Long work weeks without relaxation also raise disease risk factors.

Substance Abuse

Without healthier management tools, people numb anxieties temporarily through overdrinking, pills for sleeping, or smoking. But quick fixes never teach coping skills, so troubles resurge. Meanwhile, destructive addictions expand, bringing more life damage.

Clearly, multiple negative spirals feed work anxiety’s vicious cycle. But well-researched strategies offer an escape.

Strategies for Managing Anxiety at Work

The good news is multiple evidence-backed solutions exist for defanging anxiety:

Establish Work Boundaries

Protect your concentration and rest by learning to firmly yet politely decline the constant extra duties and requests swarming workplaces today. Assign set hours for accessibility, such as only checking your email twice a day, and manage expectations proactively.

Setting workload boundaries protects you against exhaustion-breeding anxiety over “never having enough time!”

List Daily Priorities

Regain the structure overwhelmed brains crave by writing down projects and ranking the day’s must-do tasks by urgency. Cross each off as completed to build momentum.

Like dominos falling, anxiety lifts when you experience control over chaos through steady progress.

Schedule Micro-breaks

You risk burnout unless you frequently take a brief pause from your work. Set phone reminders to walk away from your desk hourly.

During these 5-10 minutes, sip relaxing herbal tea, stretch, chat with a colleague, and grab healthy snacks to increase energy. Then restart rejuvenated.

Adjust Perfectionist Mindsets

Challenge assumptions that small mistakes prove you are fundamentally inadequate in this job. Learn self-compassion to break this exhausting script.

Track your progress in overcoming steep learning curves, and don’t focus on minor deficits or setbacks. And remember, “good enough” work, despite its imperfections, is good enough.

Communicate Needs

If unrealistic workloads trigger your anxiety, respectfully discuss more reasonable timelines for quality results with your managers. Explain your challenges and suggest solutions so they understand that establishing boundaries protects the quality of your contributions. You’ll likely find that most people are happy to adjust if the next steps are clarified.

Practice Relaxation Skills

When feeling overwhelmed, pause to relax your body and mind consciously. Deep belly breathing, meditation, light yoga stretches at your desk, quick prayer breaks, or listening to nature sounds all recharge your mental batteries.

Be patient and give techniques a few weeks before judging their effectiveness. The nervous system resets with practice, lowering your anxiety baseline over time.

Exercise and Socialize

Don’t sacrifice fitness, healthy meals with friends, or weekend joys for work demands. Protect your mental health by consistently taking care of your physical and social needs. Move your body several times a week, especially if you sit at a desk all day at work, and connect with supportive people often.

Keep a Gratitude Journal

Writing a few sentences nightly about the day’s wins retrains our brains to get out of negativity biases where we dwell on problems instead of blessings. Start noticing more reasons for gratitude, not griping. You will be much happier.

Use Organizing Tools

Using project journals, break large, intimidating goals into bite-sized checklists of action steps. Set your deadlines realistically, including padding for the unexpected.

Apps that send reminder alerts help to reduce missed tasks that can cause shame. Feeling in control of your schedule via detailed organization lowers the uncertainty that drives anxiety.

Learn Healthy Coping

When stressed, avoid numbing emotions through addictive substances, technology overuse, or bad habits. Instead, openly discuss your worries with trusted peers to gain perspective and feel connected. Long walks while listening to podcasts also soothe without judgment.

If anxiety lingers beyond a month despite honest efforts, don’t tough it out alone. Seek professional support guiding deeper healing.

Getting Help from Your Doctor or Counselor

Unmanaged work distress risks spiraling into clinical anxiety or full life crisis. If you are experiencing several of the below, reach out to a medical provider, therapist, or loved one soon:

  • Heart racing uncontrollably
  • Thoughts fixating irrationally
  • Panic attack symptoms
  • Withdrawing from people
  • Reckless risk-taking at work or with alcohol/drugs
  • Inability to focus or function
  • Persistent insomnia or headaches

Many of the lifestyle tweaks listed above significantly reduce anxiety, especially when layered together. But gaining extra clinical support speeds healing. Counseling builds your coping skills and motivation and reflects on your progress. Therapy combined with healthy routines maximizes growth.

If finances or availability delay counseling access immediately, online training programs deliver proven techniques directly to your inbox for applying right away. Text-based crisis hotlines provide free, confidential, 24/7 support during the darkest moments, too.

While initially daunting, asking for assistance lightens isolation’s heavy burden quickly. Many others have overcome this battle themselves, so you needn’t figure everything out solo, either. We all need a caring community sometimes.

Consider the types of help available:

Talk Therapy

Attending a few counseling sessions monthly teaches science-backed stress management skills tailored for your personal growth. Therapists specializing in cognitive-behavioral therapy excel particularly at anxiety treatment plans.

Opening up to a compassionate professional trains your emotional intelligence by allowing you to explore stuck thinking patterns together and gradually replace them with healthier thoughts.

Group Support

Group therapy led by a counselor allows learning anxiety coping tools alongside others on their own journey facing similar work challenges. This helps normalize experiences so they feel less isolating.

Peers motivate each other by trying techniques and then sharing what worked. Laughing together eases suffering’s weight.


If anxiety seems chemically embedded despite skills training, medications rebalance key neurotransmitters like serotonin or dopamine regulating emotions. They reduce physical symptoms, so you have the bandwidth to engage in counseling homework.

Note that medications treat symptoms, not root issues, so they work best combined with talk therapy, which targets thought patterns through behavior change exercises.

Doctors monitor progress, adjusting dosages to minimize complications. But allow 6-8 weeks before judging effectiveness.

Emotional Support Animals

Specially trained dogs, cats, rabbits, or even birds offer affection and comfort without judgment. Their gentle presence releases “feel good” oxytocin hormones while lowering blood pressure.

Simply petting animals reduces anxiety intensity by regulating nervous system activity. If noises, intrusions, or crowds frequently trigger panic attacks, explore official emotional support animal certification processes for access rights.

Emerging Treatments

Other innovative options showing early promise include virtual reality therapy, slowly exposing people to simulated anxiety-producing scenarios. Neurofeedback machines measure brain activity in real-time and then provide feedback for retraining emotional regulation capacity.

Support groups that incorporate mindfulness or art therapy can also build resilience. Ask providers about the latest breakthroughs they recommend.

Reclaim Life Beyond Anxious Thoughts About Work

Unchecked work anxiety hurts your happiness, health, and success. But committing to daily mental wellness habits reduces anxiety’s grasp, so you operate from a calm focus again.

Regain confidence in your abilities bit by bit by celebrating small wins while learning anxiety management tools.

Given the strategies listed, which one appeals most to you to try this week? Schedule that first small step today.

Keep building your toolkit and supportive community. With patience and compassion for ourselves in tough moments, we overcome obstacles that once seemed overwhelming on our own. Thriving looks different for everyone, so tweak tactics unique to your needs until they fit just right.

Our opening question asked if aspects of work stress feel out of control sometimes. Know you have the power to change that storyline. A rich world exists beyond what our anxiety lets us currently see. Step forward boldly to claim it. You’ve got this!

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Brett Schiller

Brett, a passionate and knowledgeable fishkeeper, is the author of Fishkeeping Wisdom, a website that offers valuable tips and guides on caring for aquatic pets and recommendations on the best aquarium equipment to purchase. His dedication to the well-being of aquatic organisms has earned him a loyal following in the fishkeeping community.

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