Working with anxiety: helpful advice to cope

Everyone experiences anxiety at work sometimes, but for some people living with an anxiety condition can have a big impact on their day to day life, self esteem and career opportunities.

In this guide, we look at ways to manage anxiety symptoms, including how to deal with social anxiety at work and where to get help if you feel anxiety is putting your job at risk.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural stress response. Everyone experiences feelings of fear and worry from time to time, for example going to a job interview, cold calling a client or public speaking.

Anxious feelings usually disappear when the thing causing the stress goes away. When feelings of anxiety don't go away, come up randomly or make it hard to get on with life, it can be a sign of an anxiety condition.

Types of anxiety conditions include:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Social anxiety
  • Specific phobias
  • Panic disorder

Anxiety may also be present in other mental health conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

How to deal with anxiety at work

You might feel like you don't know how to go to work with anxiety let alone perform well at your job. The good news is there are many effective ways to manage anxiety and have a rewarding work life.

Try adopting some of these strategies:

Learn anxiety management techniques

Learn about and try different techniques to cope with your anxiety such as:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Mindfulness
  • Stress management

It's important to work with a mental health professional who can give you tools and strategies for overcoming your challenges.

Practice and prepare

Taking the time to practice and prepare for situations that cause you stress can help you go into them with more confidence.

You don't just have to practice and prepare for big moments, try using this technique for small things too.

For example, practice what you want to say to a client on the phone before you call them or write down some questions you can ask your colleagues at the up-coming staff party.

Focus on something else

Anxious thoughts can be overwhelming. Instead of giving your attention to worrying or negative thoughts, try to put your attention on something else.

That could be your breath, the different muscles of your body or the various smells and sounds in the room. Try to be an objective observer.

If you find social situations make you feel anxious, try to focus on the other people in the setting instead of your anxious feelings. There are likely people in the room who are also feeling uncomfortable. Think of questions you could ask them or ways you could make them feel comfortable and welcomed.

Use positive self talk

Think about the way you talk to yourself and challenge any negative thoughts you have.

Watch out for unhelpful thought patterns like:

  • Assuming you know what other people are thinking
  • Assuming that things will go wrong
  • Blowing things out of proportion (making small problems seem huge)
  • Assuming that people are focusing on you in a negative way

When you're overwhelmed by anxious thoughts, try to take a step back and look at things from an outside perspective. Talk to yourself kindly like you would to a friend.

Gather a support team

It's important to have people in your life who you can speak to about your experiences. This could be a co-worker, your family or a group of friends who have your back.

Consider attending a community support group with others facing similar challenges. Knowing that you are not alone can be encouraging and inspiring.

Rethink your lifestyle

Your lifestyle choices can make your anxiety symptoms worse or they can help you manage them better.

Learning how to work with an anxiety disorder often starts with making healthy habits at home.

Try these anxiety-friendly lifestyle habits:

  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Avoid caffeine
  • Stay active
  • Practice healthy sleep habits
  • Maintain a good work-life balance
  • Include relaxation techniques in your routine

How to deal with social anxiety at work

Social anxiety can make it difficult to participate and perform well at work. However, experts say that working is often an important part of managing social anxiety and mental well being.

Try these tips on how to deal with social anxiety at work:

Job interviews

Whether you are looking for a new job or hoping to get a promotion, job interviews can be a source of intense fear and worry for people living with social anxiety disorder.

Taking time to prepare can help you go in with more confidence.

  • Practice answers to common interview questions with a trusted friend
  • Travel to the location a few days early so you know where to go on the day
  • Talk to yourself positively and visualise yourself being calm and confident
  • Act confidently, even if you don't feel it

Check out these job interview tips for more ideas.

Related: The ultimate guide on how to find a job with anxiety.

Interacting with others

Almost every job will require some social interaction with other people, though some work settings may be less triggering than others.

Also read: Job ideas for people with anxiety.

Try building up your confidence slowly through simple goals. For example, try making small talk with at least one person every day or ask one person to have coffee with you each week.

Reward yourself when you reach your goals. Taking time to celebrate your achievements is important. Building relationships in the workplace can be stressful if you have social phobia, but in the long run it will help you feel safer and more confident.

Business meetings

If you need to share your opinion in a business meeting, try preparing beforehand so you can focus on your notes. Ask the team leader to give you an agenda before the meeting so you know what to expect.

Keep in mind, you're not the only one in the room who feels nervous to speak up. Your efforts to be more open and communicative will help others feel more comfortable too.

Social events

At social work functions, avoid alcohol as it can make social anxiety symptoms worse. Prepare some questions or topics so that you have something to talk about with others.

Find a safe person, such as a colleague who knows about your social anxiety, so that you can ask for support if you need it.

Think about ways to make others feel safe, heard and valued. Focusing on helping others can take your mind off your own worries.

Should you tell your employer?

It's your choice whether or not to tell your employer about your anxiety disorder. Some people decide to tell because they want to ask their employer for accommodations. Others find that being honest improves communication and support for them at work.

In Australia, an employer cannot refuse you a job based on mental disorders if the person is able to perform the job safely and properly. Your employer is also required to make reasonable adjustments to help you do your job well.

Get support to stay in work

If you are struggling to find work because of an anxiety disorder or are worried about losing your job, it's important to ask for help.

At APM, we help job seekers like you find work and get access to the right supports and services so you can thrive in your job.

If you live with a mental health condition that is affecting your ability to work, you could be eligible for government funded programs like Disability Employment Services or WorkAssist.

Contact us today to see how we can help.