Anxiety at work can be an huge daily struggle, I know because I’ve been there. There are several ways to get rid of it and this article will teach you how.
Anxiety is commonly described as a state of fear and apprehension or simply put – panic. A more severe case of anxiety is called a panic attack. Almost everyone can attest to a garden variety of a panic attack during a surprise test, a job interview or public speaking.
While anxiety is common as a passing experience, some of us are affected by it frequently for any number of reasons, or none at all, and this is called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
I have GAD and it used to be a heavy burden to my professional and personal life. Consequently, I am particularly compelled to write this article in the hope that some of you can benefit from my experience.
Anxiety is a tricky beast but it can be domesticated. It’s been many months since I’ve put mine under control. While it does still growls at me from time to time, I’ve learned to keep it dormant and even draw strength from it.
Knowing more about anxiety is a crucial first step in fighting it. You need to be able to recognize and counteract the symptoms as soon as they surface.
Panic attack symptoms
- Hyperventilation (breathing shallow and fast)
- Abdominal distress (chest pain, heart palpitation and or nausea)
- Elevated heart rate
- Feeling trapped in your body
- Feeling like you are being surrounded or cornered
- Feeling of dread and/or paralysis
How to stop a panic attack
As soon as you recognize that you are experiencing symptoms of a panic attack you should do the following:
At this point you have too much adrenaline in your system, your mind and body are in a fight or flight mode. You will not resolve the situation by arguing in this state. Hence, you need to excuse yourself and get away for a few minutes, preferably outdoors for some fresh air and open space.
Once you have calmed down and thought things trough, you will come back to deal with it in a more civil and thoughtful manner.
The most fundamental symptom of a panic attack is hyperventilation, which is putting undue pressure on your lungs and brain. Breathe in deep and exhale slowly for the duration of the whole exercise.
Now that you’re breathing normally, your mind and blood pressure are consequently settling down.
Sit leaned back against something, focus on your breathing and try to relax your whole body.
- Let go
Focus your gaze on something in the distance, preferably trees or clouds in order to guide your mind into a state of mindfulness.
- Maintain the calm
Remain like this for at least a few minutes even if you immediately start feeling better.
Remember this exercise and use it every time
These are the steps to relax your mind and body; to put your thinking in a state of detachment, safety and control which is the opposite of the state that led you to anxiety.
Memorize these steps and use them every time. You need to teach your brain this process and it will work faster every time.
It will eventually start kicking in so soon that it will become a reaction to the early symptoms of anxiety. Therefore preventing you from escalating the anxiety into a panic attack.
Inspect and resolve the triggers to your anxiety at work
Now, from this state of detachment, you need to reflect on what triggered your panic attack.
If your panic attack was caused by an argument with someone, here is a personal advice for reaching an optimal solution:
Look for what you did or said to contribute to the escalation of the argument. Also, how can you meet the person half way in order to resolve it.
My experience in these situations was that I would feel attacked. For this reason, I would react from a defensive mindset which often escalated the problem.
You should definitely hold your counterpart responsible for his or her actions. Equally, you need to acknowledge your contribution to the issue and then offer an apology and solution.
This will be an honest attempt at resolving the problem. The other person will be compelled to recognize their own fault and accept truce. Even if they don’t, your conscience will be at ease for doing the right thing.
“Be selective in your battles. Sometimes peace is better than being right.” Author unknown
My experience with anxiety at work
My own anxiety was predominantly caused by social interactions. Two things helped me get the social triggers under control.
The first thing was understanding why people act the way they do. I’ve elaborated this in my article which explains what is unconscious bias.
The other thing was learning how to handle interactions better, which I’ve explained thoroughly in my article about influencing skills.
I heartily recommend you read both of those.
What causes panic attacks and anxiety at work?
It used to be that anxiety was an important and useful defense mechanism. A sudden threat from a predator would trigger this defense mechanism and produce a condition known as fight or flight.
This is a state in which your body produces a surge of adrenaline, among other things. Therefore, it puts you in a state of physical preparedness to fight the predator or run for your life.
Nowadays we don’t get many lions pouncing at us from bushes. Instead, anxiety revolves around other kinds of perceived threats. Some of those involve money problems, dealing with issues at work, stressful familial situations etc.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 18.1% of the population, according to statistics provided by
AADA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America)
GAD is a type of nervous over-sensitivity. Seemingly trivial problems can trigger a feeling of threat and lack of control.
The adrenaline makes things worse at this point as it intensifies the lack of control and feeling of immediate threat. Hence, this process results in a nervous overload known as a panic attack.
Now that we understand how anxiety comes about and goes too far, what can we do about it?
Long term solution to anxiety at work
All of us have basic physical needs like food, water and shelter; something we don’t worry about in developed societies. On the other hand, deny these needs from people for a short time and you will see a very primal response.
There is equal evidence that we have basic psychological needs. They are feelings of belonging, purpose, community (people acknowledging and valuing you); and most importantly, feeling that you have a future which makes sense.
It’s easy to understand that if we are deprived of these needs, we will be subject to feelings of disconnection, depression and – anxiety.
The basic premise is that by fulfilling those fundamental psychological needs with a feeling of purpose we will change the default instinct for dealing with worldly problems.
“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Instead of perceiving problems as threats, we would perceive them as challenges and use a completely different state of mind to deal with them.
Does purpose really cure panic attacks and anxiety at work?
Once you adopt a purpose and start passionately working toward it, you will quickly see your other psychological needs being fulfilled in the process.
You will soon experience a snowball effect of improvement in your worldview, career and community.
While the aforementioned holds true for a large majority of us affected by anxiety, it’s important to note that we’re not all the same.
A minority of people who suffer from anxiety are actually experiencing a symptom of a more serious physiological or psychological illness.
Therefore, my primary suggestion is that you visit a professional. Get some counseling which will help you learn more about what’s causing your anxiety.
If you are advised a prescription, use it! Don’t be hesitant to get help in your early stages of dealing with anxiety. Just make sure you’re dealing with the root causes as well, not just the symptoms.
Evaluate your career situation honestly
Evaluating your current situation in your career honestly is another important step on your path to improving your situation.
What part of your job causes your anxiety at work and what will it take to fix it?
- Is your work environment toxic beyond repair? Is your anxiety at work caused by really bad experiences like mobbing or other types of harassment at work?
If this is the case, you need to change your job ASAP! While this may sound like a big challenge that might easily go wrong, it’s not. Read my guide on career transition, it will prove most helpful.
- Are you happy with your job but feel like anxiety at work is holding you back from getting ahead? Do you colleagues and bosses see you as a recluse, as unreliable or a poor team player?
If this is the case, you need to start making an effort into improving your situation. Read my article with tips to stay focused in order to improve your motivation and daily performance.
My aforementioned articles about unconscious bias in the workplace and influence skills will also prove valuable with your work relationships.
The important thing is that you recognize what is wrong and change it by taking control of your life.
Should you quit your job due to anxiety?
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you genuinely not happy at your job and feel like it’s never going to change?
- Is your relationship with your colleagues or bosses damaged beyond repair?
- Do you work in a toxic work environment that makes you feel abused?
If you answered yes to one or more of those questions, you should quit.
Not just because of your anxiety at work, but also because you will probably never get a chance to shine and advance in that company.
However, you don’t want this change to be a setback for you career. You need to do it smart and land on your feet. You need to take careful steps to change your job without your career and finances taking a hit.
Start looking around for other companies where you can land an equal or better paid position. Additionally, make sure your next job has a better workplace culture than your current one.
Be ready to invest passion and effort
An important thing to know is that once you switch jobs you will not be greeted with open arms and given much freedom.
You will likely have to work very hard in the beginning to prove yourself capable. You will also be faced with many situations and people who will make you feel equally anxious.
For this reason, you need to transition your career to a job where you will be motivated to succeed and stay for a long time.
Here is what I want you to do: Tomorrow, wake up with a purpose. Decide with determination that you will get back control of your life. With this wind in your back, start building the disciplines and routines which will help you achieve your goals.
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain
If you start following my advice consistently, not only will you land a better job but you will face the new challenges easier and better then you ever could before. This I can promise you because I’ve done it myself.
Writing this article has been a cathartic experience for me. I sincerely hope you will take my advice to heart and start doing the daily steps to make yourself a better person in the long term.
One think I want to drive home and leave you with is this:
The one thing that will be the biggest change for your life is having a vision of a long term goal, something that gives you meaning and purpose.
When you have a vision and are working toward it, you will have the strength of conviction in your thoughts and actions. This will show in your self-confidence, your body language, your tone of voice and you will consequently be turning into your ideal self with every passing day.
What are you experiences with anxiety at work? How will you use these lessons to improve your life? Let me know in the comments or contact me directly. I would love to hear from you!