Professional Development

How to handle anxiety and stress in the workplace 

Written by Eric Titner

The world of work offers many challenges. We get to learn more about our passions and interests, as well as our strengths and areas for improvement, and it gives us opportunities to mature as we take on new responsibilities, gain professional satisfaction, and chart a course for our lifelong career journeys—all key factors in leading a happy and fulfilling life.

However—there’s a flipside to the work coin, which includes the reality that work is not always fun and easy. In fact, for most of us, our work lives can be a serious and persistent source of anxiety and stress, and it’s no small matter: It can affect all facets of our lives—not just our time spent at work—and can have lasting effects on our physical and mental well-being.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) recently conducted a survey regarding workplace stress and anxiety. Among their key findings:

  • Employees say stress and anxiety most often impacts their workplace performance (56 percent), relationship with coworkers and peers (51 percent), quality of work (50 percent), and relationships with superiors (43 percent).
  • More than three-fourths who say stress interferes with their work say it carries over to their personal life, particularly men (83 percent vs. 72 percent for women).
  • 7 in 10 adults report that workplace stress affects their personal relationships, mainly with their spouses. Men (79 percent) report it affecting personal relationships more than women (61 percent).
  • The main culprits of work-related stress are deadlines (55 percent), interpersonal relationships (53 percent), staff management (50 percent), and dealing with issues/problems that arise (49 percent).

Does this sound familiar? If so, and you’re experiencing anxiety and stress resulting from work, you’re not alone—and you don’t have to suffer through it with no end in sight.

Be honest about it

When some of us feel the weight of workplace stress and anxiety, our first impulse may be to write it off as something else. We analyze the symptoms—everything from lethargy to sleeplessness to irritability and changes in mood and behavior—and make excuses. We say that we’re just tired, or we’re just feeling sick, or even that it’s due to the weather. Basically, we do anything but acknowledge that our stress has a direct and obvious source—our jobs. We also try to rationalize that it’s only temporary, and that things will get better after this project or this “busy period,” even though it often never does. The truth is, these attempts to rationalize and “explain away” our work stress and anxiety only serves one purpose—to prolong it and avoid confronting it. The first step in handling workplace anxiety and stress is to be honest about it. This empowering move will help you begin to deal with it effectively.

Diagnose the problem(s)

Workplace stress and anxiety is similar to other problems in life in that you need to fully understand the issues contributing to the situation before you can turn the tide and overcome it. When you’re feeling the effects of work stress and anxiety, take a step back from things and give yourself the time to fully understand each and every individual source and symptom that is affecting your life. Often, a “one size fits all” solution to your workplace anxiety is ineffective when there are multiple sources at play. Once you see all of the sources clearly, you can start thinking about effective individual solutions for each. Often, just understanding the problems can alleviate some of the strain and propel you on the path to improvement.

Get help

Like other issues involving our jobs, we’re rarely completely alone in having to deal with stress and anxiety. Help is available—whether or not you choose to ask for it and accept it is your call. Depending on the issues that are contributing to your stress and anxiety and your specific workplace dynamic, you may benefit from taking the direct approach—be open with colleagues or bosses regarding the issues in an attempt to come up with effective solutions. Also, don’t forget that friends, family, and peers can be great sources of help and guidance here—especially if they’ve gone through similar situations. Also, don’t count out seeking the help of a professional. Many workplaces offer help through counseling and guidance services (both in-house and/or outside), and you always have the option of hiring a professional for help, the cost of which may be covered by your insurance plan. The bottom line is that you’re not alone here, and seeking help to deal with difficult issues isn’t shameful or embarrassing—it’s smart strategic thinking!

Find outlets

While there are times we can effectively tackle and reduce our workplace stress and anxiety by confronting it head-on, the truth is, sometimes it isn’t quite so easy. Simply put, some of us just have to accept that it’s a facet of our jobs. However, what we do have control over is how we spend our time outside of work, and making time for activities that help us offset the negative impact of our work is always a good idea. Get involved in things you enjoy doing in an effort to alleviate workplace stress and anxiety—finding a fulfilling life outside of work is very often the key to finding happiness within it.

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.