How to Handle Anxiety at Work

Updated on February 5, 2019
Em Clark profile image

A lifelong GAD conquerer, Em talks to her therapist daily to manage her anxiety and live her best life.

  1. Identify your anxieties (so you can eliminate or reduce them)
  2. Create a to-do list
  3. Stop small-talking with your co-workers
  4. Don't drink coffee or tea right before or during work
  5. Keep healthy snacks on hand
  6. Listen to good music during your commute
  7. Look into work-provided mental health services
  8. Make sure that your job is actually a good fit for your personality and lifestyle


Are you feeling sick as soon as you get to work? Are you locking yourself in the bathroom just to catch your breath?

Been there so hard.

Before I was able to launch myself as a writer, I spent almost a decade working for the same company (which shall not be named...), and while I've always dealt with anxiety, it was greatly exacerbated during my last year of working there. Here's how I dealt with the day-to-day anxiety until I was able to jump ship.

Symptoms of Anxiety at Work

First off, let's get into what kinds of things I, along with a lot of other people, experience when anxiety starts to creep in at work:

  • Feelings of dread before heading to work. I'd even experience this dread as I was falling asleep at night because I knew that when morning came it would mean I had to head back in and start the cycle of battling anxiety at work all over again.
  • Legit fear of saying the wrong thing to a coworker or supervisor.
  • Fear of being fired even though things are going fine and you have no serious issues or marks being brought up by managers.
  • Feeling sick right before you go in or when you get to work.
  • An overwhelming feeling that you don't know how to perform your job, though you've proven that you do.
  • The fear that you're being judged harshly by coworkers, supervisors or customers.
  • Difficulty working with others, perhaps because the social interaction is overwhelming.
  • Irritability
  • Typical physical symptoms that come along with anxiety like a racing heart, dizziness, nausea, and feeling faint, out of control, or like you're going crazy. Basically, not feeling comfortable or able to "shut down" at least a little bit and just focus on the task when you're at work.

If You're Having Anxiety at Work, Should You Quit?

I know that the simple answer here is no, but actually, I don't think it's ever that simple. I think it's a complex. After I began experiencing anxiety in the workplace, I had to ask myself:

  • Can I afford not to work?
  • Is this where I want to work forever?
  • Will this job help me progress on my career path?
  • Am I able to eliminate or reduce some of the anxieties here?
  • What do I really want, job-wise?

For me, those answers were different than what they might be for you. I couldn't afford not to work but I also didn't want to work there forever and the job itself didn't exactly put me on the path I wanted to be on career-wise, anyway. While I was able to reduce some of the anxieties while I was there I knew that ultimately, what I really wanted was a job that afforded me more independence and the opportunity to write and continue my education - two things I didn't have time for in that company.

For me, the answer was that yes I should quit, but not right that minute. Having these answers ironed out helped me to see that I had goals outside of the job I was in which helped reduce my anxiety.

In the meantime I did the following things to deal with my work anxiety:

Ways to Manage Anxiety When You're at Work

1. Identify Your Anxieties

Identifying your anxieties can help tremendously when it comes to reducing stress at work. Get a pad of paper or pull up your notes app and give yourself some time on your day off to be totally honest with yourself about what's stressing you out at work. Here, I'll give you my embarrassing list:

  • I had worked there for so long I felt like everyone was up in my business. These people were like family to me, for better or for worse and lately it'd felt like it was for worse. I was beginning to dread the question of "How are you doing?" Because these weren't people I could lie to on a bad day.
  • Much of that first anxiety can be attributed to a workplace romance gone awry annnnnd we were still working together. In the same department (HR and my own personal ethics weren't really thriving in this company). Do I really need to explain why that caused anxiety?
  • After so many years of working there, my raises and bonuses were starting to level off and I no longer felt that I had new goals to reach for, plus I was struggling to make ends meet as it was.
  • The benefits were paltry and that was tough when I needed to see a doctor.
  • New management had recently come in and totally revamped all of the processes which heavily transformed my job from what it was when I began there. As someone with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, it's hard for me to adjust quickly to change.
  • I really wanted to pursue writing on a level that this company couldn't accommodate. I often think big picture and whenever I did, I suddenly felt like I was in the wrong place, a huge trigger for my anxiety.

You anxieties might be different. Some people I know feel anxious about going to their workplace in the summertime because the facility they work in doesn't have great air conditioning, another friend gets anxious about going to work because she works off a busy road that's especially stressful in the morning when she's commuting.

Whatever your anxieties are, write then down and get them out so you know what you're actually dealing with. You may find that some of your anxieties are silly (my workplace romance drama was dumb, looking back) but you might also find that some of your anxieties are pretty valid (I'm grateful to now be pursuing a career that fulfills me and pays me well).

2. Create a To-Do List

After you've identified your anxieties, create a to-do list of things you want to accomplish in your job. You might want to make two separate lists - one with big-picture goals and one with day-to-day goals to help you stay focused when anxiety comes rushing in. This is a method I utilize even as I now work from home.

Without daily and big-picture goals, I'd just be staring at a blank page all morning.

3. Stop the Small Talk

If part of what makes you nervous at work is running into toxic coworkers or feeling over exposed like I eventually did, create solid boundaries. Don't chat too much with coworkers or overshare. If your great aunt is dealing with a health problem, it might be more stressful for you to hear your coworker's ten anecdotes about this health problem than it would be for you to just keep that info to yourself and text a real-life friend about it on your lunch break instead.

Because here's the thing about coworkers - they may not actually be people you'd choose to spend time with outside of work or that you'd have any common interest with outside of work. Work is strange because you spend a lot of time with the people you work with, only because you have to. The more you small-talk about your life, the more you allow the tentacles of work to reach into your personal life and the less able you are to untangle from work when you clock out.

4. Don't Drink Caffeine Right Before or During Work

Look, even if you're a barista, you should try not to over caffeinate. Caffeine is a known trigger for anxiety and if you're already struggling with it, minimizing your consumption can help reduce your symptoms.
Look, even if you're a barista, you should try not to over caffeinate. Caffeine is a known trigger for anxiety and if you're already struggling with it, minimizing your consumption can help reduce your symptoms. | Source

5. Keep Healthy Snacks on Hand

Stock your desk or locker with granola bars, trail mix, beef jerky and other snacks high in protein and sugar to help keep your blood sugar balanced throughout the day. Low blood sugar can mimic anxiety symptoms which, in turn, can worsen anxiety throughout the day, especially during that 3 PM slump.

6. Listen to Good Music During Your Commute

Music can be really healing, especially when you're dealing with pervasive worry and anxiety. Whether you drive, bike, walk or ride to work, make sure you have music that makes you feel understood and empowered to pep yourself out before you clock-in. Much like taking a look at yourself in the mirror to ground yourself during bouts of anxiety, I've found listening to songs that remind me of who I am to be a great way to ground myself when I'm feeling fearful.

Workplace Stress

What causes you the most stress in your job?

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Can You Bring Some of Your Work Home?

If you're in a job that allows you some flexibility, see if you're able to do some of your work remotely. Sometimes this is enough to lessen work-induced anxieties.
If you're in a job that allows you some flexibility, see if you're able to do some of your work remotely. Sometimes this is enough to lessen work-induced anxieties. | Source

7. See if Your Company Offers Mental Health Services

Though the benefits where I worked weren't stellar, they did offer free mental health services for their employees. If you don't have other access to mental health services, you might want to try this route, especially if your anxiety extends outside of work.

8. Reassess Whether Your Job Really Fits You

The simplest answer is also often the hardest. Truthfully, if your job is causing you a ton of anxiety, it's probably not the right job for you and if you're looking for some sign or someone to give you permission to admit this, here it is. When I look back on that job that gave me so much anxiety, I recognize that it had it's place in my life but that it got to a point where it was no longer serving the person I was becoming.

Most of us can't just quit our jobs, but you can admit if something isn't working for you and start making plans to do something that does.

Other Things You Can Do to Deal With Anxiety on The Clock

  • Give yourself 5 minutes in the bathroom to gather yourself. Take a long look in the mirror to ground yourself before you head back out to tackle the day.
  • Bring aromatherapy. I mention this any time I mention dealing with anxiety because for me it's been immensely helpful. I don't believe that essential oils are a cure-all by any means, but the relaxing scent of lavender oil does a lot to calm me down, no matter where I am or what I'm doing.
  • If you can, layer your clothing. When I would feel anxious at work I often began to feel overheated. Taking a layer off helped me calm down.
  • Do something relaxing before work. Something I always did to relax before I headed to work was watch an episode of my favorite TV show while having a hearty snack.
  • Have plans to do something fun after work. Having something to look forward to can lessen the dread you feel while you're working.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Em Clark


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      • FlourishAnyway profile image


        3 weeks ago from USA

        This was a well done article and many people can relate to your experiences. I’m glad you were able to solve your problem as it sounds like a change of venue was appropriate.


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