Out of all the elements in your life, what gives you the most anxiety? If it’s your professional life, you’re far from alone. Experiencing anxiety at work is common for many people. In fact, a New Zealand study found that 14 percent of women and 10 percent of men with no previous mental health issues reported being stressed at work and suffering clinical depression or anxiety by the age of 32. So even if you’ve never experienced anxiety before, your job could be what’s stressing you out — and there are some habits that might be making that anxiety worse.
As the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) notes, it’s normal to feel anxious about a problem at work. But if you have an anxiety disorder, the feeling of worry isn’t fleeting. The NIMH puts anxiety disorders in three major categories: Generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or social anxiety disorder. According to NIMH, generalized anxiety disorder symptoms include feeling on edge, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep issues or fatigue. Panic disorder symptoms include attacks of intense fear, feeling out of control, fear of when the next attack will occur, and wanting to avoid places where panic attacks have already occurred. Social anxiety disorder (or social phobia) symptoms include having a hard time talking to or feeling very self-conscious in front of people, fear of being humiliated or rejected, and feeling nauseous when other people are around.
If you are experiencing these symptoms and think you might have an anxiety disorder, see your primary care provider to discuss it. But no matter if your anxiety is temporary or it feels like it’s taking over your life, here are eight things not to do if you have anxiety at work.
1Push your feelings down.
Marla Deibler, Psy.D., told Business Insider, “[Anxiety] is a normal response to stress. Let it in when it shows up. Practice acceptance. Rather than trying to push it away (which tends to be futile, resulting in feeling more overwhelmed and less in control), make room for anxiety. It is showing up to try to bring your attention to something.” So while you might think it’s more productive to ignore your feelings, accept when you have anxiety and try to figure out what your body is telling you.
2Ignore the mind-body connection.
If you’re trying to understand your anxiety, Marni Goldberg, LMFT, LPCC, told Psych Central that when you start to feel signs of anxiety, particularly physical ones, you should ask yourself the following questions: “What am I worried about right now?,” “What have I been thinking about that makes me nervous or scared?,” “Am I trying to avoid something?,” and “Am I feeling like I’m in danger?” This may help you understand the cause of your anxiety. Goldberg said, “The more that you get used to reading the physical signs from your body and connecting them to your thought process, the easier it will be to identify the triggers and figure out a solution or deal with the fears head-on.”
3Never take a mental health day.
While you shouldn’t call out of your job everytime you just don’t feel like working (cause, let’s admit it, that’d be a lot of the time), there are times when your body genuinely needs a break and it’d be advantageous to both you and your company if you got some much-needed R and R. “Feelings of extreme apathy — like you just don’t care — or extreme anxiety about nothing in particular are cues that could indicate you would be better off taking a day to reset,” Brandon Smith of The Workplace Therapist told Shape. Career and personal growth coach Kathy Caprino also told Shape that you should take time off if you are struggling with concentrating or managing your emotions.
4Work late all the time.
If you’re stressed about a work deadline, it might seem counterintuitive to say you should leave work on time rather than stay late to finish the project. But if you’re overwhelmed, you aren’t working to your fullest capacity and NPR reported that a British study found that long work hours can lead to depression. So stop feeling guilty for leaving work on time — and if you work a Monday-Friday job, the same goes for saying, “No,” to working on the weekends.
5Say “yes” all the time.
Speaking of saying, “No,” at work, both business coach Erika Anderson for Forbes and psychotherapist Hilda Burke for The Guardian preach the benefits of this simple word when it comes to both your professional and personal lives. “Whenever someone makes a request of you, before you say yes, think about whether or not you can actually deliver on the commitment you’d be making, without crowding out other commitments or leaving yourself burning the midnight oil,” Anderson wrote. And while it might seem impossible to politely decline more work if you already have too much on your plate, Burke said, “Challenging this type of work programming can take some time, but it can be done.”
6Only care about work.
Along with maintaining a healthy work-life balance, WebMD recommends having hobbies to help take your mind off of your anxiety. Find something that gives you joy and gives you a break from stress, whether that’s playing sports, taking an exercise class, listening to music, or joining a book club. Yet, Tracy Tucker, LCSW, told Psych Central that even with these temporary distractions, you still need to process your anxiety healthfully, like with relaxation techniques or with a therapist, rather than use your hobbies solely to put off the problem.
If you do smoke, your cigarette break at work is sacred. And even if don’t smoke, you may have been jealous of your coworkers who do since it seems like they get more time away from their desk. (You’re not necessarily wrong since a Japanese company gave its nonsmoking employees extra vacation days to make up for the smokers’ breaks.) Yet, even if you ignore all of the other ways smoking is bad for your health, smoking doesn’t actually relieve your anxiety.
As WebMD wrote, “The stress relief you get from smoking comes from the act of taking time out to smoke a cigarette and from the chemical actions of nicotine in your brain. If you return to the scene of the stressful event after you finish your cigarette, it doesn’t take long before the tension comes back and you need another cigarette.” A study by the British Heart Foundation also found that smokers have a 70 percent increased risk of anxiety and depression compared to non-smokers. And while Jeffrey G. Johnson, Ph.D., acknowledged to WebMD that it’s not clear if some smokers already had anxiety before they started smoking, what is known is that the nicotine addiction makes anxiety feelings worse despite the temporary relief.
8Let the anxiety go untreated.
If you think it’s your specific workplace that’s taking its toll on you, it might be time to find a new job. If you are considering quitting your job, make sure to ask yourself these questions first — especially since you may experience anxiety at any job. And if you think you might have an anxiety disorder, it’s time to see your doctor and work on methods to help you cope — whether that be therapy, anti-anxiety medication, or meditation. Because there’s no shame in trying to achieve a healthier mindset.
So put your mental health before your company’s bottom line and stop doing these damaging practices right now. Your mind and body — and maybe even your boss — will thank you for it.