Work anxiety (A comprehensive guide)

In this guide, we will discuss work anxiety means, signs and symptoms that may indicate you are experiencing higher than usual levels of anxiety or stress at work and a few tips to help you cope with work anxiety.

Work anxiety: an overview

Work anxiety can be defined as the stress that is caused by work-related activities that ultimately lead to sky-high anxiety levels, impacting your performance.

Many people experience work anxiety, you are actually not the only one.

This is mostly because we spend a huge amount of time working and being under stressful and demanding environments.

However, it is important to understand that feeling anxious at work is not necessarily considered a problem or meaning that you have a psychiatric condition.

This needs to be assessed by a mental health professional, regarding the symptoms you are experiencing, the intensity and frequency.

But, What is anxiety?

Anxiety can be defined as intense or excessive fear or worrying about a place, situation or even people. 

Your body usually increases its activity when dealing with stress, and this is something that biologically speaking is meant to ensure our survival when we are facing potentially harmful or life-threatening situations. 

According to the World Health Organization, there has been a significant increase of people in the world suffering from depression and anxiety by nearly 50% (from 416 million to 615 million) between 1990 and 2013.

This is really preoccupying since depression and anxiety can become a really disabling condition and it is a matter of public health.

Is it a matter of survival?

As mentioned, we need this type of physiological response to ensure our survival when we come in contact with something potentially dangerous.

For example, let’s say you are walking down the street and someone comes up to you and takes a very sharp machete and threatened to kill you if you don’t give him your wallet.

In this case, your body reacts and makes the response by attacking the person in front of you or it can make go the other way and run as fast as possible (fight or flight response).

How can I be certain I am having work anxiety?

Manifestations of anxiety can vary from one person to the other but if lately, you have been having nightmares related to your work, you are starting to lose your appetite or even eating more, losing your hair more frequently, over worrying about the future, or just counting every day the minutes left to get out of work, this could indicate you are having work anxiety. 

Losing your appetite can pose a problem at the nutritional level since it is possible that after a long time, there is a lack of vitamins and minerals that are necessary for the body. If you think this could be happening to you, check out which are the best minerals for anxiety.

Let’s take a much deeper approach to signs and symptoms of work anxiety.

Anxiety disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of  Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is considered the “bible” for mental health professionals.

This is where they get the establish diagnostic criteria for mental disorders, based on studies made to the general population and identifying commonalities. 

In the DSM-5 Anxiety disorders are grouped to include disorders that share the same excessive fear and anxiety-related behaviors. 

The disorders included in this category are:

  • separation anxiety disorder
  • selective mutism
  • specific phobia
  • social anxiety disorder
  • panic disorder, agoraphobia
  • generalized anxiety disorder
  • substance-induced anxiety 
  • anxiety disorder due to another medical condition.

Let’s talk about the most common anxiety disorders: Generalized Anxiety Disorder or (GAD), specific phobias and social anxiety disorder (SAD). 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by exaggerated or excessive worry about daily life activities or events with no apparent reason to worry.

People with GAD tend to expect disaster and can’t stop worrying about their medical condition, financial related problems, their family or their work. 

The worry does not match reality and it is considered way out of proportion for any given situation.

Symptoms of GAD

According to the Mayo Clinic, Generalized Anxiety Disorder Symptoms can Vary from one person to another, but there are some common physical symptoms that someone with GAD might experience:

  • Persistent worrying or anxiety about a number of areas that are out of proportion to the impact of the events
  • Overthinking plans and solutions to all possible worst-case outcomes
  • Perceiving situations and events as threatening, even when they aren’t
  • Difficulty handling uncertainty
  • Indecisiveness and fear of making the wrong decision
  • Inability to set aside or let go of a worry
  • Inability to relax, feeling restless, and feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind “goes blank”

Physical signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle tension or muscle aches
  • Trembling, feeling twitchy
  • Nervousness or being easily startled
  • Sweating
  • Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
  • Irritability

Specific Phobias

The main characteristic of this type of anxiety disorder is the excessive and persistent fear of a situation, activity or object that is not life-threatening or harmful.

Some of them are aware that their phobia is excessive but are unable to control it.

Some phobias you might have heard of are claustrophobia, arachnophobia or agoraphobia. 

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

A person with this anxiety disorder feels highly uncomfortable when being humiliated, embarrassed or rejected in social interactions.

They will behave avoiding being exposed to those situations or will go through them with intense anxiety symptoms.

Examples of situations they tend to avoid are meeting new people or speaking in public. 

The symptoms need to be present for at least 6 months and cause disruption in daily activities to meet the diagnosis of SAD. 

Work anxiety: Signs

Even though work anxiety is not classified as a mental disorder it can certainly affect your life, relationships, and performance either because you have a previous undiagnosed anxiety disorder or you are starting to develop one.

Taking this into consideration, we can talk about certain “signs” or behaviors you could be having than indicates you are experiencing work anxiety:

  • Your personal life is being affected, you are starting to avoid going to family dinners or going out with friends on a Sunday night because all you do is talk about work and what you will do as soon as you get to the office. 
  • Your relationship with your partner/spouse is getting affected, you feel like you don’t have any energy left to talk to your partner or when he/she suggests going out for dinner or going to the movies you simply are too tired and not in the mood.
  • Reduced self-confidence, your boss is always making you feel the work you deliver is not enough or there is always something else you could have done better. 
  • Problems with your co-workers, they might feel like you are unapproachable or don’t even bother inviting you for lunch because you are always in a bad mood and tend to be rude to them. 

Tips to cope with work anxiety

Here are some useful tips to help you cope with anxiety at your workplace:

  • Recognize the symptoms and the triggers (e.g. situations where you feel uneasy or restless) and how to handle them once you feel your anxiety kicking in.
  • Try to manage your time more effectively, make a list of the things you expect to get delivered during the day and set some realistic goals. Do not overwhelm yourself with a higher amount of work or don’t get discouraged if at first, you are not able to tick all the things from the list.
  • Breathe slowly when you start feeling anxious, this will help de-activate your body from the physiological activity. 
  • Quit caffeine or smoking, consuming that cup of coffee first thing in the morning or having that cigarette is going to contribute to feeling more anxious.
  • Ask a co-worker for help if you feel like the tasks you have at hand are too overwhelming. 
  • When you get out of work, try not to take anything from work to your home. This won’t make you feel like you have left the office or make you feel any less anxious if you still have to continue at home
  • Plan a trip or vacation somewhere you can really take some time some time off and relax. 
  • Eat healthy, exercise and try to get enough sleep, it is extremely important that you keep a healthy lifestyle, this will boost your energy and confidence. 

Treatment options

If you have tried all of the above already then you might start thinking about getting treatment for your anxiety.

Here we list some of the options available. 


This type of therapy usually involves talking about your anxiety and fears so they can identify the root cause for your anxiety and provide specific techniques and strategies to cope with your anxiety. 


Some antianxiety medications might get prescribed to help you treat your death anxiety.

They are usually beta-blockers or antidepressant medication.

Additionally, it is recommended to combine medication with psychotherapy for better results. 

Other options 

Relaxation techniques can be really useful, especially when lowering anxiety levels.

You could benefit from it by learning breathing exercises and training your mind to distract itself from the source, event or situation that may be causing your anxiety levels to go up. 

Why is this blog about work anxiety important?

Work-related anxiety is an important topic of discussion.

Many people experience at some point high levels of anxiety when performing tasks related to their work. 

When it starts affecting your job quality or performance at your workplace, the relationship with your co-workers, your boss or even at home it is necessary to stop for a second what you are doing and try to find a different solution. 

Don’t be afraid asking for help by talking about your triggers with the people around you or ultimately if you are unable to cope with it on your own, try getting some professional help. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about work anxiety

How do I stop anxiety at work?

You can manage your anxiety at work by following some useful tips:

Breathing exercises: when you start feeling overwhelmed, pause for a second and breath.

This will help your body de-activate from physiological activity and make you feel relaxed.

Try avoiding that first cup of coffee when arriving at the office: caffeine is a stimulant of the central nervous system so this will actually increase your anxiety levels. 

Exercise: this is fundamental to balance your brain activity. Studies have shown exercise actually promotes brain plasticity and new connections between neurons. 

Is anxiety a mental disability?

Anxiety can become mentally disabling when it is interfering with your day to day activities.

If you are in distress or worried all the time then it can manifest in social withdrawal, feeling depressed and 

Can anxiety affect your work?

Anxiety can affect your work, relationships and even the way you perceive life. 

Does anxiety go away with time?

Anxiety comes and goes in waves.

Normally it gets triggered by environmentally stressful factors.

It is necessary to identify those triggers for you to be able to understand and control your anxiety.

Can anxiety kill you?

Anxiety can’t actually kill you but if you are experiencing panic attacks, it can actually feel like you are having a heart attack and you may die at any moment.

These are considered very serious symptoms and need to be treated. 

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