Your question: Why does my boss give me anxiety attacks?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. 

We all need to work. It’s what gives us the economic livelihood and professional experience to get through life. However, the dynamics that occur in the workplace can be very stressful and create anxiety.

Many people experience a tense work environment related to the behavior of their boss. A survey (1) of workers in different areas found that problematic bosses cause anxiety symptoms and nightmares.

This is under no circumstances your fault as a worker. You are not to blame for the anxiety generated by your boss or your job in general, but you do have the ability and responsibility to deal with this problem.

Work should be a space that allows personal growth. Job stress is inevitable, and even beneficial to some extent. For example, a little stress in your job can push you to improve your overall performance and achieve professional goals more effectively.

However, when the work environment is led by an abusive boss, anxiety is inevitable. Throughout this article I will discuss different causes that may be causing you to have anxiety attacks related to work and your boss, as well as strategies for coping with the problem.

Why does your boss and your job give you anxiety?

There are multiple reasons why you may be experiencing anxiety attacks related to your boss or your job, some of these are (2):

Meeting precise quality standards

It is related to your own perception of your job performance and the demands of your boss. In any job, we are expected to meet certain standards to qualify for a position. It is possible that your boss is not problematic, but that you set yourself too high standards for your job performance, which cause you to have anxiety attacks when your boss is around because you want to impress him or her.

You may also feel anxiety because your boss places too many expectations on you, asking you to constantly improve your performance, demanding that you invest more time and effort in your work than you have.

Solving unforeseen problems on your own

It happens in every job, sometimes we have to solve problems on our own. However, when this becomes too common, it represents intense anxiety. If you have an inattentive boss who doesn’t regularly supervise your work, you may feel anxious because you have to solve all the problems that come up on the fly.

Working at very high speed and to tight deadlines

The anxiety you feel about your boss and your job may be due to the fact that you constantly have to work under pressure, working at very high speed and to tight deadlines, without slowing down your job performance. Many bosses, especially in sales and production-related jobs, are extremely demanding and demanding, causing intense anxiety for their employees by pressuring them to meet impossible work standards.

Monotonous tasks

On the other hand, many people feel anxious in slow and monotonous work environments. The feeling that your work does not match your potential generates frustration, sadness and anxiety, because it makes you feel like you are wasting your time.

Abusive work environment

It is unfortunately common for people to experience abuse and exploitation at work. In a survey (3) 70% of workers indicated that they have suffered some form of discrimination or abuse at work, either at the hands of their boss or co-workers. Many bosses, in their eagerness to be demanding, mistreat their employees both verbally and physically. If you are experiencing this situation, you probably feel intense anxiety about everything related to your boss and your job.

How to identify a toxic boss?

You need to learn to identify the characteristics of toxic bosses (1), as these will allow you to observe if they are present in your work dynamics in order to make changes that improve your quality of life and reduce the feeling of anxiety.

  • Sets unreasonable expectations to their employees, for example, an exaggerated minimum sales per month.
  • Pokes into your personal life and makes inappropriate comments.
  • Gives the impression that he is unapproachable and that you cannot tell him about any problems.
  • Is inflexible and asks employees to stay longer than stipulated without overtime pay.
  • Takes credit for other people’s ideas.
  • Has favoritism with some employees and uses them to compare and humiliate the rest.
  • Yells at, insults, hits or sexually touches employees.

What can you do?

Dealing with an abusive boss and work environment is complicated. First, you must understand that it is not your fault that you feel anxious, and that no matter how much your boss has made you feel belittled, you are not responsible for the anxiety caused by your job or your boss.

There are different strategies you can employ, and you should consider contacting counseling and legal services if you feel that your boss’s abuse in the workplace has been too constant.

Control your thoughts

Anxiety is characterized by overwhelming dysfunctional thoughts that can make you feel worthless and incapable. It is common that, for example, you are working and out of nowhere, when your boss arrives, you are overcome with a sense of worry thinking that he/she will call attention to you or criticize your work.

At times like this you should stop and question the thoughts that are causing you anxiety. If, for example, your thought is “I am a failure at work as my boss says,” a rational or reassuring response would be “I do the best I can at my job and strive to improve, I should not let anyone call me a failure.”

Relaxation and breathing

Close your eyes. Inhale gently through your nose for 4 seconds, exhale through your mouth for another 4 seconds. While doing this, rest one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest, and feel how the tension caused by anxiety decreases. You can do this exercise for 5 to 15 minutes a day, at times when you feel that anxiety is getting the better of you.

Set limits

It is important that you set boundaries in your work, without letting anything linger inside about what frustrates and annoys you about your boss. You can rehearse writing in a journal what you want to say to him or her, explaining from your point of view why you feel your boss is causing you anxiety. 

For example: “Lately I have been feeling a lot of pressure because you give me too many responsibilities and not enough time to fulfill them, I need you to extend deadlines or assign some of my work to other employees, because this is causing me too much anxiety”.

It is possible that your boss’s response is not to your liking, in which case, you should consider what future decisions to make. The most important thing is that the decision prioritizes your well-being, preventing your anxiety from taking control of your life.

In my experience…

Money is important, but so is health. It’s important to remember to prioritize yourself, as no job, career or relationship deserves to ruin your quality of life. Bosses can be a nightmare for many people because of their abusive treatment and absurd demands. That is why you must learn to identify which patterns make your boss someone who generates anxiety for you.

I believe you have the ability to improve and heal these feelings of discomfort you are experiencing now. The fact that you are seeking professional help through this medium proves it to me, and I applaud you for making that decision and being on track to improve your mental health and overall, your physical health

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!