How to Cope With Generalized Anxiety Disorder at Work

Anxious man at work
Learn how to cope with GAD at work. PeopleImages/iStock

Not everyone with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is able to manage their anxiety while at work. Many struggle with excessive worry about a variety of everyday problems related to work, or even their personal life, while trying to get their job done.

This type of anxiety is debilitating and far greater than would be expected over simple concerns. It often also results in physical symptoms that can make work life miserable.

Work Worries

Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder may worry about any of the following while at work:

  • concerns about driving to work
  • worries about work tasks
  • family worries
  • money worries
  • health concerns

Worry-Related Work Problems

These worries may translate into the following problems at work (among others):

  • inability to concentrate
  • inability to focus/excessive self-focus
  • failure to meet deadlines/taking too long to do things
  • somatic (body) problems such as tension, headaches, feeling of pressure, dizziness, and upset stomach
  • forgetfulness
  • sick days/lost productivity
  • spillover effect onto family life

Tips for Coping

Coping with GAD at work is possible. Below are some tips to help you manage anxiety while at work.

Speak to Your Manager

Not everyone feels comfortable doing this, but speaking to your manager or supervisor about your anxiety disorder may help. You may be offered accommodations to help you do your job more effectively.

Some people may not tell a supervisor for fear of appearing to be weak or unwilling to work, losing out on promotions, or having it in your permanent record.

Ultimately, however, you cannot be discriminated against because of your anxiety disorder. The Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act of 1990 protects you from discrimination if you are qualified to do your job and able to perform duties with reasonable accommodations.

Tell a Coworker

If you tell a coworker how you are feeling, there will be someone there at work who knows what you are going through and who may be able to help keep you on track.

Work Within Your Limits

Understand the limits placed on you by your anxiety disorder and learn to work within them. Take time off when you need to. Take a brisk walk or escape for a vacation for a few days. Focus on a single task at a time and try not to worry about everything that needs to get done. Listen to music at work if you are allowed, and if it helps you cope. Set mini deadlines to keep yourself focused.

Be Mindful

If you find yourself losing concentration or focus and becoming wrapped up in worry, practice mindfulness. Become observant of your surroundings and refocus on the present moment. Try mindfulness meditation or any other practice that teaches you how to bring yourself back to the present.

Have Good Health Habits

While GAD can cause insomnia, try your best to stick to a regular sleep/wake cycle. Eat healthy foods and avoid caffeine.

When You Can't Cope

Still finding that you can't cope with generalized anxiety at work? Ask yourself the following questions.

First—have you been diagnosed and received treatment?

If you only have a vague notion that something is wrong but haven't seen a doctor, now is the time. In the ADA's 2006 Stress and Anxiety Disorders survey, 40 percent of respondents experienced persistent stress or excessive anxiety in their daily lives. However, only 9 percent of respondents were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Obtaining a diagnosis and treatment such as therapy or medication should always be your first step if severe anxiety is interfering with your ability to work.

Second—if you've tried everything else and still can't cope with work, have you considered applying for disability benefits until you improve?

It isn't a mark of shame or a failure to do so. Perhaps you just need time to work on your anxiety and then re-enter the workforce from a stronger position.

Sources:

Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Anxiety and Stress in the Workplace.

Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Highlights: Workplace Stress and Anxiety Disorders Survey

Harvard Health Publications. Mental Health Problems in the Workplace.

Hendriks SM, Spijker J, Licht CMM, et al. Long-Term Work Disability and Absenteeism in Anxiety and Depressive Disorders. J Affect Disord. 2015;178:121-130. 

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