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What to do if you feel too anxious to work

If you feel too anxious to work at the minute or are anxious about going back to work, that is completely understandable and you’re not alone. The symptoms of anxiety can make the working day difficult to navigate. And we recognise that for some people, their anxiety can feel so overwhelming at times that the idea of going to work just seems impossible. 

When anxiety reaches this level, it is so important to reach out for help. With the right support, you can start to better manage your symptoms so that they have less of an impact on how you live your life.

If coronavirus is causing you to feel too anxious to work, you may also want to read our latest blogs on managing anxiety and panic attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic and dealing with anxiety about returning to work after coronavirus lockdown.

Steps you can take if you feel too anxious to work

If you’ve been feeling too anxious to work lately and want to start tackling your symptoms, below are a few steps that you may find helpful:

Contact your GP or a mental health doctor

A GP or a mental health specialist will be able to provide you with access to the anxiety treatment you need to start dealing with your symptoms.

Working through a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programme is a common treatment that is used to help people with anxiety disorders. During these sessions, you work with a therapist to understand the causes and triggers of your anxiety. You then learn and practise coping techniques to help you better manage triggers and symptoms going forward.

When you have the right coping skills and strategies in place, you are likely to feel more comfortable and confident about going to work once again.

Medication may also be prescribed alongside a therapy programme, to help with the management of your anxiety disorder.

Think about your past jobs to help you plan for the future

Take some time to identify what caused you to feel anxious during previous jobs and, if you are currently employed, what makes you feel too anxious to work in the job you have now.

Is there anything you could do to manage these symptoms in any future work you do?

For example, you may have found that your anxiety spikes when you have to interact with certain people, or when you become overloaded with tasks, responsibilities or deadlines.

Think about what you would want to be different in a future workplace. Would you prefer to work with a smaller group of people or to be employed in a less deadline-driven, high-pressure environment? The right job for you will be one that doesn’t cause your anxiety to rise to an unmanageable level. 

Talk to someone you trust

If you feel too anxious to work, it is likely that your anxiety is impacting on other areas of your life too. Don’t try to keep what you are going through to yourself.

Speak to the people you are close to. Talking through how you’ve been feeling lately can be a good way of processing your overwhelming emotions. Also, having a conversation with someone you trust, such as a family member or close friend, will help you to feel supported and understood.

Join a support group

Many people with anxiety find it useful to talk with those who have had similar experiences to themselves. It can help you to feel understood and it can also be a way of getting advice and support from people who can relate to what you are going through.

If you would like to join a support group, contact your GP or health professional who will be able to make recommendations and refer you to the most suitable group.

Tips to use when managing anxiety at work

While you may feel too anxious to work at the moment, you may find some of these tips useful when the time is right and you’re ready to re-enter the workplace:

  • Plan ahead – take the time to plan out your days and weeks. That way, you will have full visibility of the tasks you want and need to accomplish. A well-structured plan will help you to feel in control of your work and your working day, which can ease any feelings of anxiousness
  • Break each task down into manageable chunks – while this may extend the length of your to-do list, breaking bigger tasks down into smaller action points will help you to methodically work through tasks. This way, you avoid becoming overwhelmed by the idea of having to complete the larger project. Being able to tick off each step you do can also be a great confidence boost
  • Give yourself realistic deadlines – setting ambitious deadlines for projects will only ever add to your anxiety. By breaking down bigger tasks into smaller steps, you can start to get a realistic picture of how long a project will take – use this planning stage to set deadlines that you are comfortable with. If you need to, make people aware of the different steps that need to be completed, to help them understand why’ve you’ve set certain deadlines
  • Ask for help – we understand that asking for help at work can be difficult for someone with anxiety, as you worry that people will view you as inadequate. If your workload becomes too much - or you need a little bit of support on a project - a reasonable manager will respect you for being responsible and will want you to have the support that you need to get the work done
  • Accept that you will experience some anxiety – everyone experiences anxiety from time-to-time. When people experience stress, it’s the natural human response. For people struggling with an anxiety disorder, who may experience anxiety more intensely or more often than people without the condition, it is important to have the coping strategies in place to help manage the moments that feel overwhelming. Professional support and therapy can help you to develop these coping skills for the future
  • Take good care of yourself – good self-care is important, as it can stop your stress and anxiety from becoming unmanageable. Take proper breaks during the working day so that you have a chance to rest and recharge. And make sure that you are getting adequate sleep, eating healthily, exercising, and taking part in social activities in your time outside of work

If you would like to find out more about the professional support and treatment for anxiety disorders that is available here at Priory Group, please visit our anxiety treatment page.

Blog reviewed by Dr Renju Joseph (MBBS, MD, LLM, MRCPsych), Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Woodbourne

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