All the Sneaky Ways Anxiety Can Self-Sabotage You at Work, and How to Manage It

If you’re not familiar with the technicality of anxiety, it’s what happens when our brain starts to produce chemicals linked to the natural threat response — fight, flight, freeze, faint or fawn.

If you think of yourself facing a tiger, anxiety is what happens when your body kicks into gear, ready to react. Anxiety switches off everything in your body that you don’t need to handle the situation, like your digestive system, immune system and logical part of your brain, and switches on everything you do. It increases your heart rate, slows down your breath and can give you a tingling or uneasy feeling in your skin, keeping you on alert for any sudden movements or other danger.

So, how does this show up in the workplace? “There are a lot of potential perceived threats in a work environment, whether that’s due to personality clashes, deadlines that are unrealistic, poor focus and procrastination, potential to lose your job if under-performing,” says Tara Hurster, psychologist and director of The TARA Clinic. “There can be a lot of tigers in the workplace.”

In saying that, however, Hurster says some people are more prone to anxiety than others, as it’s a learned behaviour. “We may be more prone to experiencing feelings of anxiety if our parents and caregivers experienced mismanaged stress and anxiety and therefore weren’t able to model healthy management techniques,” she says. “However, anxiety is something that can become a concern for anyone.”

If you’re prone to anxiety in other areas of your life, but aren’t sure how it’s affecting you at work, ahead, Hurster shares five ways it can creep up on you with tips on how best to deal with it.

Overthinking Minor Details

“This is called hypervigilance and is happening as a result of our brains natural threat response method of attempting to find the tiger,” Hurster says. “Getting out of your chair, going for a walk and using the stairs to get outside and spend three to 10 minutes near a tree practicing mindful breathing will definitely help.”

Feeling Undeserving of Your Job

“Imposter syndrome is super common and can be linked to self-esteem. Setting yourself small SMART Goals and ticking them off as you achieve them each day will help to improve your self-esteem and confidence in your job. Plus there is the added bonus of improved productivity.”

Beating Yourself Up Over Small Mistakes

“This is called rumination and is super unhelpful in pretty much all situations. Finding a circuit breaker is really helpful and a great way to get started is increasing exercise and practicing mindfulness.”

Fear of Speaking Up In Meetings

“Again, this makes total sense if your brain perceives this as if you are opening a tiger’s mouth with your fingers and popping your head in there Check out Amy Cuddy’s epic Ted Talk, Your Body May Shape Who You Are, on her research around body language and how it shapes who we are. Practice the power poses before entering a meeting and you will be ready to go.”

Second Guessing All Your Decisions

“This is linked to the logical part of your brain, which switches off when we are stressed and anxious. Once again, exercise and mindfulness practice are the best next steps.”

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