Anxiety at Work: What to Do About It?

Shandra Martinez

| 3 min read

Overworked healthcare worker stressed at home
Anxiety is one of the most common behavioral health conditions in the country, according to the American Psychiatry Association. In fact, nearly one-third of adults will experience anxiety at some point in their life. And 40 million Americans are struggling now.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is the intense, excessive and persistent worry or fear about everyday situations. “You experience a fast heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating. And after the anxiety passes, you actually may be quite fatigued and tired. We all have experienced anxiety at one point or another,” said Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Medical Director of Behavioral Health, Dr. William T. Beecroft

Can anxiety stop you from working?

Anxiety can become a serious workplace issue. When people are anxious, their brains become busy and active, and they can't think through problems as well. “That's where productivity really comes,” Beecroft said. “It's not just doing the same task over and over; it’s figuring out a different way of doing the task or surpassing the task altogether and going to a better outcome. This is where productivity really improves and the employer wins.”

How does anxiety trigger behavior?

Anxiety also has an impact on the body’s biochemistry. When anxiety takes up people’s energy and they are running on empty, they can't really be productive. “You become very inefficient in the work that is normal for you to be able to do. You get angry, irritable, short-tempered, you snap at people. You're not as effective in meetings,” Beecroft said. The goal is to pace themselves by understanding their limitations and recognizing their triggers. When they are reaching the point that those buttons are being pushed frequently, it's time to stop and look at taking a break to reenergize.

How can you create a culture that reduces anxiety?

One way is for workplaces to encourage employees to take a break during their off-hours. “It has to go from leadership on down to be genuine,” said Beecroft, adding they need to repeatedly remind employees that it’s OK to take a break. As a matter of fact, studies show that, after a break, employees are more motivated and go back to work with more energy than before the break. The message employees hear needs to be that, when they take a break, they’re not shirking responsibility; they’re taking care of themselves so they’ll have the stamina to be their best.

How can employees address their anxiety?

The key is for them to learn how to train their brains to release the chemicals that cause natural relaxation. This can be done with mindfulness meditation and progressive muscle relaxation. All are simple but very effective tools to get into that state. The key is making these practices a habit. “Those aha moments really come out and that's really valuable, but you have to practice them,” Beecroft said. “You have to be able to do it about 20 to 50 times to create a new habit, but then that allows your brain to be able to just release those chemicals quicker every time because now it knows what you want it to do. When you do that, the benefits are just pretty amazing.”
Photo credit: Getty Images
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association