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What to Do About Work Anxiety: A Therapist’s Top 3 Tips

October 13, 2022

Quiet quitting, worker burnout, the infamous “grind”: Work anxiety is as high as it’s ever been for Americans. The question is what to do about it.

Whether you’re feeling the strain round the clock or just every now and then, Hartford HealthCare’s Emily Lynch, LCSW, has advice.

> Need help coping with stress? Our integrated primary care team can connect you with mental health support.

For specific or short-term work anxiety, like an upcoming presentation, focus on the facts.

“Anxiety makes us second-guess ourselves to the point of thinking, ‘I can’t manage that,’” says Lynch, a licensed clinical social worker with the Primary Care Behavioral Health team. “We need to remind ourselves, ‘I can do this. It might be challenging and it might be uncomfortable, but I can do it.’”

But how?

  • Acknowledge the anxiety and what’s causing it. For example: I’m worried about my presentation tomorrow.
  • Look at the facts and see if you can challenge your fears. I’ve prepared for this. I’ve practiced. I present to these people all the time.
  • Think back to a time you overcame a similar challenge. Consider your last big work presentation. “You could have canceled. You could have quit your job,” says Lynch. “But you didn’t. What got you there?”
  • Give yourself permission to move on from anxious thoughts. “Remind yourself that you are in control of your thoughts; your thoughts don’t control you,” says Lynch. “Give your future self the chance to deal with future problems.”

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For general or lingering stress during your workday, identify a few coping strategies.

“When you’re revved up, do you need something more mindful and quiet, or something more active?” asks Lynch.

This is highly individual. For example:

  • Get up and move around.
  • Take a moment to close your eyes.
  • Do a breathing exercise.
  • Have a snack or water break.
  • Go outdoors for fresh air.
  • Enlist a friend for a casual (non-work) chat.

“One patient needed a combination of active and mindful coping skills,” says Lynch. “They started by doing 10 jumping jacks, then a deep breathing exercise. After that, they were able to challenge their anxious thoughts with a clearer mind.”

> Related: Running on Empty: If You’re Feeling Checked Out, You Might Have Reached Your Surge Capacity

For work anxiety that interferes with everyday life, check your boundaries.

If work anxiety is driving you to distraction when you’re with family, making you miss out on time with friends, or interfering with whatever once made you feel healthy, happy, and whole, it’s time for an honest assessment of your work-life balance.

“I see a lot of people over-engaging in work because they feel like, ‘If I stop, I’m going to lose momentum.’ So they keep going and going and going,” says Lynch. What they really need is to take a step back.

To set boundaries for ourselves, we have to go through a process of reidentifying and reprioritizing what’s important,” says Lynch. “It absolutely can be done. It’s hard work, but change really is possible.”

For many people, a therapist can help.

“A therapist is a neutral third party who’s coming in to help you identify your core concerns, and then helping you learn how to actively treat it,” says Lynch. “You learn skills to practice at work and at home. You learn ways to challenge your thought process and reprioritize your life.”

So you can take care of business, while also taking care of yourself.