How to keep anxiety out of the cubicle

Career-related anxiety is more common than we realise.  

Waking up in the middle of the night, with the sleep having been cut short by anxiety over what lies ahead — the day’s schedule packed with four back-to-back meetings and a project deadline that can’t pushed to another day.

Can you relate to that? The odds are high that a huge number of those reading this, can.

According to a World Health Organisation study, 264 million people live with anxiety disorder. “This figure for 2015 reflects a 14.9% increase since 2005,” says the study.

In a study conducted by, a professional counselling company, in 2016, one out of every two employees in corporate India showed signs of anxiety.

Workplace anxiety can be dealt with better, if it is identified right. Sometimes, anxiety can be mistaken for stress. Stress and anxiety are related. As Tanya Percy Vasunia, psychologist and outreach associate, Mpower - The Centre, puts it: “Prolonged stress can lead to anxiety.”

However, stress and anxiety have their point of divergence. Anxiety over something cuts deeper, and alters one’s personality.

“Anxiety can affect your ability to work, relax and enjoy life,” says Tanya.

In the workplace context, chronic anxiety can be triggered by uncertainty about the future, and one’s place in it.

New reports about companies laying off employees can have an effect on someone, causing them to ask, “Will I be next?”.

Anxiety can take various forms, and sometimes it is overcompensation.

Mpower - The Centre, a mental health organisation, has dealt with a case that is pertinent to the point, says Tanya.

Here, a female employee with a legal services firm needed help because she was extremely anxious about not being good enough in the role assigned to her. The trigger seemed mild, but the state of anxiety it led to, didn’t.

She had missed an email and her colleague was nasty to her about it. She started feeling like she wasn’t good enough for the role, and this made her anxious, which caused her to be extremely hard on herself. She felt the need to answer emails even at odd hours in the night. All of this was affecting her personal life and she ended up feeling constantly exhausted.

Ashwini N.V., director of Muktha Foundation, says there are various theories explaining workplace anxiety and detailing how it can be dealt with.

‘Job Demand Control Theory’ suggests that anxiety can result from an inability to make decisions at work, and one’s skillset being seen as inadequate, which could be real or perceived.

‘Effort and Reward Imbalance Theory’, the lack of balance between the efforts put in by employees and the rewards and opportunities for growth received by them creates distress and anxiety.

According to ‘Demand Control Support Theory’, having a social support system can help tackle anxiety and distress.

No matter what theory one subscribes to, there is no gainsaying the fact that intervention has to take place exactly where the problem started — which is the workplace.

Organisations have to first create an environment that would encourage employees to seek help for their anxiety. Employee assistance programmes (EAP) can do that for them.

According to the India Health and Well-Being Study 2018, released by Willis Towers Watson, 66% of the employers in India have already developed or are developing a stress or mental health strategy for their employees. And an additional 17% are considering it for 2021.

The study has also noted that one in every four organisations now engage the employees’ family, while dealing with workplace anxiety.

Line manager’s role

The line manager must be trained. “They must be approachable, should protect confidential information and know when to empathise with an employee,” says Tanya. Ashwini says companies must promote flexi-work schedules, have zero tolerance for harassment and create an environment where employees have clarity about their roles and responsibilities.

If your anxiety spikes when you are unclear about your goals, seek feedback. Face-to-face meeting can help keep unnecessary anxiety at bay.

“Promoting peer support groups is another way of helping employees cope with workplace anxiety,” says Ashwini.

Find volunteers

Companies can carry out internal surveys to gauge the emotional and mental well-being of employees and set benchmarks on how to improve it.

Companies can identify mental-health volunteers who will take up the responsibility of facilitating a system where help is on offer for those employees who may need it.

In 2017, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) instituted awards for Best Mental Health Practices in the workplace, which is one of the indications from the larger world that companies are now expected to keep the workplace anxiety-proof.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 8:21:45 AM |

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