Anxiety in the Workplace
The material presented here was gathered from panic and anxiety sufferers as well as mental health professionals. This information is intended for educational purposes only and the general site disclaimer applies. For the purpose of clarity, the use of she has been adopted to include both he and she.
What employer wouldn't want an employee with these qualities?
Shows extraordinary job commitment
Pays strong attention to details
Exhibits a high degree of selflessness
Yet many mental health professionals agree that it is often people with these same perfectionist traits that have a tendency to suffer from panic and anxiety disorder (PAD). PAD manifests itself in sudden attacks of anxiety and may include such symptoms as trembling, difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, sweating, numbness and nausea. During an attack, the employee may fear she's having a heart attack or becomes so overwhelmed by panic that she feels compelled to escape to a place where she feels safe.
Workplace stress can initiate or heighten anxiety, but even tension outside the job sphere may harm the employee's performance. Ashamed of and isolated by the disorder, she is constantly terrorized by thoughts of having an attack at in the presence of a boss or co-workers.
So what can an employer do to retain a valuable employee and reduce the possibility of a workman's compensation or disability claim? According to mental health professionals, both employers and employees stand the best chance of surmounting problems arising from panic disorder if they educate themselves about the condition and communicate in good faith. Lack of candor on either side can be quite damaging in a business relationship. A worker who inflates what she's realistically capable of handling at the present time for fear of "letting the company down" may sabotage the relationship as much as the boss who agrees to lessen workplace tension and then continues to impose rigid deadlines.
"Part of the problem is distrust," says a former panic sufferer who works with others with the disorder. "For instance, a person with panic and anxiety went back to his job and was welcomed with open arms. Then he accidentally discovered they were keeping a file on him in preparation of firing him. That shattered him enough to put him back on sick leave and in a worse state than before."
With a variety of methods, including relaxation techniques, behavioral therapy and medicine, PAD is highly treatable. Therefore, the chances for a positive work outcome are high if both parties are willing to be honest, flexible and realistic. "I found what helped me most at work was the complete acceptance of my disorder," says an anxiety sufferer. "My co-workers asked me to explain it and what they should do if I started to feel uncomfortable. If I needed to leave the room in a hurry, they were very accepting. It only took a couple of weeks working in this atmosphere before I was very at ease at work and didn't have any problems."
Considerations for the Workplace Environment
- Warm fluorescent lights seem to help in place of cold. The worker with Panic-Anxiety Disorder (PAD) may benefit even if these lights are installed over just the one work station.
- Move an anxious employee's desk away from high-traffic and noisy locations.
- Save a seat near a doorway in a meeting so the worker may exit the room quickly and unobtrusively if need be.
- Music (classical, New Age, etc.) played at low volume can soothe frayed nerves. Allow the worker a place to keep and play a cassette deck if relaxation tapes are helpful.
- Provide, if possible, a quiet, relatively private place where a worker can practice relaxation and breathing skills. A crowded "staff room" or public restroom are not appropriate settings.
Suggestions for Employers
If you manage an employee who suffers from Panic-Anxiety Disorders, here are some suggestions on how you can have a positive impact:
- Encourage the person with Panic-Anxiety Disorder (PAD) to seek medical treatment first to rule out any underlying medical condition. If possible, put her in touch with the company's Human Resource Director or Employee Assistance Program.
- Assure the PAD sufferer that it is fine to enlist a couple of co-workers with whom she feels comfortable to act as support givers in the event of distress. If she is dizzy or having trouble catching her breath, she may fear being alone.
- Help her combat catastrophic thoughts by replacing them with positive ones. For instance, encourage her to change a thought like: "I'm going to collapse" to "I've never collapsed before, so there is no precedent that I'm going to collapse now."
- Try to design assignments to maximize the PAD sufferer's effectiveness without adding additional stress. If there are jobs she can complete at home and that is where she feels safe, perhaps in time of distress she may be allowed to work at home.
- Don't insist that a worker with a "social-situation phobia" attend lunch meetings in restaurants or staff parties that will increase her anxiety.
- Discuss assignments with the affected worker before imposing them. Involve her in setting expectations.
- Don't underestimate the healing power of compassion and compassionate humor. One employee with PAD says she and her co-workers laugh together each morning when they gather around the coffeemaker and she is given only 1/2 cup of decaffeinated because they don't want to have to take her to the Dizzy Clinic. "For me," she says, "a serious approach with a touch of humor make my work environment a delightful place to be."
- Understand that a worker with PAD may need to be excused from work-related travel or find someone to drive her to and from work or therapy appointments. PAD sufferers often avoid confined places such as automobiles, trains, busses, subways and airplanes. She fears being "trapped" in a location or setting from which "escape" may be difficult. She's also anxious about what other people will think of her if they witness her having an attack.
- Invite an employee afflicted with PAD to make up her own First Aid Kit: a list of potential workplace remedies that can be realistically and readily adopted.
- Don't treat the worker as if she's a child or her complaints are "made up" or "all in her head." PAD is a real disorder and it is estimated it affects some 15 million North Americans alone. Although a child can suffer from PAD, your worker is not one and deserves to be treated with dignity, the same as you would treat a worker with a chronic illness such as diabetes.
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Staff, H. (2007, February 23). Anxiety in the Workplace, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, June 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/anxiety-panic/articles/anxiety-in-the-workplace