Anxiety & Depression In The Workplace

Returning to work after the pandemic can contribute to overwhelming feelings of anxiety & stress. Proper treatment may help reduce these feelings.

Table of Contents

To some extent, feelings of anxiety and stress are fairly normal to experience when completing work-related tasks. However, overwhelming anxiety and depression may be a sign of something more serious¹. Returning to work after the COVID-19 pandemic can also create more intense feelings of anxiety and depression associated with returning to work².

Proper treatment of anxiety disorders and clinical depression and the implementation of tools to manage anxiety and depression at work can help to reduce these feelings within the workplace³. In some instances, especially when proper treatment and the implementation of tools have failed to create a better workspace, it may be in an employee’s best interest to find a new job⁴.

Anxiety in the Workplace

Signs of Anxiety

To some extent, it is normal to experience feelings of anxiety and stress in daily life, including at work. However, persistent or overwhelming anxiety, characterized by feelings of dread, can be detrimental to individuals’ daily functioning¹.

Signs and symptoms of workplace anxiety include:¹

A panic attack may also occur when multiple symptoms are felt at once and become overwhelming. Symptoms of a panic attack usually includes:

These symptoms mimic the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. When the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks begin to impact daily functioning, there may be something more serious going on.

Causes of Workplace Anxiety

There are many causes of anxiety in the workplace. It is also quite common for employees to experience nervousness when presenting, meeting with clients, or working directly with company leaders.

Anxiety disorders are more severe than common workplace nerves and often include crippling and persistent fear and worry. Someone with an anxiety disorder may experience a drop in work performance, an increase in missed workdays, lack of engagement in work duties, complaints of sweating, upset stomach, issues with sleep, and poor job productivity.

Some causes of anxiety in the workplace can include:

In particular, a heavy workload, job insecurity, a lack of direction and fairness, and excessive work hours can create feelings of anxiety in even the most resilient employees.

Working under a toxic manager can be psychologically taxing. Prolonged exposure to a boss who is controlling, bullying, or in the most severe cases, narcissistic, can create an environment of fear and affect levels of anxiety and overall well-being.

Even a slightly dysfunctional boss, such as one who exhibits micromanagement, poor communication, a lack of direction, or an inability to show up, can contribute to employee satisfaction and feelings of anxiety. When an employee experiences extensive micromanagement, they may feel that they aren’t trusted, creating a lack of confidence and an increase in anxiety.

Long work hours can also contribute to exhaustion, stress, and anxiety at work. Longer work hours often mean less time for relaxation and sleep. According to a study, employees may get more work done when they work fewer hours. However, working any number of hours for an overly stressful job can still be detrimental.

A heavy workload is one of the main reasons for stress at work. Many businesses expect employees to take on more than what time permits. This expectation can create stress, anxiety, poor sleep, fatigue, and job burnout.

Depression in the Workplace

Signs of Depression

Clinical depression is a much more severe condition than fleeting feelings of sadness or irregular blue moods.

Signs and symptoms of depression in the workplace include:

Someone with depression may not experience or show all signs and symptoms, and some signs and symptoms may be indicative of a different issue.

Causes of Workplace Depression

Depression in the workplace can occur for a number of reasons. Some of the most common causes of workplace depression include:

An inability to grow in the workplace can create a lack of self-worth in employees and cause them to believe they are not valued enough in their position. Many times, these employees may avoid asking for support out of fear. Failing to ask for help can ultimately cause employees to believe they are trapped in their current position, as they feel the need to stay out of a necessity for income. These feelings can eventually lead to resentment and depression in the workplace.

Many working parents would like to spend as much time as possible with their family and children. However, to maintain a comfortable home life, the individual must continue to work and have income. It is sometimes challenging for these parents to keep a healthy balance between work life and home life, creating feelings of depression.

Poor management can also create feelings of depression in the workplace. Unreasonable demands can make it necessary to work overtime hours, interfering with personal activities and creating a poor balance between work and home life. This imbalance can eventually lead to depression, as there is much less time for enjoyable activities.

Employees may also experience bullying from management, which can create feelings of worthlessness. This lack of self-worth can significantly contribute to feelings of depression. Similar sentiments can arise when a manager or boss does not recognize an employee’s hard work.

Workplace Anxiety and Depression Post-COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new cause for potential anxiety and depression associated with work. The lack of social interaction caused by the pandemic has created increased isolation and loneliness. Humans are social creatures, and their interactions influence brain functioning. The size and strength of someone’s social network are partially responsible for creating enhanced cognitive functioning.

The experience of unprecedented isolation and loneliness has the opposite effect and eventually leads to cognitive decline and increased mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. However, many individuals have become more accustomed to interacting with fewer people and doing things independently.

As it has become increasingly standard for individuals to operate with fewer social interactions, returning to in-person meetings, classes, and social events have become quite overwhelming for many. A lack of social skill utilization attributes to overwhelming feelings of anxiety when reintroducing this kind of socialization.

There may also be anxiety associated with safety. Although many are returning to everyday life, protection from COVID-19 is still not guaranteed. There is a continuation of uncertainty and unpredictability associated with the virus and its effects on peoples’ lives, especially as they return to work in person.

Aside from the health and safety aspect, there are additional uncertainties when returning to work post-COVID-19. An employee may experience uncertainty regarding potential changes in their job, social distancing practices at the workplace, their ability to handle any changes at work, job security, and family members’ ability to care for themselves at home.

Employees returning to work may also wonder if their current career is actually what they want long-term. After being home for an extended time, some individuals may realize that they are not happy in their current careers. When individuals begin to examine whether they should take a different career path, the uncertainty of what that will look like can also create increased anxiety.

How to Manage Anxiety and Depression in the Workplace

There are several practices employees can implement to manage any feelings of anxiety or depression in the workplace. An individual who feels anxious or depressed at work should practice self-awareness, share their feelings, release their thoughts, practice time management, set realistic goals, ask for help, set boundaries, take time off, and accept their feelings.

Practice Self-Awareness

It is essential to understand what is causing anxious or depressive feelings or the worsening of symptoms.

Recognizing the symptoms and learning how to handle them at work can also be extremely helpful. Even if the root cause of anxiety or depression cannot be changed, knowing the cause can create awareness for the next steps.

Share Feelings

Talking about feelings of anxiety and depression with a trusted co-worker who accepts the condition can help reduce anxiety and a potential panic attack at work. If the employee does not have a co-worker they can trust, a friend, family member, or mental health professional can be a great resource. Talking about anxiety and depression helps to process intense emotions and validate feelings. A mental health professional can also help foster healthy coping mechanisms.

Release Thoughts

Anxiety can feed off of itself and eventually turn into an influx of anxious thoughts. Writing down all of these thoughts can be a helpful way to release them at home or in the office. It may also be beneficial to sing as fast as the thoughts come, as a fun way to process and release anxiety.

Time Management & Preparation

Making minor improvements, such as creating to-do lists, can help to prioritize work duties. Getting started on major work projects as soon as possible can help clear up time and prioritize essential projects. Setting mini-deadlines can also be a great way to ensure the prompt completion of tasks, which can help to reduce feelings of anxiety. It is also important not to overcommit to projects or work duties if time does not permit.

Ask for Help

Asking for help can be an excellent way for employees to reduce anxiety when they have a difficult day, feel like they are drowning in work, or have a hard time meeting a supervisor’s expectations. Employees can ask co-workers for help to alleviate burdens. It may create feelings of guilt to ask for support from co-workers; however, it builds trust among co-workers and creates a stronger community.

Set Boundaries

It is crucial to ignore negativity and gossip in the workplace and set boundaries with co-workers. Setting boundaries regarding work at home can also help to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. It is important to leave work at work and not to check work emails or voicemails at home.

Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle

Eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep, and limiting caffeine and alcohol intake are all a part of staying healthy and are great ways to manage anxiety. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can keep the mind and body well enough to handle challenging situations in the workplace.

Take Time Off

It is essential to take time off work to disconnect as much as possible and reduce any feelings of anxiety or depression associated with work. It is crucial to take time off to spend with oneself and loved ones and take care of mental health. Having the time to decompress and reset can help build resilience and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression upon returning to the workplace.

Accept Anxiety

Fearing or feeling anxious about having anxiety can increase anxiety levels. Accepting that work may sometimes produce anxiety can help to reduce these feelings. Employees who experience anxiety in the workplace can remind themselves that it is ok to feel anxious sometimes. It is essential not to ignore these feelings and take the time to manage them.

These tools are a great way to manage minor feelings of anxiety and stress in the workplace. However, someone who experiences an anxiety disorder or clinical depression may benefit most from seeking treatment from a mental health professional. It is crucial to seek this kind of treatment if symptoms are interfering with daily life in and out of the workplace.

When it Might be Time to Quit

It may be in an employee’s best interest to leave a job that isn’t getting better even after implementing tools to manage anxiety and depression in the workplace and seeking treatment for an anxiety disorder or clinical depression.

It may be time to quit a job if:


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