20 Biggest Workplace Anxiety Triggers

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From speaking up at a meeting to making a presentation or attending a company social event, there are plenty of workplace anxiety triggers beyond the stress of trying to hold on to a job during a recession. After all, millions of other people have lost their jobs during the past two years, so having a job in a recession is an anxiety that the unemployed might welcome.

But workplace anxiety is nothing to take lightly, with 10 percent of the U.S. population having social anxiety that can affect their work and cause them to leave their jobs, said Jonathan Berent, a licensed clinical social worker who helps patients through psychotherapy. The fear of public speaking at work becomes worse when there's a recession outside the door and you need to speak publicly as part of your job, Berent said.

"More than ever people are forced to face their anxieties for basic survival," he said in a telephone interview with AOL Jobs.

Berent is the co-author with Amy Lemley of 'Work Makes Me Nervous,' a new book aimed at helping people overcome anxiety and succeed at work.

The staff filling many offices is smaller than it was before, and overworked and facing more stress than ever. Stress can lead to physical ailments, such as heart disease, overeating, and problems sleeping. It can cause people to quit their jobs, as Berent said one of his clients did from a $240,000-a-year job in financial marketing.

The woman, 28, had panic attacks during conference calls, and came to dread the calls for hours and days, he said. She took a medical leave of absence and eventually quit. She later returned to the work force after getting therapy.

Another client was so afraid of being the focus of a group that he didn't want to win a contest at work for one million American Express points, Berent said.

Some people have a genetic predisposition to anxiety -- but most people who suffer from it don't learn how to manage their emotions and their anxieties, which come out through avoidance, he said. "Most of the problem is learned," he said. It develops over time and can end in a panic attack and losing control, so the employee avoids triggering situations until the job is on the line, Berent said.

Since the fear of rejection can be a powerful motivator in avoidance, developing self-esteem is key for combating workplace anxiety, Berent says. He recommends dealing with workplace anxiety by accepting the adrenaline that comes from a trigger, and turning it into your source of power. Here are some of the triggers the book lists to be aware of at work:

  1. Speaking up during a meeting
  2. Answering my phone without knowing who's calling
  3. Learning new skills
  4. Introducing a guest speaker
  5. Making a presentation
  6. Giving a speech to an audience of strangers
  7. Being interviewed for a job
  8. Making small talk
  9. When my boss asks to meet with me
  10. Having to talk during a conference call
  11. When other people get credit for my work
  12. Making an appointment and then realizing I'm double-booked
  13. Interacting with colleagues of the opposite sex
  14. Doing team projects
  15. Giving feedback to my employees
  16. Asking for help within earshot of my supervisor
  17. Seeing people who know I interviewed for a job I didn't get
  18. Arriving late
  19. Asking a question
  20. Being seen on a webcam


Berent says that it is the avoidance of such things -- not the things themselves -- that actually triggers anxiety, which can result in losing productivity, being seen as not a team player, or failing in other tasks expected of workers. If it leads to losing a job, especially in a recession, that's reason enough to get help.

The book offers many exercises to help overcome stress at work, with the main point being to turn it into a positive power and make it work for you. It includes a five-minute biofeedback exercise and one on how "letting go" is important.

Here are other ways to overcome anxiety at work, according to a website that promotes peace of mind:

  1. Control your thoughts. Negative thoughts increase anxiety, so learn to control them.
  2. When you go to bed at night, and first thing when you wake up in the morning, think about the good things that are happening to you. There are always some good things happening, even if small and insignificant.
  3. Start the day with several minutes of positive affirmations. Tell yourself how would like your day to be. Use positive, cheering and motivating words.
  4. Be busy, do something. By doing something you keep your mind off your anxiety. When you wake up in the morning start doing something right away, and keep busy all day.
  5. Set a goal and work everyday to achieve it. This action will direct your thoughts and feelings away from worries and anxieties, toward something more positive.
  6. Exercise
  7. Find reasons to laugh.
  8. Don't watch the TV news before going to bed if it disturbs you.

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