Anxiety In The Workplace

Having a job and work is an essential part of many people’s lives, providing us with income and industry. Being under-occupied can be detrimental to wellbeing (Eklund & Argentzell, 2016). A third of our way of living are spent on work if we have a full-time job. For those who are part-time workers, juggling non-paid work, including caring for children and other family members, alongside paid employment means we soon clock up a 40-hour plus working week. Therefore, when work-related anxiety begins to impact us, it can be hard to gain satisfaction from work, and research shows lower job satisfaction is all correlated with increased anxiety (Faragher, Cass, Cooper, 2005). Anxious feelings, thoughts, and sensations can impact our work, leisure, and sleep time. The utopian vision of the 19th Century reformer, Robert Owen, for “eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest” can seem a distant dream when work-related anxiety steals our sleep and serenity outside of work hours. 

What do we mean by anxiety? Anxiety is the feeling of being scared, worried or afraid.

For someone affected by anxiety, physical symptoms such as tense muscles and difficulty breathing, along with troubling thoughts and feelings, can cause real distress. It is normal to feel anxious, especially when coping with change or stressful events. Such anxiety prompts us to take a look at our situation and environment and make changes as needed. Anxiety causes our body to release adrenaline and cortisol, which alert us to be on guard and responsive. Our hearts beat faster so that blood can quickly reach the parts of our body needed to run or fight the threat. They may feel shaky and breathless as a result. That is an evolutionary response that’s helpful in the short term if it acts as a survival mechanism to keep us safe (Buss, 2015). However, for some people, the warning and action system of anxiety is particularly sensitive and remains on high alert when a threat has passed, whether it is a minor or a major threat. 

Threats in the workplace are quite different from the threats our ancestors faced. Rather than sabre-toothed tiger attacks, we might face a passive-aggressive email that leaves us feeling under threat. Rumours of lay-offs and downturns in the economy can prompt financial worries, fears, and anxiety around not performing well enough to safeguard against redundancy in a competitive marketplace. A 2013 report by Ipos Reid found that 16% of Canadian employees report their workplace is a source of depression, anxiety or other mental illness. The good news is that employees and employers can take steps to prevent and manage workplace anxiety. Awareness is a powerful tool here. In being able to take an objective view of the situation, recognizing and naming the different stressors and challenges, employees and employers are best placed to then identify skills and resources available in response. Of course, such logical and objective thinking can be challenging, especially when we feel overwhelmed by work difficulties. For this reason, it can be beneficial to learn some self-help strategies to help with the regulation of emotions and sensations. There is a great deal of evidence that mindfulness and breathing techniques can reduce the experience of work-related anxiety (Zaccaro et al., 2018; Janssen et al., 2018). It may also be useful to discuss any difficulties that an individual may be experiencing with a medical practitioner, as these challenges can impact both their physical and mental health. 

The takeaways are:

  1. Work-related anxiety can steal our serenity and impact rest and recreation time.
  2. Anxiety can serve a positive function in the short-term if it prompts helpful action.
  3. Ongoing work-related anxiety can be managed through proper education and informed strategies by employees and employers.






  • Buss, D. M. (2015) Evolutionary psychology and mental healthThe handbook of evolutionary psychology.Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
  • Eklund, M. & Argentzell, E. (2016) Perception of occupational balance by people with mental illness: A new methodology in Scandinavian journal of occupational therapy, 23:4, 304-313.
  • Faragher, E.B., Cass, M. & Cooper, C. L. (2005). The relationship between job satisfaction and health: a meta-analysis in Occupational and environmental medicine; 62:105-112. 
  • Ipsos Reid. (2013). Partners for Mental Health and article: Two in Ten (16%) Working Canadians Say Their Place of Work is Frequently the Source of Feelings of Depression, Anxiety or Other Mental Illness.
  • Janssen, M., Heerkens, Y., Kuijer, W., van der Heijden, B., & Engels, J. (2018). Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on employees’ mental health: A systematic review. PloS one13(1), e0191332. 
  • Zaccaro, A., Piarulli, A., Laurino, M., Garbella, E., Menicucci, D., Neri, B., & Gemignani, A. (2018). How breath-control can change your life: A systematic review on psycho-physiological correlates of slow breathing. Frontiers in human neuroscience12, 353. s