How Anxiety affects Productivity in the Workplace

November 10th, 2021, Maya Rizk

eQuoo is trying to paint a picture for people who do not struggle with general or severe anxiety, what it may feel like, and how it can impact people on a typical workday. 

We want to allow them to try to walk in your shoes so that they can make decisions around workplace offerings that can make life with anxiety a little easier. 

Below is one person’s experience with anxiety – and how coping with anxiety in the workplace may affect their daily routine, work ethics and overall productivity.

*** Please note that one person’s experience is not applicable to all – but can be valid to thousands of people who struggle with anxiety.

“I have been diagnosed with anxiety over a decade ago. Every day is a struggle to wake up to the sound of my 7AM alarm clock: Whoop, yet another day trying to survive with anxiety.

Sometimes my anxiety allows me to be uncomfortable in the comfortable: I feel safer shutting myself off from the world – but taking the day off feels less relaxing and more exhausting, especially when the only thing keeping my mind busy is the thought of being unproductive.

I get to work and remember everything I need to get done for the day – and the heart palpitations start to creep in.

My anxiety can get in the way of starting my day: opening my emails or starting new tasks – but I feel a lot more comfortable getting things done when I have the flexibility to focus on what I know [i.e., starting/finishing tasks in my area of expertise].

Anxiety drains me – it sucks out all of my energy – leaving my mind and body tired and restless. I feel overwhelmed when assigned too many tasks; my perfectionism feeds on my anxious brain – and I am naturally too afraid to make mistakes. So, if I am given too many tasks at once, I am afraid to fail at least one of them.

I don’t typically forget to complete tasks, but I delay some tasks because I am low on energy – or sometimes, it’s just a lot easier to forget they exist for a short while. But I make sure to keep a To-Do list near me not to miss deadlines [we wouldn’t want to disappoint my perfectionist tendencies, would we?!].

Work calls or meetings make me nervous sometimes, especially if I am surrounded by a large group of people or if I am expected to lead a meeting. I often avoid staff events or social gatherings, too.

If a task requires hours of concentration, I tend to avoid or delay getting it done – and look for excuses not to. I can feel irritable or tired throughout the day – but I try to take small breaks in between tasks to recharge and clear my mind before tackling my workload all over again.

Anxiety can make me feel like the whole world is moving while I’m standing still.

My mind sucks me into a cycle of negative or overwhelming thoughts and feelings – and ironically, overthinking typically only leads me to the reality I’ve feared all along. For example, if I fear my manager will someday think of me as unproductive, I get so caught up in my anxious thoughts that I end up being – well, unproductive.

I can imagine it can be difficult for people who do not suffer with general or severe anxiety to really understand what it’s like to live with anxiety. But I hope that all organisations create an environment where discussions around mental illnesses are as important as mental health. Someday I would like to feel like I can communicate my anxiety in a way where I am not perceived as “lazy” or “incompetent” – but rather, as someone who puts in double the work to try their best every day”.

Anxiety in the Workplace

 Anxiety is one of the most common mental health illnesses and can highly affect so many different aspects of our lives, including our work life.

Anxiety can negatively affect productivity at work. For example, someone with anxiety may struggle with time management, their quality of work and delivery, their resilience, and interpersonal relationships with managers and colleagues.

Unfortunately, people misunderstand anxiety because it can easily translate into indifference, disconnect or demotivation. This can be frustrating for everyone involved, including the person with anxiety – especially when they do not have access to a safe space for real and raw discussions around mental illnesses.

As illustrated above, people who suffer with anxiety do not lack effort, drive or passion – rather, they struggle to perform to their fullest potential while simultaneously trying to live up to societal standards of success. In turn, this vicious cycle of internal and external anxiety may lead to lower productivity levels, resilience and overall wellbeing.

Below is a list of how anxiety can look like in the workplace:

  • Spreading workload over a number of days

  • Failure to meet deadlines

  • Forgetfulness

  • Fog brain

  • Trouble concentrating or focusing on tasks

  • Excessive focus on task – or perfectionism

  • Procrastination

  • Rushed workload

  • Overwhelmed by task load

  • Physical symptoms: stomach aches, nausea, dizziness, sweaty palms, fast heartbeats and migraines or headaches

  • Excessive tiredness, fatigue or irritability

  • Avoidance behaviours

  • Low attention to detail

How can you help your team understand your anxiety?  

Creating a safe space for both yourself and your team is essential in ensuring positive performance and an overall healthier work environment and culture.

Here are several tips to help you communicate your anxiety in the workplace:

  • Seek support from a colleague

  • Practice breathing exercises

  • Prioritise your tasks

  • Focus on one task at a time

  • Take small breaks in between tasks

  • Turn your phone off for a couple of hours – turn off all distractions

  • Listen to music while you work

  • Communicate your boundaries

  • Communicate what you can and cannot do

  • Ask for help when you need it

  •  Take small breaks when you are feeling restless

  • Speak to a manager or supervisor

What can the workplace do to help you manage your anxiety?

If you have not been diagnosed with anxiety as a mental illness, it can be pretty tough to connect with what others may be dealing with on a daily basis.

But have no fear – or anxiety – we are here to offer a few tips on how to make the workplace a safe space and less stressful environment for all. After all, we spend most of our week at work – we might as well make it a positive place to be!  

Below are a few tips on how to create an open and inclusive culture:

  • Create a culture of open communication

  • Set healthy work-life boundaries

  • Offer weekly catchups with employees

  • Manage the workload and prioritise employee tasks

  • Offer time for reflection

  • Offer additional support or guidance

  • Encourage employees to benefit from Mental Health [employee] benefits

  • Reassure employees of their value within the company

If you, your colleagues or employees continue to struggle with managing anxiety in the workplace, eQuoo can teach you these 10 skills to help you manage your day effectively and build resilience, interpersonal relationships and personal growth.

  1. Mindfulness

  2. Gratitude

  3. Decluttering

  4. Boundaries

  5. Resource Mapping

  6. Nurture Relationships

  7. Worthiness

  8. Sleep Hygiene

  9. Self-efficacy

  10. Emotion Detection

Wishing you a productive work week,

Maya Rizk

MSc Clinical Psychology

Content and Marketing at eQuoo