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Anxiety is too often misunderstood

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition globally but unfortunately it is often misunderstood.

People tend to define anxiety as being worried or stressed and most of us will have experienced it in one way or another, such as before a job interview, but the reality, for those with anxiety disorder, it is much more severe than this and interferes with daily life. Symptoms range from mild to severe and anxiety is debilitating for millions of people.

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Anxiety in the workplace is not unusual; in fact, it’s becoming increasingly common, be that general anxiety or the more serious anxiety disorder.

The demands of work, longer hours, and tight deadlines can cause anxiety to surface in employees who haven’t been affected before.

At management levels, anxiety can manifest in the form of unrealistic expectations, pressure to perform even in the face of mental health struggles, and conflicts with co-workers who may not understand the struggles.

In the workplace, anxiety can take many forms, including physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms that can be challenging to understand. Some of the physical symptoms of anxiety include sweating, shaking, chest pain, shortness of breath and heart palpitations.

These symptoms can lead to other health issues such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

Emotionally, anxiety can cause a wide range of symptoms, including constant worry, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, and panic attacks. Anxiety can cause people to feel like they are not good enough, or bring on imposter syndrome, which can often lead to low self-esteem.

Cognitively, people with anxiety can experience changes in their thought patterns, which can affect their thinking, decision-making, and ability to maintain focus. Anxiety can cause people to have difficulty concentrating and even completing simple tasks.

One of the most confusing aspects of anxiety is that it isn't always easy to see. People with anxiety can often maintain a mask of coping and calmness, which can lead others to assume that everything is fine. However, this may not be the case and the individual may be finding their anxiety is making it incredibly difficult to focus on work-related tasks.

At work, anxiety can manifest in several ways, including procrastination, missed deadlines, making mistakes, avoidance of social situations, or even missed days of work. An individual's productivity can suffer too, leading to increased workload and stress.

Despite the prevalence of anxiety in the workplace, there is still a significant stigma attached to mental health issues. This can make people with anxiety feel isolated and vulnerable, which can lead to a worsening of symptoms in the long term.

There are many ways to support people with anxiety in the workplace, including mental wellbeing programmes and flexible work hours.

It’s also important to create a culture where people can talk openly, with support from colleagues and line managers, as well as access to an employee assistance programme (EAP) for counselling.

In fact, stress and anxiety are some of the most common reasons people contact EAP.

AXA’s 2023 Mind Health Study showed that mental health support at work makes a big difference. Those with good support are twice as likely to be happy and also three and a half times more likely to be flourishing.

Those that are flourishing are also far less likely to resign that those who are struggling.

Creating a psychologically healthy workplace where the culture allows employees to express themselves without fear of retribution or judgement, can help individuals with anxiety feel supported and understood.

Line managers are key in identifying employees who may be struggling with anxiety, and it’s important that they are adequately trained in spotting the signs and being to have a sensitive and timely conversation with employees.

Offering reasonable accommodations such as flexible work hours or remote work can also be incredibly helpful for individuals who need more space or autonomy to manage their anxiety.

Anxiety is a common condition that can manifest in many different ways. It’s essential to be aware of the signs and symptoms, especially in the workplace.

With the right support and understanding, people with anxiety can overcome it, and we can work towards creating more mental health-conscious workplace environments.

Eugene Farrell is mental health lead for AXA PPP healthcare