If you have ever worked with a knot of stress in your stomach, you are not alone. It helps to put names to the heavy feelings you feel at work. And a lot of times, they can be be traced back to anxiety.
“At the core of every anxiety is a fear,” said Tanisha Ranger, a Nevada-based clinical psychologist, adding later that “anxiety is a focus on the future, and it’s a fear of some looming disaster. You can’t name it; you’re not sure what it is. You just know that shit’s about to hit the fan.”
HuffPost asked different therapists about the work archetypes that are rooted in anxiety. The first step to counteracting your work worries is identifying where they are coming from. See which personality trait resonates most with you:
Being a perfectionist is a popular answer candidates give when asked about their biggest weakness in a job interview, because having high expectations of yourself and others is generally seen as an acceptable trait.
But being a perfectionist is actually a form of anxiety. Nikki Lacherza-Drew, a licensed psychologist, said that it’s the trait most people associate with anxiety.
“It is about control –– having it or being able to control who gets it if you don’t want it,” she said. “A big work project that is supposed to be a team project might turn into a solo one for the person who has this trait as everything needs to go their way because they believe their way is the best way.“
In reality, making everyone rise to your impossibly high standards will make you and everyone who works with you miserable. Lacherza-Drew said perfectionists are highly critical and can become defensive when someone, even a boss, attempts to offer constructive criticism of their work.
“Many individuals who have perfectionistic traits have low self-esteem or a fear of failure at their core,” Lacherza-Drew said. “They are desperately trying to not fail, and they believe the way to do that is to be perfect. It is actually ironic because perfection isn’t obtainable, and they will fail at that.”
Being the person who always agrees to help can make you well-liked in the office, but there’s a tipping point at which being a team player can start to do more harm than good.
“You’re the employee of everyone’s dreams. You say yes to all that is asked of you. Cover that event? Sure! Add this project to your to-do list? Absolutely! Get it done by tomorrow? Not a problem!” said Shannon Garcia, a psychotherapist at States of Wellness Counseling in Illinois and Wisconsin.
But if you are noticing that you are saying yes even when you don’t have the time or energy, you are a people pleaser who is sacrificing too much of your well-being for your job.
“People-pleasing is a form of anxiety because it comes from the worry of what others will think, say or do. If you said no to something your co-worker asks of you, will they be mad? Will they hate you? Will they never think of you as a helpful person again?” Garcia said. “Your anxiety encourages you to please people to the detriment of your own boundaries and well-being.“
To be less of a people pleaser, set boundaries on your time and decide if your desire to say yes is coming from a genuine place of wanting to help a colleague. Practice saying “I have to check my schedule” or “Let me get back to you on that” instead of impulsively agreeing right away to colleagues’ requests.
If being assigned a project fills you with dread, you may put it off to avoid dealing with it. But it helps to recognise where your impulse to avoid hard things is coming from.
“If you find yourself avoiding certain people, places or tasks at work, it may actually be your anxiety taking over,” Garcia said. “You may avoid eating lunch in the break room because social situations cause anxiety. You may walk out of your way to not pass that one person’s cubicle who always wants to talk because you worry you’re going to be awkward. And worse, you may not go for a promotion because interviews make you uncomfortable.“
But the reality is that avoiding difficult conversations and deadlines just ends up causing more anxiety.
“Something that I always tell my clients is anxiety feeds off avoidance. Avoidance is a temporary solution that, in the long run, makes your anxiety worse,” Garcia said.
If a project feels too overwhelming, try breaking it down into smaller tasks. “If I break it down into component parts, then I realise I can do each and every one of those things. I just can’t do them all at once,” Ranger said.
If a person is dealing with anxiety, some of that may come out in the form of micromanaging. Similar to a perfectionist, a micromanager may have a strong need to control the tiniest details of every task, even if it makes them unpopular with co-workers who find them overbearing.
Ranger said that for anxious micromanagers, “your move is to try to control the environment, to try to make sure you’re on top of, in charge of, have a hand in every single thing that’s going to done. ‘If I don’t do it, it won’t get done, or it will get done poorly. And that will come back to me.’”
Ranger noted that these micromanaging fears can sometimes be traced back to childhoods in which the person was treated as a middle manager by their parents and caretakers, meaning they “had a lot of responsibility but no power,” she said. “When things went wrong, it felt very much like it was on you that it went wrong. When you grow up like that, whenever you feel a little bit anxious… or you can see something that might be going off the rails, you move to control the environment because internally you are freaking out. You may not be able to recognise that as an adult, but it’s happening.”
If you want to be better at knowing when a status check with a co-worker is warranted and when it’s actually unhelpful, there are questions you can ask yourself. Kimberly B. Cummings, a leadership consultant and author of “Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning Into a Career You’ll Love“ previously told HuffPost that micromanagers should ask themselves questions like, “What is this employee’s track record of success?” “Have they completed their assignments on time?” “Do they demonstrate a full understanding of their role, the tasks and the projects?” before they decide to check in because they feel anxious.
If you feel like you always need to plan happy hours and keep up with every co-worker’s social life to be the best employee, reflect upon where your need to be in everybody’s business is coming from. Ranger said the desire to keep yourself involved could stem from the anxious fear of not being liked and not being accepted if you don’t engage in these social transactions.
Ranger said that busybodies believe “If you’re OK, then I’m OK” and may have grown up in households where they felt like they had to earn love. “People only want you around insofar as you are a benefit to them” is a belief the needs-to-be-busy person may think, she said.
“What that person needs to see is that even if they’re not doing everything, people still like them, people still respect them,” Ranger said. “Let’s take this down to one thing: You can specifically be the birthday card person. You don’t plan the outings, you don’t plan the potlucks… you do one thing and see what happens. Because it’s going to show you that there are plenty of people who like you and care for you outside of what you do for them.”
If any of these personality traits sound like you, don’t panic.
“I think what’s important to note about personality traits is that they can be on a spectrum,” Lacherza-Drew said. “Just because we have a certain personality trait or predisposition for one doesn’t necessarily mean we will see it in action.”
If you want to address these work-related anxieties, you can further cope by talking to a mental health professional about them.