Janet (not her real name) is a 32-year-old lady who works in the marketing department of a large corporate company. She consulted me in March 2019 complaining of excessive anxiety which started towards the end of 2018.
She states that in the current socio-economic climate, the work-related pressures and expectations have increased so dramatically that she wakes up every morning feeling physically ill at the thought of going to work. At night, despite being exhausted she struggles for hours to fall asleep, and when she finally managed to sleep, she sleeps restlessly and wakes in the morning feeling fatigued. Whilst at work, she is constantly on edge and second guesses everything that she does and every decision that she makes. Her self-esteem has declined dramatically and she is concerned that she is no longer able to give 110% in her work environment. Janet feels as though here current state is unsustainable and that if she doesn’t get help soon then she will burn out and be of no use to anyone.
Janet is one of many high functioning and extremely anxious corporate employees who have consulted me recently. The problem with all of these people is that if they are not supported, encouraged and managed properly, functional decline in workplace productivity is an almost inevitable consequence.
What is an anxiety disorder?
As per the Diagnostic and Statistical manual 5th Ed. an anxiety disorder occurs when someone’s levels of worry, apprehension or physical symptoms become uncontrollable to the extent that they cause distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.
At least 3 of the following symptoms are usually present for most of the time over the course of at least 6 months:
• Restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge
• Easily fatigued
• Mind going blank or poor concentration
• Muscle tension
• Sleep disturbance
When is anxiety good?
To some extent a moderate amount of anxiety is a good thing. It can help you to stay alert and focused. It can help motivate you and, can spur you into action.
Moderately anxious people make ideal corporate employees because they are highly motivated, perfectionistic and hard-working. They pay extreme attention to detail and are often creative and innovative thinkers who add great benefit to any team.
When is anxiety bad?
Anxiety becomes bad when there is so much of it occurring that the affected person is constantly operating in flight-fight mode. The flight-fight (instinctual survival response which is the underlying biological mechanism in anxiety) is beneficial if we are in grave personal danger. If it is occurring on an ongoing basis in the absence of an actual threat to life, it can have many adverse physical and mental consequences including but not limited to weight problems, metabolic disorders, sleep disturbances, heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic headaches, loss of self-esteem and productivity and ultimately burn out.
Corporate anxiety and how we can manage it
Whilst functionally anxious people make ideal employees for the reasons outlined above, great care needs to be taken in order to prevent a decline in functionality which will have negative effects on productivity and work ethic.
Management of anxiety at the corporate level starts with an adequate knowledge of how anxious employees function optimally, prevention and de-stigmatisation of anxiety related problems and then putting procedures in place to support and guide employees.
Anxiety disorders should be managed holistically, not only with prescription medication, although these can be helpful in many cases and should be discussed with your doctor.
One of the most important aspects in the management of work-related anxiety is to be able to keep working. In addition to financial reasons, working helps boost self-esteem and adds to your social identity. Other important management strategies may include diet, exercise, support from employers, colleagues, family and friends, planning and time management. Employees struggling with overwhelming anxiety should be able to access the assistance of EAP’s, doctors and psychologists without fear of stigmatisation or retribution.
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