Is anxiety affecting your career?
Most of us have learned to deal with that in one way or another. Some people deny the very existence of anxiety and may even develop some maladaptive behaviours to manage it. This is common but may be quite unhealthy in the long-term as it often involves suppressing things that need discussion, support and in some cases professional help.
The list of physical signs of anxiety are clearly something we would all prefer not to go through, in effect we are quite scared of feeling like this, of looking stupid, of making mistakes and taking risks. This safe zone is also a career staller – it's the place you find yourself in when you fall into a rut. Safety, repetition, security. These are the ideals we pursue in preference of feelings of anxiety, but the cause is the same: fear of failure.
Here are some common anxiety behaviours – do any of them seem familiar to you?
1. Saying yes to every task that is given to you
High achievers and driven people take on large workloads, extra responsibilities and always strive to stretch themselves just a little bit further. The saying "if you want something done give it to someone that is busy" is testament to this behaviour. However, as each additional task is added to the list, the amount of time available to perform the existing list of tasks at the desired, high level diminishes. There is an anxiety conflict here between not wanting to look bad by declining work and wanting to give your projects the attention they deserve. The result of this anxiety conflict is stress and dissatisfaction.
What should you do? Learning to say no is often the answer – be assertive. But this is not always practical. It's best to discuss each new major task and redo the priorities and time allocations for the rest of the items on your plate. At least do it yourself – ideally do it with your colleagues/staff/manager or key stakeholders.
It may seem strange to link procrastination to anxiety but there is no doubt that there is a connection. Inactivity in the face of a huge workload comes from having a truckload of potential failure staring you in the face. You may not even realise but there is an overwhelming emotion here that results in you doing nothing. You find yourself doing simple, often mindless tasks that you are perfect at. This may include tidying the desk, the house, doing some short answer emails, reading the newspaper or your favourite websites.
The cure is to take on the biggest, ugliest, most intimidating thing in your to-do list. Once this is done you will find a lot of satisfaction and momentum.
3. Avoiding extra work
Some of us stay within the confines of our job description. Some will say that this is because the company doesn't pay them enough, or it's someone else's job, or we have enough on the plate. In fact, most of us would have at least thought these things many times within our own careers. The trouble here is that a project very rarely falls within the confines of a single person's job title. Silos within the workplace create disunity and conflict as departments or individuals start to move in other directions.
So why do people behave like this – avoiding stepping over some supposed job description line? Maybe it is the anxiety that sharing work, ideas and effort leaves them vulnerable to opinions, criticism and error. While there is no joy in being criticised or making mistakes, there is a lot of work satisfaction that is being missed by not reaching out and extending yourself in the workplace. So it's a change that needs to come from within.
4. Shifting the blame – not taking responsibility
Very few people will ever admit to shifting the blame yet we have all seen it happen again and again. This is usually because people genuinely believe that something is another person's fault, and being blamed for another person's mistake is not only unpleasant but wrong! This often happens when people are trying to reframe the problem so that it fits outside their area of responsibility.
It's time to develop the courage to grow and extend the area of responsibility so that not only the blame but the rewards also get shared.
What are the most important things to help anyone feeling anxious or perhaps experiencing physical symptoms that they dare not call stress?
1. TALK talk to a loved one first, get feedback on your health, the issues of concern at work – projects and people issues.
2. TALK to a colleague or manager, and if that is not appropriate then go to HR and discuss it with them
3. SEE a professional counsellor. Don't wait until you are so paralysed by bad feelings and illness that it makes work impossible.
4. READ self help books, articles or view videos – see how common it is and pick up some tips.
5. Review your priorities, be realistic and talk them through with your manager or a respected 'mentor' at work. Problem solve to work out how to manage. Accept that these may change on a regular basis.
6. Be more assertive if you are saying yes to everything.
7. Ensure you are following healthy habits – plenty of water/hydration, fruit and vegetables, walking or exercise, less junk food, less coffee, less addictive behaviours when the addiction is not helping your wellbeing.