The Crippling Effect of Anxiety on Careers

Anxiety disorders are one the most common mental illnesses in the world, affecting nearly 4% of the population. While anxiety is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences at times, when it becomes excessive and uncontrollable it can take a major toll on a person’s personal and professional life.

For those suffering from an anxiety disorder like generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or others, the workplace can become an incredibly stressful environment. 

The persistent and excessive worries that plague those with anxiety can severely impact job performance, work relationships, and ultimately career prospects and trajectory. Let’s explore some of the ways anxiety can derail careers:

Difficulty Concentrating and Focusing

One of the most common symptoms of anxiety is having a mind that races with incessant worries, making it extremely difficult to stay focused and concentrated on work tasks. 

Employees suffering from anxiety may find their minds continually drifting to concerns about future events, interactions with colleagues, or even physical symptoms like a racing heart or feelings of dread. This lack of concentration can severely undermine productivity and work quality.

Burnout and Absenteeism

The toll that severe anxiety takes can be utterly draining, both mentally and physically. Employees may find themselves completely depleted of energy and motivation after battles with excessive worry, leading to burnout and increased absenteeism. Taking excessive time off, even when justified by severe anxiety, can create a perception of unreliability that harms career growth.

Avoidance of Challenges and Opportunities

While a bit of anxiety can actually boost performance in some situations, when anxiety becomes unmanageable it often leads to avoidance behaviors. 

Those suffering may avoid any situations that trigger anxiety, like public speaking, interacting with clients, business travels, or projects that push them out of their comfort zones. This avoidance inevitably stunts professional development and advancement.

Social Challenges and Perception Issues

Many anxiety disorders like social anxiety involve intense fears around being negatively judged or evaluated by others. This can make routine workplace social interactions like meetings, presentations, or collaborations excruciating. 

Even just having collegial conversations in the lunchroom may trigger physical symptoms like blushing, sweating or shaking that create an appearance of distraction or indifference. These social difficulties can severely undermine workplace relationships and perceptions among colleagues and supervisors.

Performance Anxiety and Workplace Stress

Having to routinely perform tasks, hit deadlines, or operate under pressure in front of managers and coworkers is hugely difficult for those paralyzed with anxiety. 

The excessive worry and fear of being negatively evaluated by others on each task, assignment or interaction can completely undermine potential. In severe cases, anxiety during crucial workplace moments like presentations or interviews may even induce panic attacks.

While symptoms and severity of anxiety disorders run the gamut, in many cases the excessive worries, avoidance behaviours, burnout and workplace stress end up having severe impacts on career trajectories. Many may get passed over for promotions, raises, or development opportunities due to the real or perceived effects of anxiety on performance and reliability.

Additionally, the shame, embarrassment or workplace stigma around mental health issues like anxiety often prevents sufferers from speaking up or seeking the accommodations and support they need to manage symptoms in a healthy way. This lack of open dialogue can make anxiety an even more sinister career derailer.

When to Go See an Anxiety Therapist

While some level of anxiety is normal and even helpful at times, persistent and excessive anxiety that interferes with your daily life and functioning is a sign that you could benefit from professional treatment. 

If your anxiety is making it difficult to succeed at work, maintain relationships, pursue hobbies or simply get through the day, it’s time to talk to a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders.

Watch out for red flags like constantly feeling overwhelmed by worries, even over minor things. If you experience frequent anxiety symptoms like restlessness, fatigue, irritability, muscle tension or difficulties concentrating, it’s impacting your quality of life. 

Anxiety that causes panic attacks with heart palpitations, shortness of breath or feelings of impending doom is particularly concerning.

Avoidance behaviours are another indicator that anxiety has become unmanageable without help. You may find yourself routinely avoiding situations, places or activities that trigger your anxiety, restricting your ability to live life fully. Excessive anxiety may also prompt you to overuse unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol or drugs.

If anxiety is straining your interpersonal and professional relationships due to hypersensitivity, irritability or social withdrawal, it’s a red flag. 

Significant anxiety often co-exists with other mental health issues like depression as well. Don’t wait until anxiety wreaks havoc on your work, health and relationships. Reach out for therapy at the first signs it’s becoming unmanageable through exercise, relaxation techniques and other self-help strategies alone.

Anxiety therapists use highly effective, evidence-based treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy to help reshape the thought patterns feeding your anxiety. Working with professionals like Firefly Counseling can equip you with proven tools to manage anxiety before it derails your life and career.

Final Thoughts

The good news is that anxiety disorders are highly treatable through modern psychotherapy methods like cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation, mindfulness, prescribed anti-anxiety medications, or a combination of these. 

By being proactive about managing anxiety through professional treatment, lifestyle changes and open communication, its insidious effects on a career can be greatly mitigated.

Anxiety need not be a life sentence condemning one to an unfulfilling career path. With self-awareness, courage to seek help, and tools to keep anxiety in check, anyone can overcome this mental health challenge to realize their full professional potential.

Indiana Lee

Indiana Lee lives in the Northwest and has a passion for the environment and wellness. She draws her inspiration from nature and makes sure to explore the outdoors on a regular basis. Indiana loves experiencing new things and sharing with others what she learns through her writing. You can chat with Indiana on twitter @IndianaLee3