How to manage work anxiety and thrive

Have you ever had the 'Sunday scaries'? They’re the name given to that dread that starts on Sunday as you think about the working week ahead of you. It begins with a feeling of anxiety or unease in your body, like a sinking feeling in the stomach or feeling edgy. The slower pace of the weekend contrasted with the thought of work feeling jarring, which triggers worry about deadlines and work.

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You are most likely to experience this if your work environment is stressful and have important deadlines looming. Sunday scaries have increased as more people work from home due to a lack of separation between work and home life. We check our emails and take work calls outside regular hours and rarely switch off from work entirely.


How is work anxiety different from normal anxiety?

Work anxiety is focused on work and work-related issues and doesn’t cross into other areas of your life. It goes beyond feeling overwhelmed; it is a persistent feeling that impacts your work performance and well-being. You might have difficulty switching off from work, checking emails, or worrying about work, even when on holiday.

Common triggers

  • Toxic work environment - Difficult colleagues or bullies in the workplace cause a stressful environment.
  • Job insecurity - Worrying about job losses or redundancy contributes to a lack of certainty and anxiety.
  • Presentations or public speaking - Many people have anxiety about public speaking, and if this is part of your job, it’s unavoidable.
  • Work demands - Demanding deadlines and limited resources.
  • Lack of work-life balance - the way we work has changed, and we are constantly checking in with work by email or phone so we don’t get to switch off.

Symptoms of work anxiety

Symptoms may include:

  • Excessive worry about deadlines.
  • Feeling unable to switch off outside of working hours or when on annual leave.
  • Overchecking work.
  • Anxiety about work meetings or performance appraisals.

But work anxiety isn’t confined to your mind - it can be accompanied by physical symptoms in the body, such as:

  • palpitations
  • feeling light-headed
  • muscle tension
  • shakiness
  • feeling on edge or wired

How to regain control

Does any of the above seem familiar to you? If so, here are some tips to help reduce this.

Set your boundaries

It’s difficult initially but set boundaries around your working hours.

  • If possible, remove work email from your personal phone so you don’t get notifications of emails outside of working hours.
  • Take a lunch break away from your work desk.
  • Be assertive and decline additional work when overloaded or push back on unrealistic deadlines.

If you work from home, it can be hard to switch off at the end of the day, and a ritual can signal an end to the work.

  • Go for a short walk.
  • Put your laptop and work items away.
  • Leave the area of your home you work in.

Build your confidence

Low confidence and anxiety are like two sides of the same coin, locked in a self-perpetuating cycle that can be difficult to break. Here's a breakdown of how they feed off each other:

  • Confidence erosion: When you lack confidence in your abilities, you're more susceptible to negative thoughts and fear of failure. This constant self-doubt fuels anxiety, making you feel overwhelmed and incapable.
  • Paralysed by anxiety: The physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety, like difficulty concentrating or fear of judgment, can paralyse you from taking action. This lack of action reinforces your negative beliefs about your competence, further eroding your confidence.
  • Avoiding challenges: To escape anxiety you might start to avoid opportunities that could lead to growth. This avoidance behaviour prevents you from developing new skills and gaining experience.
  • Negative thought spiral: Anxiety also fuels overthinking and fosters negativity bias. You might expect a negative outcome for any situation, reinforcing the anxiety and creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My top tips to overcome this are:

  • Focus on your strengths: Spend half an hour jotting down your most significant achievements and write down what strengths you used to achieve those. Regularly check in with your notes to remind yourself what you are capable of.
  • Challenge negative thoughts: When you notice yourself thinking negatively, ask yourself if this is true. Is there a way to look at this differently?
  • Set realistic goals: It’s tempting to overhaul everything when unhappy, but this quickly becomes overwhelming and results in failure, further damaging confidence.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Birkenhead CH43 & Chester CH1
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Written by Anna Pluck, MBACP BSc (Hons) Psych - Counsellor/Psychotherapy Anxiety
Birkenhead CH43 & Chester CH1

I am an experienced counsellor/psychotherapist specialising in anxiety. I believe that with the right help everyone can recover from anxiety and live the life they want to live.

My approach is supportive, empowering and practical.

I work in Chester, Birkenhead or online.

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