How to Cope With Generalized Anxiety Disorder at Work

Learn how to cope with GAD at work.
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Not everyone with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is able to manage their anxiety at work. Many people struggle with excessive worry about a variety of everyday problems related to work or about their personal life while trying to get their job done.

This type of anxiety is debilitating and far greater than would be expected over simple concerns. It often also results in physical symptoms such as fatigue and muscle tension that can make work-life miserable.

Work Worries

People with GAD may worry about any of the following when they experience anxiety at work:

  • Concerns about driving to work
  • Family worries
  • Health concerns
  • Money worries
  • Worries about work tasks

These worries may translate into the following problems at work (among others):

  • Failure to meet deadlines or taking too long to do things
  • Forgetfulness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Inability to focus or excessive self-focus
  • Sick days/lost productivity
  • Spillover effect on family life
  • Somatic (body) problems like tension, headaches, feeling of pressure, dizziness, and upset stomach

Tips for Coping

Coping with anxiety at work is possible. Below are some tips to help you manage anxiety while at work.

Speak to Your Manager

Not everyone feels comfortable doing this, but speaking to your manager or supervisor about your anxiety disorder may help. You may be offered accommodations to help you do your job more effectively.

Some people may not tell a supervisor for fear of appearing to be weak or unwilling to work, losing out on promotions, or having it on your permanent record. Ultimately, however, you cannot be discriminated against because of your anxiety disorder. 

The Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act of 1990 protects you from discrimination if you are qualified to do your job and able to perform duties with reasonable accommodations.

Tell a Coworker

If you tell a coworker how you are feeling, there will be someone there at work who knows what you are going through and who may be able to help keep you on track.

Work Within Your Limits

Understand the limits placed on you by your anxiety disorder and learn to work within them.

  • Take time off when you need to. 
  • Take a brisk walk during lunch or a break.
  • Escape for a vacation for a few days.
  • Focus on a single task at a time and try not to think ahead to everything that needs to get done.
  • Listen to music at work if you are allowed ​and if it helps you cope.
  • Set small, frequent deadlines to keep yourself focused.

Practice Good Health Habits

While GAD can cause insomnia, try your best to stick to a regular sleep/wake cycle. Eat healthy foods and avoid caffeine.

Be Mindful

If you find yourself losing concentration or focus and becoming wrapped up in worry, practice mindfulness. Become observant of your surroundings and refocus on the present moment. Try mindfulness meditation or any other practice that teaches you how to bring yourself back to the present.

When You Can't Cope

Are you still finding that you can't cope with generalized anxiety at work? Ask yourself the following questions.

  • Have you been diagnosed and received treatment? If you only have a vague notion that something is wrong but haven't seen a doctor, now is the time. In the Anxiety and Depression Association of America's Stress and Anxiety Disorders survey, 40% of respondents experienced persistent stress or excessive anxiety in their daily lives. However, only 9% of respondents were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Obtaining a diagnosis and treatment such as in-person or online therapy or medication should always be your first step if severe anxiety is interfering with your ability to work.

  • Have you considered applying for disability benefits until you improve? Or, you may be eligible for unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. It isn't a mark of shame or a failure to do so. Perhaps you just need time to work on your anxiety and then re-enter the workforce from a stronger position.

A Word From Verywell

If you've taken the above steps to address your anxiety at work but still haven't seen improvement, it could also be the case that your job is not particularly well-suited to you. You may wish to consider career counseling or a career coach, who will conduct assessments to determine the careers that you are likely to both enjoy and in which you may excel.

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Article Sources
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  1. Munir S, Takov V. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). U.S. National Library of Medicine National Center for Biotechnology Information. Updated January 2020.

  2. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Highlights: Workplace stress & anxiety disorders survey. 2018.

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