• Lisa S. Larsen, PsyD

Anxious About Going To Work Every Day? Signs & Solutions To Make Your Workday More Tolerable

Updated: Jan 10


people working at their laptop computers; anxious about going to work every day
Whether it's tense silence or open conflict, it can make you anxious about going to work daily.

There are many reasons that a person could feel anxious about going to work every day. These range from actual threats to your safety and social standing, to worries about what other people might think about you. Work is definitely important, as it provides you with an income so you can survive and enjoy life a little better. However, work is not everything, and it should not ruin your life by making you anxious every day. In fact, you may not have to take work as seriously.


Sometimes you have to deal with real threats; other times, you might make things harder than you need to with your thinking. All of these factors can make you anxious about going to work every day. You might fear mistreatment from your supervisor or coworkers, or people who refuse to wear masks and are careless about your safety. Your workload may be too much for the number of hours you’re scheduled to work. And then there are problems generated from your own mind.


If you have dealt with anxiety in the past about other things, you know how potent your imagination is and how you can generate all kinds of awful worst-case scenarios. This leads you to feel more anxious. This “what if thinking” is very common with anxiety. You may not realize that you are doing that, but when you become aware of it you can challenge it and think more realistically. This can make you less anxious about going to work every day.

Once I heard a saying that worry is a misuse of one’s imagination. How can you use your powerful and creative mind to help you enjoy work rather than dread it?


Is the work environment making you anxious about going to work every day?

There may be coworkers or supervisors at your job who make your life difficult. Sometimes even mild mistreatment from other people at work can trigger memories of being mistreated at home when you were young. When you get triggered, you might not act appropriately and risk losing your job.


It’s also possible that your workload is excessive and you could have a hard time keeping up with the demands of the job. In this case, you might need to talk to your boss about what you can realistically do. Maybe there are some ways that you can do it more efficiently. If you ask your boss for suggestions, he/she/they may be able to help you get more done in the same amount of time.


Finally, there are always people who don’t do their share or think the rules don’t apply to them. You may find it difficult to be civil and work together with this type of person. The person may shirk their responsibilities, leaving you to do their work. They might also make you fear for your safety, like people who won’t wear masks when it’s safe to do so or who come to work under the influence of drugs and alcohol.


As you can see, many factors at work can make you feel uncomfortable and uneasy about going to work daily. The work environment sets the tone for how you enjoy your life, because if you work full-time you’re spending at least eight hours in the company of other people who you may not enjoy or like.


Re-entry Stress Can Make You Anxious About Work

Additionally, if you were working from home during the worst of the coronavirus epidemic, and then have to go back to working in person, you might have some social anxiety and re-entry stress.


If you feel that your safety is being jeopardized by coworkers who are not observing safety precautions, the first step is to contact your supervisor or manager. If that person does not respond appropriately, you might need to address his/her superior. I think it’s reasonable to treat this as a true risk, but you need to channel your anxiety into something productive to protect your safety.


However, you might be uncomfortable because of less immediately threatening conditions. For example, being around heated political conversations about whether the coronavirus even exists at work can be unpleasant, but not life-threatening, unless it distracts people from acting reasonably and safely. If possible, you can politely remove yourself from the conversation and avoid discussions with those people. If the “great debaters” insist on engaging you in their political rants, you can try being firmer and saying, “I’m here to work, not discuss politics.”


Learning how to be assertive can help you at work and in general.

Two people arguing; by Afif Kusuma
You don't have to be in conflict to be assertive, though many people think otherwise

When people are rude or insensitive to you, it can be very tempting to retaliate or, in the opposite direction, avoid and withdraw socially. Most of my clients clam up and don’t say anything to the offensive person. The trouble with that is that you may continue to be harassed. Finding the right balance between assertiveness and skillful avoidance can be tricky. It takes a lot of practice and skill to learn how to voice your needs and steer clear of people who are hurtful.


As mentioned above, you need to bring true threats to the attention of your boss. This includes being severely harassed and mistreated. You might have to resort to legal action if it is severe enough.


However, in most cases you don’t need to go that far. In fact, it can make you feel weak or under confident to always have to go to the boss whenever someone rubs you the wrong way. You can learn how to handle the smaller situations by yourself, even though it might make you uncomfortable. Not only does it raise your sense of mastery, but it also looks better to your coworkers and your boss.


How do you do this? When someone is opinionated or pushy, you can ask to speak to them privately. Give them the benefit of the doubt and suggest that you speak about your concerns in a neutral place. Avoid blaming language like, “you’re always picking on me” or “your behavior is inappropriate and unacceptable.” Imagine how you would feel if someone said that to you, especially if they didn’t have any authority over you. They might be defensive if you accuse or insult them inadvertently.


Instead, try saying, “I don’t appreciate how you talked to me just then. I wonder how we can work together more effectively?” Starting off with a collaborative spirit can help them feel less defensive, and can hopefully elicit their good faith efforts to get along with you. If you match their intensity right away, you enter an immediate power struggle, which is rarely productive.


Interpersonal factors that can make you anxious about going to work every day

Business people having an intense conversation
Do you have a coworker or supervisor who makes you anxious about going to work every day?

Dealing with unpleasant customers can be easier than coworkers, because you usually don’t have to deal with them daily. But what if the difficult person is someone who shares your work space? How do you deal with someone who oversteps their authority, or wants to chat excessively while you’re looking at your work mounting up? What if your boss is impossible to please or seems to expect you to give up your life in order to satisfy the requirements of the job? While I can’t address all of these concerns here, I can say that learning how to communicate assertively and calmly can help deal with difficult people, both customers and people with whom you work.


What you’re thinking can make you anxious about going to work every day

It’s important to distinguish what you have control over at work and what you don’t. Quite often, the absence of control makes you anxious about anything, including anxiety about going to work every day. Without control or known facts, you have lots of room to create worst case scenarios and assumptions about others’ opinions or intentions towards you.


Watch your projection

I knew a woman once who had a cold, distant father. When he did talk to her, he was critical and slightly demeaning. When she encountered people who were quiet and reserved, she projected her insecurity about her father onto them, believing that they were thinking bad things about her. Does this sound familiar? It’s easy to assume bad things if you had that experience growing up.


Working through your childhood trauma and the dysfunctional patterns in your family can go a long way to improving your life in general, but especially at work. Work is a place where you prove yourself, your education and skills that you have achieved so far. It’s natural to want to please others and be approved of.


However, if you need other people to validate you and approve of you too much, you run the risk of overworking in order to please other people, or becoming oversensitive and too easily offended. You may also find it difficult to stand up to pushy coworkers or unreasonable requests from your boss.


Avoid aggressiveness or being dominated

Alternately, your traumatic past might make you argumentative, difficult to work with, or aggressive. You might be told that you have a chip on your shoulder or a problem with authority. You might think that you are acting reasonably, but unfortunately the people around you are not happy with your performance or attitude. Both aggression and under assertiveness are often responses to a dysfunctional background in childhood or at other workplaces. Having good boundaries and valuing yourself appropriately means that you don’t usually stay at workplaces that mistreat you.


Perfectionism can make you anxious about working

You might be concerned that your boss doesn’t like you, or that you are in danger of losing your job. You may have unrealistically high standards for your own work product; even though you’re getting neutral or positive feedback from others, you may still worry that you’re not good enough.


If your perfectionism is making you feel uneasy about work, chances are that you are trying to compensate for low self-esteem. You place too much importance on what other people think about your work. There’s nothing wrong with having high standards, but if you dissect everything you do, it slows down your productivity. You can take a step back and ask yourself, if anyone else did this project, what would you think about it then?


It’s also important to listen to the actual feedback from your boss about your performance. Sometimes people think they are doing better than they actually are, and they block out helpful feedback because they have been shamed in the past and they are too defensive to take in new information. Alternatively, you might think that even though your boss seems satisfied with what you are doing, you are still not doing well enough.


One way to decipher what your boss is saying is to take notes when you get feedback. Write down exactly what the person says and look at it afterwards. Don’t look for hidden meanings -- just look at what they actually said. See if you might be adding insults or shame to the statements with your imagination.


There are many reasons that people feel anxious about going to work every day. Some of them are based on actual experiences of conflict, unpleasant behavior, or unreasonable work conditions. Other times, however, you can reduce your anxiety about going to work regularly by checking your assumptions and changing how you perceive other people and yourself.


Sometimes, all it takes is a mild tweak to make your work experience more enjoyable. However, you might find you need more involved help and want to work with a skilled professional who can help you with your workplace anxiety. If you would like such assistance, please call me today so we can help you feel better about going to work every day.


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