What Causes Anxiety at Work?

As was discussed in a previous blog on the difference between anxiety and fear, anxiety involves:

  • An activation of the flight/fight (sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system) response;
  • This is a physiological stress response which involves such things as increased heart rate, muscle tension, increased blood pressure, etc.
  • This response is triggered by a thought or mental image.

It has been said that if I am anxious I am living in the future. Most anxiety involves anticipated problems. That is, we worry that something will happen that we do not want to happen, or something will not happen that we want to happen.

Why am I anxious at work?

The work place is a setting vulnerable to anxiety because it is a place where we are going to be evaluated/judged.

The “threat” of this possible judgment (by others or by ourself) makes us susceptible to anxiety as we worry that we will not measure up somehow which will mean we may not get the raise or promotion we desire, we will not get the amount of business we want, we won’t be viewed as successful by others, etc.

The worry can take different forms, but it all boils down to a concern that the future will not work out as we want it to.

In general, anxiety occurs when a possible threat to how we want things to be is perceived.

Since one’s self image and quality of life is usually dependent in one way or another on one’s work, the work place is susceptible to producing anxiety. We want things at work to go well, and when we have thoughts that something may not go as we would like it to, the possibility of experiencing anxiety increases.

Anxiety and Serenity path at work

What can I do if I feel anxious at work?

Of course, whether anxiety is experienced and to what degree it is experienced will vary depending on a person’s underlying physiology (i.e. central and autonomic nervous systems).

For now, if you are experiencing anxiety in the work place, the place to begin is to examine if you are having any worrisome thoughts about anything at work. Once you determine what you are worried about, apply the Serenity Prayer. That is, figure out if there is anything you can do to alleviate the worry.

For example, can you prepare more, talk with someone, practice something, etc. Once you have done what you can and you realize there is nothing else to be done, it is time to work on acceptance.

You have done all you can, so what will be will be. Whatever happens, you will deal with it. Whenever a worrisome thought arises in your mind, remind yourself that you have done everything you can.


In summary, the work place is a ripe environment for anxiety for anyone who is prone to anxiety due to the importance of one’s work and the expectations most work environments involve. The first step in minimizing such anxiety is to monitor one’s thoughts and do what is possible to decrease any time spent having worrisome thoughts.

Do you want to learn more about the relationship between anxiety and thoughts?

Learn more in “Is Anxiety and Emotion?” post.

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