Should You Request Workplace Accommodations for Anxiety?

May 23, 2019

Female employee with her hands on her head at desk in front of a computer
Erin Ollila

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 40 million American adults, which is over 18 percent of the population. Though, of that number, less than 37 percent seek treatment for their anxiety. If you're one of the many adults who experience anxiety in your life, you know how daunting it can be to deal with while at work. There are many ways to manage anxiety in your professional life, such as asking for workplace accommodations for anxiety or utilizing resources your employer offers. If your anxiety is beginning to cause issues for you professionally, now is the time to make changes. Don't suffer in silence any longer.

Here are five suggestions to deal with anxiety while at work that you can implement immediately.

Know and Avoid Triggers

There's no one trigger for anxiety disorders, so it's important to evaluate what may personally spark an anxiety attack or racing thoughts while at work. Your triggers may include clutter, workplace drama, poor communication or mismatched employee relations. Other anxiety initiators may be speaking in public, talking on the phone or writing up reports. First, take the steps to identify your particular triggers, and then put an action plan in place to avoid them, or at least write yourself a note on how to handle them if you are forced to experience them.

What you consume also plays a large role in your mental state. For some people stimulants such as soda, coffee or energy drinks may cause anxiety, and low blood sugar is another common cause for anxious thoughts and feelings. In an article for the Harvard Health blog, Dr. Uma Naidoo suggests hydrating and eating healthy, consistently paced meals to manage anxiety at work. Naidoo says, "Working toward a well-balanced diet with adequate fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and healthy fats remains a good recommendation for those who struggle with anxiety. Avoiding processed foods and foods high in sugar means the body experiences fewer highs and lows of blood sugar, which helps to further reduce feelings of anxiety. Very simply put, a sugar rush can mimic a panic attack."

Ask for Help

Often, anxiety goes untreated because the person experiencing it feels embarrassed or intimidated to speak up and ask for the help they need. However, in this circumstance, anxiety is left to fester and potentially even increase at work. Turn to your trusted colleagues or management and ask for assistance. This may mean that you temporarily need someone to pick up some of your slack, such as helping to finish projects that aren't being completed or doing light duties that are temporarily overwhelming you. Asking for help may simply mean that you confide your anxieties in a peer and request their emotional support. Before suffering an anxiety attack, you may instead decide to talk out your thoughts with a colleague and they can help you process your feelings.

Focus on the Facts

When you're suffering from anxiety, whether it be at work or home, your brain will often try to convince you that your anxious thoughts are real. For example, you might be fearful that your boss doesn't think you're a good employee and wants to fire you. Instead of giving in to those anxieties, take a moment to ground yourself and focus on the facts that you do know. First, how was your most recent performance review? If it was positive, use this fact to calm your anxieties about potentially being fired. If there were areas on your performance evaluation that suggested a need for improvement, know that this is normal! All employees have areas of their work that could be bettered. Instead of being anxious about it, use that energy to motivate you to work in those areas. Then, you'll be able to celebrate any achievements along the way.

Request Workplace Accommodations for Anxiety

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) offers some protection for employees who suffer from physical or mental disabilities in the workplace, and anxiety would be covered under this. These protections allow employees to request reasonable accommodations in the workplace, but just remember, it's up to you to initiate the conversation. Not only are your employers not mind-readers, but they also do not know what specific ways you need help. Reasonable accommodations in the workplace may be as simple as moving your work space to a different area that is quieter or allowing you to leave work during the day to attend a counseling appointment.

Utilize Resources

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management reports that "An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a voluntary, work-based program that offers free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems." If your employer has one, don't shy away from using it.

Similarly, if you receive health insurance from your employer, take advantage of any mental health benefits that are available to you, such as counseling, prescriptions and even in-patient treatment if necessary. Other options to help manage anxiety are health insurance discounts on services like gym memberships, massage therapy and acupuncture. And finally, your workplace wellness programs may have mental health related tools or services you could utilize instead of requesting workplace accommodations for anxiety.

Everyone experiences anxieties of some kind, but if you're truly suffering from an anxiety disorder, your work output and professional relationships may suffer. By taking a step toward managing this facet of your life, you'll find more peace in your work and less stress overall.

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