Anxiety and Stress in the Workplace

Having an anxiety disorder can make a major impact in the workplace. People may turn down a promotion or other opportunity because it involves travel or public speaking; make excuses to get out of office parties, staff lunches, and other events or meetings with coworkers; or be unable to meet deadlines.

In a national survey on anxiety in the workplace, people with anxiety disorders commonly cited these as difficult situations: dealing with problems; setting and meeting deadlines; maintaining personal relationships; managing staff; participating in meetings, and making presentations. 

Tell Your Employer?

It’s your decision to tell your employer about your anxiety disorder. Some people do so because they need accommodations, others want to educate people about their condition, and some do not want to hide their illness.

If you have a physical or mental disability and are qualified to do a job, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) protects you from job discrimination. Being qualified means you must satisfy an employer’s requirements for the job and be able to perform essential functions on your own or with reasonable accommodation. An employer cannot refuse to hire you because your disability prevents you from performing duties that are not essential to the job. Find out more about employment rights.  

Tips to Manage Stress and Anxiety at Work

Getting stressed out at work happens to everyone, and it’s perfectly normal. But stress that is persistent, irrational, and overwhelming and impairs daily functioning may indicate an anxiety disorder. Keep these ideas in mind to keep your work life manageable:

  • Work! In addition to financial reasons, working can be important for your self-esteem and it adds to your social identity.
  • Tell a trusted coworker. Knowing that someone accepts your condition can be comforting and it may reduce any anticipatory anxiety about having a panic attack at work. 
  • Educate yourself. Learn to recognize the symptoms of your disorder and how to handle them if you experience any at work.
  • Practice time management. Make to-do lists and prioritize your work. Schedule enough time to complete each task or project.
  • Plan and prepare. Get started on major projects as early as possible. Set mini-deadlines for yourself. Anticipate problems and work to prevent them.
  • Do it right the first time. Spend the extra time at the outset and save yourself a headache later when you have to redo your work.
  • Be realistic. Don’t overcommit or offer to take on projects if you don’t realistically have enough time.
  • Ask for help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask a coworker for help. Later you can return the favor.
  • Communicate. Speak up calmly and diplomatically if you have too much to handle. Your supervisor may not realize you’re overextended.
  • Stay organized. Filing and clearing your desk and computer desktop may rank low on your priority list, but they can save you time in the long run and may prevent a crisis later.
  • Avoid toxic coworkers. Try to ignore negativity and gossip in your workplace.
  • Take breaks. A walk around the block or a few minutes of deep breathing can help clear your head.
  • Set boundaries. Try not to bring work home with you. Don’t check your work e-mail or voice mail after hours.
  • Savor success. Take a moment to celebrate your
  • good work before moving on to the next project. Thank everyone who helped you.
  • Plan a vacation. You’ll be rejuvenated and ready to work when you come back.
  • Take advantage of employer resources and benefits. Your workplace may offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), discounts to gyms, or skill-building courses. Learn what’s available to you.
  • Be healthy. Eat healthfully, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and limit caffeine and alcohol. Try to keep your body and mind in shape to handle challenging situations.

Getting Help

It’s important to find help for anxiety, stress, and related disorders. Find a therapist near you.

With treatment, most people find significant improvement. Several standard approaches have proved effective. Your health care professional will use one or a combination of these treatments:


American Psychological Association Workplace Issues

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Facts About the Americans With Disabilities Act

Mental Health America


Updated November 2015

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