Anxiety at the workplace : A silent epidemic?

Raghav, age 28, has spent most of his professional life feeling like a failure . Happy go lucky as a child, fear of failure or future never crossed his mind all through his school and college. This attitude coupled with his innate aptitude for academics, helped him excel in academics and land a job in a reputed MNC. The transition to a corporate environment defined by targets, deadlines, promotions etc did not happen easily though. His rural background and his Engineering college didn’t really prepare him for corporate communication which is exclusively in English and places priority on clarity and confidence. He started getting nervous in meetings and was very anxious when he was asked to present in front of groups. His voice stuttered in meetings and his palms sweat profusely, adversely impacting the quality of his presentations.

This continued for months and he began worrying obsessively about his image and how he came across to his colleagues, growing increasingly conscious about every action of his in public. He started avoiding conversations with colleagues and even started dining at his desk, to avoid meeting folks. These symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) grew, and Raghav became increasingly reclusive.

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experience excessive anxiety and worry, often about health, family, money, or work. This constant worry goes on every day, possibly all day. It disrupts social activities and interferes with work, school, and relationships. Workplace anxieties cripple professionals, costing thousands in lost earnings and missed opportunities, professional relationships and personal relationships. Usually the five most common triggers for anxiety at the workplace are :

• Fear of speaking in public

• Fear of interacting with seniors and figures of authority

• Fear of taking on new challenges

• Fear of being noticeably nervous

• Perfectionism

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18.1% of American adults suffer from a clinical anxiety disorder. Interestingly, women are 60% more likely than men to have an anxiety disorder in their lifetimes, with experts citing both cultural and biological reasons.

The social stigma and taboo associated with mental illnesses makes it difficult for people to accept it and seek help. People with GAD don’t admit or seek help because they fear they may lose their jobs and social isolation. This often results in delayed treatment or self treating themselves, both equally dangerous and can have a long lasting effect on the person. Delayed treatment can result in physical health problems like chest pain, dizziness etc. Treatment may be complicated and this is why treatment must be tailored specifically for each individual which can be done only by a professional. Trying self treatment runs a high risk of wrong treatment and aggravating the illness.

Raghav was almost about to put in his papers, not able to take the pressure of his work place, when one of his co-workers suggested that he meet a Clinical Psychologist. Reluctant at first, it took him a couple of session to open up and discuss his situation in detail. A bad presentation in front of the clients and his manager yelling at him, was his first real experience of severe pressure and anxiety. Having grown up carefree and never having faced severe disappointment before, this incident had a significant impact in his psyche. After understanding his triggers, the counsellors put him on Exposure Therapy, which is a form of CBT for reducing anxiety and responses.

While Raghav’s counseling continued, the counselor also explained to Raghav’s manager that GAD is not a significant impediment to corporate success, if he has a little support from his team. People suffering from GAD have overcome their anxiety and achieved significant corporate success.

Raghav returned to work as a more confident person and he also received more support from his manager and colleagues. He realized that the only way to fight workplace anxiety is to face his fears. He put in efforts to overcome his fear of public speaking by attending workshops and meetings with support groups. A timely intervention by the manager, professional help from a trained Psychologist and a supporting environment saved Raghav’s career.

The Thought Clinic is a platform that brings together Clinical Psychologists and Psychiatrists and connects them with folks who need advice or support.

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