How Anxiety Affects You in the Workplace

Working can be difficult - you often get caught up in the latest office politics, or your boss asks you to do something you have no idea how to do, and you have to do it because, well, she's your boss. However, studies are now showing new ways that anxiety can make working even harder. While this may have always been obvious for those of you with anxiety, these studies are helping to quantify and identify the exact problems so that it's easier for you to get help.


What is Working Memory?

Post-it note saying "Don't Forget!"
Image courtesy of Harvard Health

Working memory, more commonly known as short-term memory, plays a crucial role in your everyday life.


Working memory, in the most simple of terms, is how your brain holds information, constantly updating and manipulating it to fit the latest situation. The ability to learn new skills, make decisions, create and meet goals, and pay attention rely heavily on working memory - and are also all vital skills in the workplace. Not only do many of these tasks involve working memory, they also involve complex cognitive processes, such as shifting from one sub-task to the next or the constant monitoring of one’s performance to catch and fix errors.


How Does Anxiety Affect Working Memory?

Chaos in the mind
Image courtesy of Everyday Health

Anxiety can affect the cognitive functions that keep you on-task.


Studies have shown that people with anxiety have much more trouble holding numerical and verbal information in their working memory. This is because their perception of threat is much higher than those of the average person, which distracts them and prevents them from completing ongoing tasks as well as interfering with the specific cognitive functions that make working memory possible.


Because people with anxiety are constantly distracted by perceived threats, it can be nearly impossible for them to complete tasks in the workplace that involve working memory - which is a bummer, since almost all workplace tasks do. However, not all is lost - studies also suggest that when the workload is low, working memory is more impaired because there is more space to devote to the perceived threat, but when workload is high, working memory is less affected.

How Can You Treat Workplace Anxiety?

Although specific treatments have been suggested that involve drawing attention away from the perceived threat, the usual treatments for anxiety have been largely shown to be more effective. Plus, ignoring threats may create avoidance behavior, which can increase anxiety later on. Because anxiety disorders usually have roots in some deeper trauma, it is unlikely that distractions will be effective as they don't address the underlying problem. In order to have a better workplace - and life - experience, you should contact a professional to ensure that you receive the correct treatment.


Anxiety disorder is tough, and it's even tougher when it starts to interfere with your career. Hopefully now that you are better informed about why you might be feeling like you're always lagging behind your coworkers, or you just can't seem to finish your tasks in a timely manner, you will be able to address the problem and get the help you need. With proper treatment, your job won't feel like such an uphill battle anymore.


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