Workplace anxiety can be scary, but what if it’s our secret superpower?
If you’ve worked with ATR recently, you might recognize me as the Vice President of Sales & Strategy. It’s a wonderfully rewarding role that gives me the opportunity to lead our national sales team and give strategic counsel to our clients. But the staffing industry is not without its challenges! It’s fast-paced, requires strong business acumen, and quite frankly, it’s full of chances to change a candidate’s life for the better.
How’s that for pressure?
It’s no wonder that in conditions like these, I experience my fair share of occasional anxiety. In fact, I’m willing to bet that most of us do, from the mail room to the c-suite — we’re all just people, after all. For me, anxiety can make it more challenging to live up to ATR’s motto of “Making the world a better place, one job at a time.” But with some helpful coping mechanisms and maybe even a shift in perspective, we can hopefully look at anxiety as less like a workplace scourge and more like a secret superpower.
Anxiety at a Glance
First of all, it might be helpful to get on the same page in recognizing that mental health is a real thing. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America — or ADAA — anxiety disorders are just as serious or “real” as physical issues like heart disease. They’re almost as prevalent, too, with the National Institutes of Health — or NIH — reporting that as many as 1 in 5 Americans face an anxiety disorder of some kind.
Whether you have anxiety depends on your genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life experiences — and like a lot of things, it’s a spectrum. On one end, you might feel a little shy or socially anxious, a feeling that almost 50% of Americans relate to. On the other, you might be among the 12% that experiences full-blown Social Anxiety Disorder, a condition that can prevent people from living a successful life. If you’ve ever caught yourself in bed with the covers over your head, dreading that presentation at work; or felt your pulse race as a looming deadline approaches, chances are you’ve experienced anxiety!
So when these feelings arise, what should we do?
When Anxiety Strikes, Let It
There are tons of time-tested suggestions for dealing with anxiety and stress at work, including setting boundaries and taking breaks to practice meditation. But there’s a relatively new way to deal with anxiety that involves treating it like a friend instead of an enemy. That’s the conclusion made by Steven Hayes, professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Nevada in Reno. He founded a new type of therapy called acceptance commitment therapy — or ACT — that requires you to accept your anxiety and the negative thoughts that come with it. The idea is that your anxiety is a part of you, so you shouldn’t try to fight it — when you do, you’re really only fighting yourself. Think of it like inviting your anxiety in like an old friend so you can learn to accept it.
It’s all about changing your perception, which is easier said than done in the face of self-doubt, sweaty palms and the inability to focus on anything except the issue that’s causing you stress. But if you can at least recognize that stress and anxiety are signs that you care about what you’re doing, you can start to take steps toward making these negative feelings work for you instead of against you.
Don’t Underestimate an Anxious Candidate
Looking at anxiety in a new light brings me to my final point. As someone who’s worked in staffing for 15 years, I know that bringing talent into your organization is probably the most important facet of building a strong company. You have to build strong relationships with your talent providers to help identify the best cultural and technical fits for your team. But what else makes an ideal candidate? Are there other factors below the surface that make a great employee?
As it turns out, there’s an overlap between social anxiety and a sense of strong dedication, as laid out in this great article by clinical psychologist and author Ellen Hendriksen, PhD. Sometimes people with social anxiety exhibit very high standards in the workplace and go out of their way to be thorough. This perfectionism can be a problem when it comes to hitting deadlines, but if these employees are mentored the right way, the results can be impressive. Keep this in mind the next time you see an employee who looks like they have too much time on their hands, or conversely, one who’s plowing through an assignment with their head down and headphones on!
If you ever feel anxious at work, I can totally relate — and I’m in your corner. If you take one thing away from this blog, just know that what you’re feeling is real and that coping with anxiety is possible. Let’s all motivate each other to keep working on ourselves and to support the anxious coworkers and candidates in our lives. Remember that the anxious worker often has a level of dedication that can make mental illness look more like a superpower, so let’s do what we can to support these employees and recognize them as the assets they are!