How to Help a Co-worker Experiencing Anxiety

How to Help a Co-worker Experiencing Anxiety

Many people feel stressed, anxious, or worried at some point during their work day. Despite compartmentalizing personal and professional lives, organizations across the world have realised how much of the self is carried to the workplace by an employee. Post the COVID-19 pandemic, workplaces have seen an incessant rise in employee mental health concerns. According to ‘Mind the Workplace Report (2021)’ in USA, 83% individuals felt emotionally drained at work and 9 out of 10 workers reported job stress affected their mental health.

In lesser amounts, these intense emotions can facilitate productivity, however if felt frequently, intensely and over a prolonged period, they can lead to detrimental personal and professional outcomes. This makes it essential to have a supportive work environment to cater to mental health needs of employees.

What is Workplace Anxiety?

Anxiety comprises of incessant negative thoughts and is often accompanied with a physical response such as muscular tension, headaches, palpitations. Anxiety may not always have an external trigger and is more generalised in experience. According to the ‘Anxiety and Depression Association of America’, there is an elevated level of self-reported anxiety symptoms in the U.S. Overall, 72% of individuals who have daily stress and anxiety report that this interferes with their daily lives in some way, and approximately 9% of adults are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

A Women with a HELP placard in the office.

Research indicates that even normal levels of anxiety can significantly impact employees’ attitudes, behaviour, and performance. Those experiencing anxiety are often dissatisfied with their jobs, which can lead to job-seeking behaviour and turnover. Anxiety also affects confidence in skills, optimism about impact, and productivity-related behaviours such as goal setting. This can result in giving up, neglecting important tasks, underperforming, and even job loss, creating a negative cycle of chronic anxiety.

The root cause of anxiety at work may vary from person to person. Situations take make people anxious at work or lead to developing anxiety include:

  • Dealing with conflict at work
  • Delivering presentations
  • Maintaining work-life balance
  • Social interactions such as meetings, staff lunches, and office parties
  • Meeting and setting deadlines.
  • Consistently long work hours
  • a lack of support from managers and co-workers
  • Speaking up during meetings
  • Misfit in workplace culture and self
  • Lack of training
  • Unrealistic task expectations

Signs to look out for

Two women in workplace enjoying work

An individual spends one-third of their day at work making time spent with colleagues and co-workers quite significant. These co-workers can be a strong support system to cope with anxiety. Here are some observable signs that could be indicative of a co-worker is experiencing anxiety at the workplace:

  • Avoiding social interactions
  • Crying
  • Constant worry and apprehension
  • Distractibility
  • Inability to meet deadlines,
  • Absenteeism
  • Excessive focus on details and perfectionism
  • Losing interest in work
  • Change in eating habits- over or under eating,
  • Losing temper easily
  • Visible palpitations or difficulty breathing
  • Looking tired due to sleep disturbances
  • Forgetfulness
  • Drop in work performance.
  • Physical complaints like upset stomach, headaches, stiffness in muscles and sweating.

Importance of recognizing signs early to offer timely support.

Anxiety as an emotion serves a protective function to help us prepare for a potential threat in the environment and either face it (fight) or escape from it (flight). While it enhances awareness and self-preservation instincts, high and prolonged levels of anxiety can impair cognitive function and lead to emotional exhaustion. Anxious individuals may seek advice often, potentially hindering their decision-making. Extreme anxiety can even cause immobilization. Identifying the early signs can prevent such devastating impacts and measures can be taken to prioritize the co-worker’s well-being by fostering systems of support in place.

Ways to Support a Co-worker with Anxiety

There are several organization-level initiatives that advocate for workplace mental health: beginning with holding open conversations about mental health and expressing explicit support for employee well-being in the organizational setup. As coworkers, our close relationship with colleagues can make us feel helpless and powerless when witnessing a colleague’s struggles with anxiety. Here are some ways in which you can support your coworker with anxiety in the workplace:

Actively Listen– create a space for open conversation where your colleague can share what they are feeling with you. Ensure that they feel comfort and safety without giving advice or feedback to them.

Actively Listen to your colleague

Communicate with Empathy and Understanding- Anxiety is a real and difficult experience. As a colleague try to see their perspective instead of dismissing or minimizing what they feel is necessary. Express your understanding of their experience and be compassionate with your words.

Communicate with Empathy and Understanding

Ask them what they Need– Sometimes problem-solving helps us feel in control. however, your colleague may not need solutions but something else. Its important to check in with what they need in the moment rather than assuming your role in supporting them.

Ask them what they Need

Show priority to their Well-being by Practical Support– whenever possible and feasible, make attempts to alter their workload or help them set more realistic timelines and goals if they feel overwhelmed by their workload. Express your belief in their well-being as a priority and help the delegate, postpone, or re-evaluate timelines of tasks under them.

Show priority to their Well-being by Practical Support

Educate yourself on Mental Health Concerns– we may not be aware of the prevalence of mental health difficulties. To support someone, it is important for us to gather information, learn effective ways to communicate and let go of biases and stigmas that can inhibit our ability to offer help.

Educate yourself on Mental Health Concerns

Encouraging the use of Available Resources– as a co-worker, it may not be possible to offer constant support. Your colleague may need professional help. Encourage and support them to access well-being programs offered by the organization or avail individual mental health services to prioritise their well-being.

Encouraging the use of Available Resources

Maintain Boundaries– while being helpful and supportive is useful, remember what your primary role in the organisation is. There may be limitations to your help as a co-worker. If you feel like you are experiencing a role-conflict between being a co-worker and friend or an employee, set your limits to offer support. Some demands may go beyond your capacity, and it is okay to prioritise yourself and your work too!

Maintain Boundaries

Check-in with Yourself– being there for others can be emotionally draining. It is essential to engage in self-care to be able to be there for others. Check in with and cater to your emotions and needs first. If you do not have the bandwidth to be there for someone, you can say no, offer alternatives, redirect them to HR or choose a different time to interact with them.


Supporting a coworker experiencing anxiety is not only a compassionate act but also contributes to a healthier and more productive work environment. By fostering open communication, offering practical assistance, and showing empathy, we can create a workplace where individuals feel valued and supported. Remember, small gestures of kindness and understanding can make a significant difference in someone’s journey towards managing their anxiety. Let’s do our bit to prioritize mental health and build a culture of support and acceptance in our workplaces!


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Written By
Shreya Makhija
Counselling Psychologist

Ms. Shreya Makhija is an Assistant Professor at Smt. P.N Doshi Women's College, Ghatkopar, affiliated to SNDT Women's University. She completed her Masters in Applied Psychology (Clinical and Counseling Practices) from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai in 2021 and has been practicing as a counselling psychologist eversince. She currently runs her own private practice and is a trauma-informed and queer affirmative practitioner. Her areas of expertise include anxiety, depression, self-esteem, relationship related concerns, adjustment related difficulties and work stress. She has facilitated multiple workshops and is a research enthusiast. In her free time, you will find her looking up different recipes to try or at zumba classes

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