Is That Stomach Ache Really Workplace Anxiety?

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Workplace stress can cause even the toughest employee to get a headache or stomach ache.  Adult anxiety, it seems, may have its beginnings in the same kind of stomach aches kids get when they don’t want to go to school, have a test, or suffer from a bully on the school bus.  A study by Vanderbilt University tracked 322 children who had stomach aches with no physical reason.  The study compared these children as they became young adults with children who didn’t have the same type of stomach aches.  More children with childhood stomach distress developed anxiety and depression as adults than the control group. 

A stomach ache caused by food bad food is one thing, but one with no apparent physical cause is another.  The flu can sweep across a workplace and take out a lot of employees, but with the right kind of medication, bed rest and a little chicken soup, it eventually goes away.  Not so with anxiety.  The dull ache, panic or worry associated with anxiety remains long after the pain is gone.  A hostile workplace environment, fear of failure, or being trapped in a dead-end job because you need the salary or benefits can make the anxiety grow.

Anxiety and the physical symptoms can cause more problems in the workplace.  Employees may try to hide their suffering for fear of being looked at as weak and unable to handle pressure.  They may be passed over for opportunities to travel or take on challenging assignments.  If anxiety results in panic attacks, an employee may decline offers to make presentations, travel or even take meetings with important clients.  Anxiety builds upon itself, and can incapacitate an otherwise competent, bright and promising employee.  It can become so overwhelming that it seriously jeopardizes a career.

Medications can interfere with work, take the edge off and make an employee less effective, tired or foggy-brained.  If you’re dealing with workplace anxiety, there are solutions.  Until you find a solution and an effective course of treatment, telling a trusted co-worker, manager or the company’s human resources manager can help.  Sharing the burden takes the secrecy and added stress out of the situation.  Find out if your company has an Employee Assistance Program with free counseling.  Take advantage of your company’s healthcare benefits if you’re eligible.  Your doctor or healthcare professional may suggest a course of medication or therapy to help you function more effectively.

One of the best ways to beat anxiety is to give up trying to be perfect.  Get comfortable with “good enough.”  Chances are, your “good enough” is better than your co-workers’ “best.” 

Try to look at life and work as participation and not as competition.  Constantly measuring yourself and your work against others is a losing battle.  There will always be someone who does things better or has more experience or talent than you do in one area or another.  Why beat yourself up over shortcomings, when everyone has them?  Your strengths make up for another team member’s weaknesses.  That’s what makes an effective team.

Most of all, don’t think of yourself as a victim at the mercy of your stomach pains or headache or however workplace anxiety manifests itself for you.  Take action.  See your doctor.  Talk to a therapist.  Research the Internet.  Learn to laugh at yourself and not take everything so seriously.  Very little is black or white, do-or-die in the workplace.  Decide what your limits are and stick to them.  Use stress to motivate instead of immobilize.

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