New to Work: Managing Workplace Anxiety

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Starting a new job can be an exciting time. A job provides financial support and a sense of contribution. However, a new boss, new colleagues, new policies, and new ways of getting things done can be a source of stress as well. This is especially true for people who are returning to work after a layoff and still know the unsettling feeling of job insecurity.

Although it's uncomfortable, new job anxiety isn't necessarily bad. Anxiety can be a motivator to learn the ropes and work hard. But when anxiety becomes too unbearable or threatens performance, intervention is required to reduce worry and stress. According to the American Institute on Stress (AIS), job-related stress costs U.S. businesses over $300 billion dollars a year in accidents, absenteeism, employee turnovers, and lower productivity. AIS reports that stress is responsible for a 40 percent turnover rate and accounts for 60 to 80 percent of job-related accidents.

Like other forms of anxiety, workplace stress can be managed. In many cases, the stress in a new job will dissipate with familiarity with the work and coworkers. For others, specific strategies such as deep breathing are recommended. The key is to recognize the symptoms of stress and develop healthy coping tactics to reduce them.

Symptoms of Anxiety

One thing that remains constant among all the forms of anxiety is its symptoms. People suffering from anxiety may have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Excessive negative thoughts and worry
  • Unrealistic fears
  • Edginess and irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches or nausea
  • Lack of focus
  • Exhaustion
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increased heart rate
  • Faster breathing

New Job Anxiety Reducing Strategies

The unknown is a major source of stress and starting a new job has many unknowns, such as the workplace atmosphere, the friendliness of co-workers, and boss' expectations. These unknowns are out of the new employee's control, but he can take steps to start a new job right by:

  • Staying healthy by eating right, exercising and getting plenty of sleep, especially the day before starting a new job.
  • Being professional by arriving on time, dressing appropriately, and diving into work.
  • Reviewing the job objectives, duties, and expectations with the boss or supervisor.
  • Studying, not skimming the company's policies. They not only provide the rules, they answer questions and supply vital information about the company.
  • Being friendly to all coworkers. Like high school, workplaces can have cliques. While avoiding negative office politics is important, being open and friendly to everyone insures positive interaction with all co-workers.
  • Asking questions. Many new employees worry that by asking questions they will appear incompetent, and therefore jeopardize their job. However, it's more likely that by not asking for clarification that they'll do something wrong that can hurt their career.
  • Communicating with the boss and colleagues. Interaction with others helps one learn about the workplace, develops relationships and positive opinions, and shows commitment to the job.
  • Becoming irreplaceable by working harder and providing more value to the company.

Managing Workplace Stress

Many employees continue to struggle with workplace anxiety even after making a good first impression. Learning to recognize and cope with anxiety is crucial to staying stress-free in the workplace.

  • Remember skills and accomplishments. Bosses only hire people who have shown they have the skills and experience to do the job. In many cases, a new hire beat out other candidates to get the job. Reviewing accomplishments boosts confidence and reduces new job worries.
  • Meditate 10 minutes before work. Meditating induces the exact opposite results as anxiety. It slows the heart rate and breathing, provides a sense of calm, and clears the mind.
  • Practice deep breathing or other calming techniques when anxiety threatens to overwhelm while at work.
  • Don't focus on the past. Layoffs or other negative job experience in the past are gone. This day, this job is a new start.
  • Take on a work challenge. Anxiety can cause one to shy away from colleagues or tasks, but action stomps out stress. Stepping up to take more responsibility can build confidence and impress the boss.
  • Participate in job-related social activities, such as having lunch with coworkers and participating in company recreational sports.
  • Take a walk or perform other exercise before work or during lunch.
  • Reduce stress outside of work. Stress knows no boundaries, which means home-related stress can be brought to work, and work-related stress can be taken home. Use anxiety-reducing techniques to reduce stress in all areas of your life.

Stress can make work more challenging and unsatisfying. It can cause one to perform below standard and risk job security, often the very situation they are trying to avoid. Managing new-job and workplace stress not only improves job satisfaction, but performance as well.

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