Make a difference

20 April 2022

4 min.

How to support colleagues experiencing anxiety?

Let’s be honest: we live in a crazy world, and it can take us on a roller coaster ride of emotions! It is perfectly normal to experience periods of stress and even anxiety in our personal lives, but also in a professional context.

Since we spend several hours a week in physical or virtual contact with our colleagues, we often have a special bond with them, which generally allows us to see when something is not right. However, we don’t always know how to act or what to say to try to support a colleague experiencing anxiety. Here is a list of do’s and don’ts that will help you.

Preventive strategies to implement

First of all, it is important to know that there are several strategies that can be implemented upstream in our work teams to try to prevent the development of anxiety among staff members. Here are some of them, suggested by the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services.

  • Encourage positive self-talk
  • Set realistic expectations
  • Dedramatize
  • Encourage teammates to see “the glass as half full”.
  • Value assertiveness
  • Encourage non-anxious or courageous behaviour
  • Lead by example
  • Encourage autonomy in managing anxiety
  • Identify subtle avoidance strategies and offer successful strategies
  • Share fun times with colleagues on a regular basis
  • Have a contingency plan for crisis situations

What to do when anxiety is entrenched?

No matter how many strategies you put in place to try to prevent anxiety, life being what it is, anxiety can still plague a colleague or employee. So what can be done to help these people?

Active listenning and guidance

The first thing to do when you sense that a colleague is experiencing anxiety is to take a moment to communicate that you have observed certain behaviours that lead you to believe that something is wrong. You can simply start the discussion by mentioning that you feel they are stressed, then give them a moment to express themselves and listen actively.

An anxious person will tend to have cognitive biases, i.e. a misleading thought pattern. By actively listening to our colleague, we can identify these cognitive biases and try to break them down with them to open them up for further questions.

It is proven that naming the emotions we experience helps us to overcome them. In this sense, we can encourage our colleague to describe their emotions, and help them make the link between their thought patterns, their felt emotions, their physical reactions or sensations, and their behaviours.

Physical activity, wellbeing, and self-awareness

There are also all sorts of ways to soothe the physical symptoms of anxiety. We can suggest that our colleague breathe calmly and deeply. We can also encourage them to engage in certain physical activities that promote relaxation and wellbeing, such as

  • Walking
  • Dance
  • Yoga
  • Meditation, etc.

Lifestyle also has a great influence on our wellbeing. We can encourage our colleague to pay attention to their diet and sleep and to avoid alcohol or drugs. Taking the time to relax and recharge, with a hot bath or a book, can also be very beneficial.

Finally, they can be encouraged to be aware of their feelings, emotions, and reactions and to find a way to express them that works for them. Talking to a friend or family member, writing in a journal, painting or drawing are all excellent ways to diffuse anxiety.

Watch out for pressure and time management!

Despite our good intentions, it is important to avoid telling an anxious person to calm down, minimizing the importance of the source of anxiety, or pressuring them to change their state of mind. These methods may well have the opposite effect and generate even more anxiety in them.

A co-worker with anxiety may have attention and planning issues. As a manager, you must therefore pay particular attention to the amount of work and deadlines you give to the employee with anxiety. It is a good idea to increase supervision and promote teamwork, to delegate certain administrative tasks to someone else to keep only what is essential, to limit the number of projects on which the employee is involved, and to wait until one project is completed before assigning another.

In addition, there are all sorts of electronic tools and platforms to facilitate the management and automation of tasks, and these are generally inexpensive and very simple to implement.

Anxiety is a real scourge that can pollute our lives and be extremely painful for the person experiencing it and those around them. We hope these tips will help you the next time you recognize that a colleague is experiencing anxiety.