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Being More Sensitive to Anxious Colleagues

Updated: Apr 22

Anxiety is a prevalent problem in the modern workplace. It affects 1 in 10 of all people and it costs companies 40 Lakhs each year due to missed days. But while many supervisors and co-workers offer kind words of reassurance, too often those messages come with unhelpful comments that can lead to mental health complications. Here are 5 insensitive things you must stop saying to your anxious colleagues:

1. "You'll be fine"

It seems like such a nice thing to say, but that's the problem. It feels nice to be told we'll be fine, but it also sounds more like a wish than an actual promise. In reality, our anxious colleagues aren't completely fine right now. Telling them they will be may actually make them feel even worse because they are so aware of their current struggles. So what's the solution? Try acknowledging their fear without saying they'll be fine. So instead of saying: "You'll be fine" try this: "I know how difficult this is for you right now, it's tough." This gives your colleague the benefit of your words without trying to hide the challenges facing him/her right now.

2. "She's just shy"

This is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. When you have an anxious colleague who seems to struggle in social situations, you may have really good intentions in your mind when you tell them: "She's just shy." You may think: "I've seen her open up and talk to other people at parties/lunches/birthday celebrations, so this is just temporary." But the fact of the matter is that shyness and anxiety are not the same things. Shyness is an inner fear of social rejection while anxiety is a fear of any situation that has the potential for danger. This can include social situations, but it also includes things like driving or going to work. So while it may be true that your colleague is okay around you or your closest friends, they may still struggle when they have to get up and talk in front of the whole department. Therefore, if you want to help your anxious colleague, don't trivialize their struggles by telling them "she's just shy." Instead, give them a lot of space to breathe and comfort them in their current journey.

3. "It's just a phase"

Anxiety is something every person goes through at one point or another. Each anxious moment comes from a different place and has its own set of circumstances that determine how we handle it. Therefore, when you tell your colleague "it's just a phase" because their anxiety seems to be centered around a specific area in the workplace…" It's just a phase of feeling under-appreciated at work," or " it's just a phase of being nervous about the upcoming presentation," what you are saying is that your colleague should snap out of their anxious state. In reality, however, anxiety can't be snapped out of. It is a mental health issue that needs treatment and reassurance. Instead, try acknowledging your colleague's feelings with words like: "It must feel really tough to go through something like this."

4. "How can you be so anxious?"

Anxious people are not necessarily weak. In fact, many of them are extremely successful and ambitious. This is the beauty of anxiety – in spite of its debilitating effects, those who suffer from it tend to push past those effects and keep moving on in life. So when you tell an anxious colleague "How can you be so anxious" you're really saying: "You're really strong and resilient. How can you still feel like this?" Many people may have a hard time understanding how someone as strong as your colleague could feel like they're falling apart. However, there's beauty in all mental health struggles, even if we don't realize it right now. The key to helping your anxious colleague is recognizing that their pain is real despite how they may try to hide it at times.

5. "Just breathe"

Well, this is more of a comment than a saying but it's still important. When your anxious colleague is having trouble breathing because their chest feels tight or they're breathless, don't just say "just breathe." While this may seem like an insignificant comment, it can actually be harmful to some people. Anxiety can make us feel like we physically cannot breathe and when someone tells us to "just" do it, it only makes things worse. Instead, try to give them a follow-up comment like: "You are breathing just fine." This way you're acknowledging their struggles at the moment while also assuring them that they are doing something right.

It is possible for us to use our words in a way that doesn't make our anxious colleagues feel defensive, frustrated, or worse. When we are anxious, it can sometimes be hard to understand the struggle others face. But it is possible to be an ally for those struggling and it is possible to have a positive impact on their mental health; so let's try.

If your colleague's anxiety becomes worse, you can act as a caregiver and suggest him/her to go for alternative therapy sessions or therapy itself. You can book sessions through ManoShala with just a few clicks!

Written by Harshita Sevaldasani

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