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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

Stop the Anxiety: 5 Situations You’re (Almost) Always Overthinking at Work

worried woman

I probably don't have to tell you this: Work is stressful. On top of having to successfully complete all of our responsibilities, we usually have a lot of other concerns crossing our minds occasionally (or always). And let’s be real here. We don’t really have the time to be fretting about all these additional scenarios, do we?

All that worrying takes up a lot of space in our brains, and as anyone who’s ever spent hours stressing instead of getting through his or her to-do list knows, it’s also a pretty successful time suck.

Because I don’t want you spending any unnecesary time panicking (over possibly nothing), I've rounded up five incredibly common situations that may cause you to feel some work-related anxiety—and given you advice on how you can start addressing them head on.

1. You’re Worried You’re Going to Miss a Deadline

Realizing you may not be able to get something done in time is not a fun situation at all—frankly, it probably causes you to panic a bit (or a lot). But before you throw in the towel, take a step back and ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there anything else on your to-do list you can reprioritize? If so, rearrange it.

  • Are there any unnecessary tasks in the project you can remove to cut down on time? Yeah? Eliminate them. More often than not, it’s better to turn the project in on-time if it’s 75% complete, rather than 100% complete a week later.

  • Is there anyone who can help you finish it? Yes? Then ask. Delegation is always key.

But if you are definitely going to miss the cut off point, it still doesn’t mean everything is ruined. Adrian Granzella Larssen, Editor-in-Chief of The Muse, lays out exactly what to do. First and foremost? Alert all involved parties as soon as possible so they can plan accordingly.

Speaking of planning accordingly—there are steps you can take to minimize the chances of this happening again. “Set a faux deadline for yourself a day or two before your actual deadline—even put it in your calendar, which tricks your brain into thinking it’s due a few days before,” Larssen advises. “Stick to that date, and you’ll always be safe.”

2. You’re Worried Your Co-Worker Doesn’t Like You

You spend a lot of time with these people you’re working with—and it would stink to feel that one doesn’t like you. Because who likes spending hours with a person who dislikes them? Not me. But before you jump to the conclusion that she hates your guts, consider the following:

Could it just be her style of communication? Some people can come off quite curt in email (and in person), but it has nothing to do with how they feel toward you.

And, did she actually do something to make you feel this way? Or are you reading into every little thing way too much? Just because she doesn’t smile enthusiastically and wave each time she passes you on the way to the bathroom doesn’t actually mean she has a vendetta against you.

Now, if she consistently asks everyone in the office except you to lunch or happy hour, or, if she flat out told you she doesn’t want to be your friend, well, I guess she doesn’t like you then.

Here’s what not to do: Try to change it. Because you can’t, and it really doesn’t matter. You can’t force everyone in life to like you. And, furthermore, you don’t need them to.

“The best thing you can do for your own sanity and professionalism is to just accept that this person will never be starting up a fan club in your honor. You’ll need to find ways to collaborate together on work projects without heated arguments and tons of uncomfortable tension,” says Kat Boogaard, Muse writer and Career Editor of The Everygirl.

Lastly, one thing I always say to myself when I feel this way is, “Wait—I don’t like every single person I meet, so why should I expect everyone to like me?” Answer: I shouldn’t.

3. You’re Worried You’re a Fraud and Will Be Found Out

Imposter syndrome at its finest! This happens to me all the time—I have an especially unproductive day or take a couple breaks and start to think “I’m a horrible employee,” or, “They shouldn’t be paying me what they’re paying me.” (Wait, yes they should. I need to pay my rent! And feed my cat!)

Self-doubt is sneaky and can take over your rational mind without you even noticing it. If you often find yourself feeling you’re not worthy of something—your job, your promotion, a raise, run through the following thought process: Are you completing all of your work? If so, are you doing it well?

If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then you need to stop those thoughts before you end up in a really negative headspace. Easier said than done, right? Don’t worry—we’ve got your back with these nine strategies from some of our awesome career coaches. My favorite tip? Number six—identifying the root. If you can get to the bottom of why exactly you feel this way, it’ll be much easier to combat those feelings.

If the answer is no to either (or both), though, it still doesn’t mean you’re a fraud. It just means you need to figure out why the answer is no and then take action.

4. You’re Worried You’ll Speak Up and Sound Stupid

Sometimes providing input or proposing a new idea to a group of your colleagues can be really intimidating. Especially if you’re new to the group or if some higher-ups are in the room. But even if an idea’s half-baked, you should still say it.

“If you’ve come up with something that could help your team take a step forward, there’s no harm in saying something— so be bold and let everyone know what’s on your mind,” shares Rich Moy, Muse author and a content writer for Stack Overflow.

But here’s one general guideline: Don’t speak simply to hear your own voice. You don’t want to be that person, trust me. But if do you have something relevant to say, then for gosh sakes, open your mouth and say it! You never know—your idea could just be the one that makes the entire company millions more dollars this year (or leads to everyone getting free pizza on Fridays—sometimes it’s the small things).

5. You’re Worried You’ll Make a Mistake

Guess what? Whether you’re new at your job or your boss assigned you to do something you’ve never done before, mistakes are going to happen. You know why? Because you’re human, which means you’re not perfect.

With that being said, you can minimize your chances of making one. The key is to ask questions. A lot of questions. No one expects you to know everything. That’s silly. Yes, they expect you to try—and you should. The best way to learn is by doing. But they don’t want you to spend countless hours doing the same thing over and over again—if you can’t figure it out on your own—ask!

And, hey, even if you do know how to do something, chances are you’ll slip up once in a while. (Because you’re human, remember?) It’s OK, and it will likely seem like a much bigger deal than it really is. The best thing you can do it just deal with it and move on.

Like I said before: Your life is already stressful enough without constantly worrying about these five situations. And yes, learning to control work anxiety’s easier said than done. But the best way to conquer these specific concerns is not to ignore them and let them spin out of control, but to face them head on. You’ve got this.

(And of course, if you think what you’re feeling is more than on-the-job stress, you should seek out a mental healthcare professional.)