A is for Anxiety.
“It’s like I’m waiting in line for like a roller coaster and that stupid like butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling you get. I get that all the time. And then I never get the feeling after you ride the roller coaster.”
~ Kayla, a teen describing her anxiety in Bo Burnham’s feature film, Eighth Grade.
Over half of my clients report that they experience anxiety, and many have worked with a therapist to help manage it. When clients figure out how anxiety plays into their career challenges, strategies can be developed to make both the career and anxiety feel better.
Why do so many of my clients have anxiety?
Because 1) anxiety is all too common these days and 2) career distress can make anxiety even worse.
The number of people with anxiety has been rising. Some of this may be due to increased awareness. Also, we are bombarded by incoming information (noise!) as never before: from email to social media to 24-7 news cycles. Even if we come up with ways to limit the incoming, it takes a toll on our psyche and we don’t get a break – because it never stops.
Clients seek me out because all is not well with their careers, jobs, or lack thereof. Our careers are intertwined with our identity and consume a major part of our waking time. If our days are filled with toxic workplaces, or we never get the recognition we seek, or if our work lacks meaning for us, these are irritants we experience a significant amount of the time. This can cause, or exacerbate, our feeling depressed and anxious.
I don’t have anxiety . . . or do I?
Many of my clients didn’t realize they were dealing with anxiety until someone named it for them. They just figured that how they lived in their bodies was “normal” – until someone pointed out: Do you realize how often you start a sentence with “I’m concerned . . .” or “I’m afraid that . . .”
Other clues included
- it was taking them a long time to move forward on projects because they were evaluating every possibility that could go wrong.
- their fears around making a wrong decision were keeping them spinning and preventing them from making any decision at all.
- their concerns about money or safety or health were so pervasive that they were having physical sensations of worry – agitation, increased heart rate, short-temperedness, inability to concentrate, insomnia.
- that “catastrophizing,” or always planning for the worst possible outcome, was normal for them.
How does anxiety play out in career coaching?
It can come up in unique ways, but some themes I see are:
- Anxiety may affect work performance. Many clients reach out because they are concerned about how their work is perceived by their boss. We look at this from many perspectives – is the boss being fair? Is the workload unreasonable? But also – what aspects of their performance might be improved, and is anxiety part of the problem? When a person procrastinates, or strives for perfection, work can suffer – both the quality and quantity of work done.
- Anxiety hampers the ability to dream, as well as to take the steps to pursue these dreams. Clients come to me because they want to see change, but change involves taking risks and stepping outside one’s comfort zone. Anxiety can make networking and interviewing and even dreaming about possibilities difficult.
- Importantly, there is a risk of making a decision too quickly because the anxiety of being in limbo is so overwhelming. As a result, clients may jump at the first opportunity that comes along, even if it doesn’t check very many boxes.
Do I, as a career coach, “treat” anxiety?
Not directly – I leave that to skilled therapists. They can help a client understand the roots of their anxiety, and give them specific tools and techniques to help them find calm and focus within themselves. They may also refer to a psychiatrist who can provide medication.
However, I do help clients see the role their anxiety may be playing in their work, as well as other parts of their lives. I may offer tips (such as exercises or meditation), share articles, or provide therapist referrals if they want.
And here’s the good news: when I work with clients to help them untangle the career challenges they’re facing, they report that their mood is lighter and their anxiety decreased.
Are you concerned about your level of anxiety?
If you are worried about the level of stress in your life, please reach out to a health care professional. And if you want help reducing your career-related anxiety, please call 612-922-4952 or email me.