Countering panic: how to overcome your anxiety at work

From "queasy feeling" to panic attack … these are the symptoms of anxiety. Often they occur at work as well. Because many employees, especially in management positions, fear making mistakes, embarrassing themselves or losing their jobs. Yet it is precisely this emotion that can have a negative impact on one’s career. But there are ways out of the emotional chaos.

How to overcome your anxiety at work

For whom this article is particularly interesting:

  • Students, young professionals, experienced professionals, new starters, and yearning professionals

In this article you will learn:

  • How anxiety arises in everyday working life.
  • What function it serves.
  • How to manage your anxiety.
  • Tips against fear.
  • Link recommendations.
  • Literature recommendation.

The 36-year-old Tamara Lingenmann (name changed by the editors) has experienced how fear took possession of her bit by bit. She is a copywriter in the PR industry. "In my last permanent position, I already got the first whistle at the morning conference. Most of the time, my suggestions weren’t good enough," Lingenmann recalls. "I was regularly beaten up by my boss for it." It wasn’t long before she reacted physically to them. "It started with a diffuse feeling. I became more and more restless and could no longer switch off."

Lingenmann was increasingly afraid of making mistakes. She took work home and checked her texts again and again. "I wanted to make sure once again."But these efforts were often unsuccessful. Her boss found the slightest faux pas and exposed her in front of all her colleagues. Even when the humanities student performed particularly well, there was hardly any praise, only snide remarks such as, "You’re lucky for once."

Health problems as a result of anxiety

Over time, the health of the copywriter deteriorated. "I got heart palpitations and diarrhea. Plus, I slept poorly. I often dreaded Mondays and was glad when my boss was on vacation," reports Lingenmann. Over time, her symptoms worsened and her error rate increased. "I wasn’t allowed to make any mistakes, and then of course they happened more often."

In the end, Lingenmann quit the job. But that doesn’t take the matter off the table: "Many self-doubts have remained. Fear is back at job interviews. I fear to end up in such a hell again."

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Countering panic: how to overcome your anxiety at work

Multiple concerns of working people

Tamara Lingenmann has felt the fear because she was exposed to mobbing and permanent pressure to perform. But the worries of professionals are many and varied: "You are afraid of making a bad impression, not achieving goals, failing or making the wrong decision", reports the Munich management coach and entrepreneur Sven J. Mats. Together with the Munich-based psychiatrist and psychotherapist Dr. Markus Pausch wrote the book "Anxiety and Panic Disorders at Work. "Often, the more responsibility a person carries and the more far-reaching he or she considers the consequences of a possible wrong decision, the more fears are potentiated."

Pausch notices a "perceived increase" in anxiety at work. "This is also due to the fact that people now talk more openly about the topic. Anxiety can now easily be categorized as burnout, a disease term that is not really defined."For those affected it is easier to deal with such a positive definition instead of feeling classified as "mentally ill".

A "queasy feeling" at work

The psychologist and trainer Elke Overdick from Hamburg knows that many professionals are not even aware that their feelings are fears. "They just have a ‘queasy feeling’ at work. Usually behind it is the worry of being rejected or doing something embarrassing." The special thing about negative emotion is that the people affected are not yet even confronted with the unpleasant consequences of their actions. "They only have the expectation that something bad could happen to them."

Career coach Martina Bandoly from Berlin repeatedly notes fear of the future among her clients: "Many believe they are not good enough for new tasks. They are not prepared to take their lives into their own hands and take risks."

Stress increases anxiety

People react particularly anxiously when they are under stress. "Those who are in a heightened state of arousal usually experience much more anxiety," Overdick explains. That’s why relaxation is so important. It has a preventive effect.

Excessive worry limits professionals’ ability to act. Bandoly: "While fundamentally fear leads us to prepare well so that a feared situation does not occur in the first place, too high a level of arousal causes us to act irrationally." At the same time, those affected do not have to appear anxious at all. "Aggression or even spinning intrigues can also be fear reactions. Of course, employees do not improve their situation by acting in such a way, but provoke new problems."

Advantages of fear

Basically, however, fear is meaningful and useful: "It allows us not only to survive, but also to tackle the unknown and succeed in doing so", says Matten. "Fear helped and still helps us to recognize real dangers and to protect ourselves. Without it, every manager would be a mere psychopath. Only the individually correct mixture makes it lastingly successful."

However, for the emotion to develop its positive potential, the following must not happen: "Fear only protects us if it does not escalate into thoughts of disaster", says Overdick. These can be recognized at completely unrealistic future scenarios. "For example, the idea that someone in Germany will immediately end up under the bridge if they lose their job is exaggerated."

Often too much pressure at work leads to a decoupling and independence of an actually "normal" emotion. "Fears are then experienced far too strongly and can escalate into panic attacks," Pausch said. But the psychiatrist has good news for all those affected: "Fear is controllable and can be overcome." This is possible, he says, with psychiatric-medical, behavioral therapy or depth-psychology-based therapy, but also through intensive coaching.

Overcoming fear through reflection

Mat supplements: "Already thinking about the fear and recognizing causes and connections is a first important step to overcoming it." That is why the constructive handling of emotion is so crucial. "Pure repression, on the other hand, usually only leads to greater problems in the medium term."

Bandoly also sees the first step in overcoming fear as facing it: " If someone admits this feeling, he can work on it and reduce it." The career counselor recommends a change of perspective for this, in which the affected person asks himself how, for example, his colleagues would react to the situation.

Reflection helps to cope with fear

In dealing with inhibitions and fears, it is also helpful to look at the problem systematically. Overdick advises answering several questions honestly:

  • What is the worst that could happen??
  • What can I do to prevent the worst from happening?
  • How likely it is, however, that this will occur?
  • What can I do if the worst possible thing happens??
  • What meaning would it have for me and my further life?

" These questions help to perceive one’s own anxious thoughts, but also to subject them to a reality check and thus to put them into perspective, which then reduces the anxiety." Imagining a worst-case scenario has – according to Bandoly – a great advantage: "Usually this leads to more serenity. Because the affected person realizes that the worst case scenario is not as existentially threatening as he originally believed."

Tips against anxiety

Breathe deeply

In case of great anxiety, conscious breathing can help to lower the arousal level. A few deep breaths lower the pulse and change the concentration. The focus is now no longer on the fear, but on the body.

Physical exercise

Besides breathing exercises, exercise is also helpful for anxiety and panic. It doesn’t have to be sports. Even a short walk around the block is calming and relaxing.

Gaining distance

It’s not just physical distance that lowers anxiety, mental distance does too. Those who suffer from feelings of anxiety and thoughts of disaster should try to consciously focus on something else … even if it’s difficult. How about a favorite poem or photo of a loved one?

Writing against anxiety

Journaling – that is, the modern form of writing a diary – is also effective. Because the writers document their handling of fear, look for solutions in writing and describe their successes. This is how they can get to the root of the causes and triggers of anxiety.

Questions for you:

I am glad that you have read this article! Now I would like to ask you a few questions:

  • Do you know the feeling of fear in a professional context?
  • When does this feeling arise for you?
  • How do you deal with it?
  • What tips would you give to others?
  • Do you like the article? Is it helpful? Then I would be pleased about a Like on my Facebook page!

Please also write a comment! Thanks a lot!

My link recommendations:

My literature tip:

  • Sven J. Matten, Markus J. Pausch: Anxiety and panic disorders at work, W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2017, Paperback: 24,00 Euro, E-Book: 21,99 Euro.

(Main article published in Berliner Zeitung, August 2017)

(Copyright 2017 by Anja Schreiber)


I am 23 years young and have just completed my training as a glass/building cleaner. Now I had decided to change the company where I have more opportunities. The problem (in my eyes) is that I am a rarity with a professional training in this field, at least in this company. Starting with the salary, this is higher than that of an unskilled worker, accordingly more is also demanded of me. The mere fact that I am expected to do something awakens in me the fear of making mistakes. In addition, a social phobia (now no longer too pronounced, but still present). What makes me a little panic is the responsibility as a contact person and property manager. I got a cell phone from my employer on the third day of work, which both customers and work colleagues can use to reach me. The third day just mentioned is today. It is just 22 o’clock on a Friday, so I have the weekend once again to take a deep breath, but I’m already dreading Monday, I’m so nervous, it’s hard to put into words, which is why I came across this article. I can’t even describe it properly what’s going on inside me right now. My greatest fear, however, lies mainly in not doing justice to my task and disappointing people and arousing the thought "What kind of person is this?? And he should now take care of everything?".

Let’s see how the whole thing develops further.

Hello, thank you for the open comment! I can well understand your fear of making mistakes. This is quite normal. But fear often becomes smaller when you consciously face the situation. All people can make mistakes. Your superiors know this, too My tip: Try to see the positive side of your situation: You are successful! This is great! I wish you all the best! Best regards Anja Schreiber

I work in a cogeneration plant in 4 shift service. In normal operation I manage very well with the equipment, what scares me is the fact that I often work alone and I worry whether I react correctly in case of failure.
I’m so nervous days before I go on shift alone that I don’t trust myself to do anything. The failures, which I had so far, I have already mastered well. I think that the sole responsibility is too much for me.

Thank you very much for your honest and interesting commentary! I understand you very well. Maybe it will help you if you consider before a shift which difficult situations you have already mastered in your job! Because this can strengthen your self-confidence. I wish you all the best! Best regards Anja Schreiber

I am Alla and just came across your site, I started this as a newly qualified educator in a new company. I love this job, but the pressure from parents and colleagues really scares me, besides I am a calm type of person anyway and try to solve conflicts in a respectful way right away. However, it seems no matter what I do or plan is not right and always get criticism, for which I am also open, but it depends on the tone and the way you address something. I do not dare to ask anything anymore and go to bed and to work with a racing heart every day. I can’t even switch off on weekends, my digestion is going crazy, I am tired all the time but can’t fall asleep because of the fear of failing and the pressure. Since 2 months every day fear, fear and fear, which goes from sprachlisigkeit to trembling and heart palpitations. I can’t give up, but I can’t go on like this, I’m on the verge of a burn out.

Thank you very much for the open words! I wish you from the bottom of my heart that you find help and make the right decision! All the best and much strength to you! Kind regards Anja Schreiber

I have been working in the security service for several years and actually felt from my first incident that it is not for me. But I realized this only much later. I am afraid of what awaits me before every service and afraid of being hurt and not being able to react well enough. In the meantime I am in therapy. The depressive phases, the anxiety and meanwhile also the way towards burn-out unfortunately repeat themselves again and again. I feel crushed, constricted and often helpless or react totally aggressive.
I wish every person who is struggling with mental problems to overcome this.

Thank you very much for these open words! I believe that many professionals feel the same way. It will do a lot of people good to read that others have problems too! That is why your comment is especially valuable! I wish you from the bottom of my heart to overcome the fear, to find the right profession for you and all the best! Kind regards Anja Schreiber

I am 24 years old and tomorrow I start a new job, part-time, I am an evening student on the side. I am eager to work and motivated, but every time it comes to it, the fear of making mistakes overtakes me, I get nervous. I make mistakes to the point where I give up.

I hope it will get better soon! The blog helped me to reflect on this myself :)

Thank you very much for your honest comment! I believe that you are not alone in your fear of making mistakes. It is like that for a lot of people! I wish you all the best for your professional future and the overcoming of your fears! Best regards Anja Schreiber

Hello, thank you very much for the great post. I have been working in a new company, in the personnel office, for 3 weeks now. I am qualified and already have several years of work experience. My colleague goes on maternity leave in 2 months, until then it would be good if I mastered most of it. Unfortunately, there are a lot of new things coming up and I’m constantly afraid of failing or changing the processes etc.". not to learn in time. I have been on so many interviews and last time I even blacked out. I can only think about work, nothing else. I hope that I will somehow get a grip on it soon. I try it simply times with your Tipps. :)

Thank you very much for your open words! I am sure that many professionals feel the same way as you do! I wish you a lot of serenity and strength in dealing with the fear! All the best for you! Best regards Anja Schreiber

Thanks for the great article.
I have been in my job in public service for 3 years and at the beginning everything was great. About. 1.5 years ago I changed to a new area and had to realize that the tone and the demands there are massively different from the previous area. Everything is checked down to the smallest detail and the mistakes are spoken about in a relatively harsh tone, even in front of others. In the meantime I get a ‘queasy feeling’ when I see that certain people call or have written an email. I then try to talk to other people to see if the ‘mistake’ was really that serious. Unfortunately, my colleagues are often a bit closed, so I then rather talk to people who are not in the matter. It helps for a moment, but I realize that I can’t turn off my head in the evening. In the meantime I only fall asleep with an audio book. I hope that the situation will ease a bit soon. Otherwise I must vllt. reorient.

Thank you for your openness! I wish you that your situation will relax! Please keep in mind that public service offers many employment opportunities and also internal transfer is often possible! I wish you the best! Kind regards Anja Schreiber

Great post. Especially de section "reflection helps to cope with anxiety" I find a super tip. Emergency drills can also help.

Thank you very much for the comment and the praise! I wish all the best! Best regards Anja Schreiber

Hello, while searching for a solution to my current panic attacks I came across this article. It helped me to calm down for the time being. It’s Sunday again and I’m having one panic attack after another because tomorrow work starts again. And what is the worst, I changed jobs 8 weeks ago and it does not stop. The negative feelings I have taken from the old work. I constantly have to tell myself that I now have new colleagues and supervisors. I am constantly afraid that I will seem strange, but I am either afraid or I am trying to get rid of it. I should concentrate more on training, but I don’t always manage to do that. From this arises again the fear of mistakes etc. etc. Resentment grows again against the people who did this to me. I want to get rid of these negative thoughts for me and my children. But it will probably take as long as they have come. Hang in there! We are worth it.

Hello, thank you very much for your open comment! I wish you an end to the panic attacks and hope for you that you find help and support! All the best to you! Kind regards Anja Schreiber

Hi I just want to say thank you or everyone here who dalast his contribution.
I about 7 weeks ago by the boss demonstrated because an employee has sold me yes to protect themselves or whatever because I will probably never know the reason Warscheinlich.
I then fell so deeply into a disappointment and could no longer eat at home to the doctor who wrote me off sick I then suffered a nervous breakdown because I had guilt feelings that I was now sick. Afterwards I was plagued by depressions and now I have a guilty conscience again because I feel better and I am still at home.
What kind of illness is this that plays such a trick on you?. BZW It is cause for change.

Thank you very much for your open comment! I sincerely wish you a speedy recovery! I also thank everyone who comments here! Because this way others learn that they are not alone with their problems. This is so important. All the best to you! Kind regards Anja Schreiber

I am currently in training to become a businesswoman. At the moment I’m afraid to go to work again, because I can’t confide in my trainer without her passing it on to the next person (the trainer). On the other hand, I am unmotivated, insecure and also afraid to make mistakes, although I am allowed to make mistakes – I am still learning! Probably it is also because I already had to sign a letter, on which goals were agreed, which I must reach. If not I will get a warning and lose possibly. the training place. I’m already thinking about changing jobs, but on the other hand, it’s only a little more than a year away.

Thank you very much for these open words! These will show others who are in a similar situation that their problems are not that uncommon. But now to you: How difficult is it to reach these agreed goals? I wish you a lot of strength and self-confidence to make it happen! Of course I hope for you that your situation will improve soon. all the best to you! Kind regards Anja Schreiber

for me it started early in school. I was frequently absent, missed a lot of material, repeated a class, changed schools. I did my degrees in private lessons at the high school and via online lessons over Skype. Only for the exams I had to be there.
The climax was then in 2013 an undifferentiated psychosis, which led to a stay in hospital and taking medication. In the time before that I was with over 20 doctors. Everyone said something different and no one could help.

I went back to school in 2014 to get my high school diploma. The anxiety/phobia was back and I was given a doctor’s note and had to fight for fair grades.

The start into professional life was/is very difficult. No matter what I did, the fear kept coming back and eventually led to the termination of the employment.

Even many hours of therapy did not bring anything so far. I also experienced a dismissal after I expressed my "problem. Quote: "We can’t use such an employee. After all, you cannot be relied upon".

Currently I am still in an employment probationary period. The boss only makes it harder with unnecessary pressure, bullying, stress build-up, criticism, etc. . I will probably quit during the probationary period, as I have done so many times before.

I came across this blog during my research. I also learned only today that my clinical picture actually exists. That in the net, without that ever before with of it told. No doctor, no therapist, no one.

It is now 14 years of "suffering".

Thank you very much for telling your story so openly! I believe that many people feel the same way as you do! But there are also many taboo subjects in our society. That’s why (almost) nobody talks about fear and that only causes more suffering! I wish you so much that you will soon find a job where you can be the way you are … and be respected like that! All the best to you! Best regards Anja Schreiber

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