How to support a colleague with anxiety

25.09.17

We all get anxious sometimes—it’s a normal part of life. But if anxiety hangs around for a long time and becomes overwhelming, it could be a sign of something more serious.

Common signs you might notice

It can be difficult to know whether one of your workmates is struggling with anxiety as each person can experience it differently, but some common signs you might notice:

  • panic attacks or that they have ‘over the top’ reactions to situations—hot and cold flushes, feeling dizzy, suddenly needing to leave the room, rapid breathing, or hyperventilating
  • constantly worrying, catastrophising, or obsessively thinking about problems
  • avoiding meetings or workmates, or you notice them always seeming uncomfortable
  • stopping attending social functions or participating in team activities
  • starting avoiding certain work tasks and consistently missing deadlines.

It’s important to remember that it’s not up to you to diagnose if your workmate has a serious issue. If you suspect that they might be struggling, have a conversation with them about your concerns, and encourage them to seek help from a health professional who can make a proper diagnosis and link them up with more support.

You may also want to encourage your workmate to let their manager know about their struggles, if they’re comfortable enough. Having the organisation behind them can be a big relief, and their manager can help work out a plan to support them. Organisations like Heads Up have some great tips on how to develop a plan to support people with mental health issues in the workplace.

How you can practically support a colleague with anxiety

If you already know that your workmate is struggling with anxiety, or has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, there are some things you can do to help support them:

  • Be a good listener
  • It can be tempting to try and fix all your workmate’s issues, or make them go away, but that’s not always helpful. Just listening to their concerns and being understanding can go a long way.
  • Be proactive about learning more
  • Take some time to learn more about anxiety from well-respected organisations, such Bupa, beyondblue, SANE Australia or the Black Dog Institute. Everyone’s experience will be different, but it might give you another perceptive on what they’re going through or where they can get help.
  • Be open and interested
  • Check in on how your colleague is feeling by asking open-ended questions like, ‘How are you travelling?’ Keep in mind there may be times when they don’t feel like talking; let them know you’re around for them at those times too, but also give them space to have some time out if they need it.
  • Be a health enabler
  • It’s important for people living with anxiety to continue to get care and support from their GP, a mental health professional, or an organisation like beyondblue.

Some people welcome advice more than others, so try to respect their own personal preference. The most important thing is for your workmate to know that they’re not alone, and that there is help there, if they need it.

Sources:

beyondblue. Anxiety signs and symptoms [Online; accessed Sept 2017] Available from: www.beyondblue.org.au

Heads Up. Mental health conditions [Online; accessed Sept 2017] Available from: www.headsup.org.au

Mindhealthconnect. Anxiety – symptoms, treatment and causes [Online; last reviewed Nov 2016, accessed Sept 2017] Available from: www.mindhealthconnect.org.au