Advice from Spill's therapists
Deal with the discomfortHonour their needsKeep communication openRelated resources
Keep your team up and running by giving them the support they need to deal with personal and professional challenges with Spill.

Helping an employee struggling with anxiety

Spill's qualified therapists answer real questions from employees dealing with anxiety.

Someone I work with recently told me that they are struggling with anxiety. It's impacting their ability to handle their workload, and they keep cancelling work events as well. Is there anything I can do to help?

Our first therapist suggests...

Deal with the discomfort

As counterintuitive as it sounds the most effective ways to manage anxiety are to step straight into it and deal with the discomfort.

Whilst this can often feel impossible to someone struggling with anxiety, the very best support you can give them is to try and help break tasks down in pieces that feel manageable and thereby support them in achieving things they feel unable to complete.

Whenever you avoid something because your anxiety is telling you to do so the anxiety gets stronger so, as sensible as it seems to be at the time in order to soothe the discomfort, cancelling work events is the worst way to get anxiety under control.

If you are in a position to do so, see if you can sit with them and understand what aspects of their work they are finding overwhelming and work with them to create strategies that will enable them to confront it.

If you have any influence over their workload it might be worth reassigning some tasks temporarily but on the understanding that you will work with them to get the back to a level where they can reassume responsibility.

With anxiety, you need to always be working on how to push through it rather than doing anything avoidant that will reduce it.

Impress upon them the importance of attending their work events in order to soothe their anxiety. Remind them that once an event is completed they will get a real boost of confidence that will almost certainly reduce their feelings of anxiety when they approach the next one.

The other thing that really helps with anxiety is talking about it so be a sounding board and let them tell you how they are feeling. You don’t need to say anything and you definitely don’t need to try and fix it. Just talking about how we feel with someone who shows us empathy is a great way of reducing the intensity of all emotions and most certainly works well with anxiety.

Keep checking in with them to see how things are going but keep pushing them forward, reminding them of their ability to deal with all the things that their anxiety is erroneously telling them they can’t handle.

Spill works with fully qualified BACP- or NCS-registered counsellors with 80+ areas of expertise, including specialists in supporting anxiety.
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Our second therapist suggests...

Honour their needs

It's so lovely that you’re concerned for your colleague. Just them knowing you’re listening is a huge help. However, be mindful about wanting to ‘rescue’ them or ‘fix’ their situation. I’m not at all proposing that this is what you are doing but I think it’s important to define the difference.

Supporting someone is about standing by their side as they walk their difficult walk. To say to someone ‘I am here and I can handle what you throw at me or want me to do’. It’s about letting the other person be in control of their world, whilst making it clear through messages or gestures, that you are part of their scaffolding. The easiest way to do this is to ask someone ‘What do you need?’. They may not know or they may say ‘nothing’, and we need to respect this. We can still offer gestures along the way, like hugs, hand-written cards, homemade food, cups of tea, etc… anything that eases their world. We can also invite them to do things with us so they stay connected — ‘Fancy a walk?’ or ‘I’m doing X later, would you like to join me?’.

Ultimately though, everything is their decision and choice. We stand back and honour their needs. Their energy may be very low at the moment and they may need more time alone or rejuvenating themselves away from work.

When we try to rescue someone it’s more about OUR needs. WE want this person to be OK and WE want to make it all better for them. This can be unhelpful to both parties as the rescuer is always trying to find new ‘solutions’ and can become consumed with this as a project (and ultimately exhausted). They can also be left feeling utterly helpless as it is not, as we know, up to the rescuer to make the person well — it is up to the person.

When someone we care about is in a difficult situation, the greatest gift we can offer is our time and attention. We listen to them and hear them; we reflect how we hear they feel , like saying ‘That sounds tough’, rather than come up with answers.

I know it can feel frustrating and helpless at times to see someone struggling but do not underestimate the amazing gift you are giving your colleague of showing them you are there.

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Our third therapist suggests...

Keep communication open

You know someone at work who is struggling with anxiety. This affects their productivity and also leads to avoidance of events. You would like to know how to help.

The following are tips you could try as a manager:

  • Help the employee to identify anxiety triggers and why they cause anxiety. You may be able to provide different perspectives that help the employee. Anxiety can lead to making assumptions or blowing things out of proportion so help the employee to see where they have misunderstood something in a sensitive way. You can also ask the employee what they think will help them. There may be real issues at work that need addressing.
  • Offer support in helping the employee to think about their workload. Where is problem-solving support required to help the employee here? It may be that their workload needs to be temporarily reduced or that they need help thinking about their options in different scenarios. You don’t need to have all the answers, but you can help the employee brainstorm viable solutions.
  • Let them know about workplace resources that can help with managing anxiety, such as Spill. People with anxiety may experience anxiety about therapy. This is common. It might help to reassure the employee about any anxieties related to therapy if they arise. Aim to normalise seeking therapy so that it is not viewed as a personal failure but a personal strength and a tool.
  • Encourage the employee to visit their GP if they continue to struggle even with your help and therapy is not an option at your company.
  • Normalise making mistakes and discourage perfectionism. Workplaces often inadvertently encourage perfectionism because excellent performance is the goal, but paradoxically perfectionism can stifle personal growth and can actually make people less effective at work.
  • Have an open-door policy and aim to be approachable. Also, encourage support within your team. Anxiety thrives when people feel they have no-one to talk to, and anxious people often struggle to ask for help.
  • Have regular check-ins but avoid making your employee feel that they are constantly under surveillance. The latter will only increase anxiety.

I hope this helps!

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