Anxiety is a mental health condition which causes feelings of unease, worry or fear in a person. People can experience these symptoms mildly up to severely. Anxiety is also the predominant symptom of conditions such as panic disorder, phobias, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and social anxiety disorder. Anxiety affects over 8 million people in the UK.
What are the signs and symptoms of anxiety?
Some examples of signs of anxiety in an individual may include:
- Feeling worried
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping
- Bad memory.
Generalised anxiety disorder is characterised by constant anxiety and someone with the condition will struggle to remember the last time they didn’t feel anxious.
Anxiety as a symptom of other mental health conditions, such as those listed above, will be triggered in accordance with the person’s condition, such as going outside in the case of agoraphobia.
How does anxiety get diagnosed and treated?
Anxiety can be difficult to diagnose as people often feel ashamed of their symptoms.
The easiest way to access treatment is through self-referral to a mental health service, or to go via a GP who can assess symptoms in conversation with the person to determine the need to access treatment.
The most common treatments are antidepressant medicines known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) which help alter brain chemistry. This can help with anxiety levels.
A person with anxiety will often undergo therapy alongside medication to tackle the underlying cause of their anxiety, such as a major life event (bereavement, abuse, etc.)
Lifestyle changes such as regularly exercising, cutting down on alcohol and caffeine consumption and using apps for mindfulness can also help alleviate anxiety or anxiety as a symptom.
There are a few ways to determine whether an employee with anxiety might require reasonable adjustments:
The employee may or may not wish to disclose their anxiety, as many people feel shame regarding their anxiety. Regardless, questions regarding the nature of any additional needs and what extra support may be required can be broached sensitively. For example:
- Have they required adjustments in the past? It is important that an employer does not jump to conclusions or assumptions based on their existing understanding of anxiety, but instead keep up a dialogue with the employee, which in itself may help alleviate anxiety.
What reasonable adjustments are possible for employees with anxiety?
Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with anxiety if they know, are aware of, or could ‘reasonably be expected to know’ that the employee has a diagnosed anxiety disorder. Most employees will tell their employer what reasonable adjustments they need. They often involve simple changes in the way an employer might usually do things.
If the employee does not disclose a health issue or disability which may affect their performance up front, an employer should broach the subject sensitively if they suspect that there may be a disability behind the employee’s reduced performance. Reasonable adjustments can then be made in accordance with the employee’s needs, including, in the case of anxiety:
- Extra time to complete tasks to accommodate difficulties the person may have juggling work tasks and intrusive or anxious thoughts.
- A structured working day to allow the employee to concentrate more easily and to become less distracted by their anxiety.
- Providing regular, sensitive feedback and reassurance, so that an employee with anxiety who may come across particularly vulnerable to criticism, or stressed in a work environment, can stay abreast of what they are doing well, or what they could improve on.
- Time off to attend appointments, so that the person can work on recovery while staying in work.
- Flexibility regarding working from home if the employee struggles with their anxiety when in public or around other people, which may affect their commute.
- Raising awareness so that colleagues understand the employee’s anxiety and can help ensure the employee feels comfortable at work. This might involve learning more about the condition to gain a better understanding of what the employee might be facing day-to-day.
Anxiety UK – charity giving advice to people living with stress, anxiety, phobias and depression on the basis of clinical expertise (03444 775 774).
No Panic – organisation offering advice, support and recovery tools for people living with anxiety and related mental health conditions such as OCD and phobias, particularly focusing on helping people cope with their condition through non-medical means (0844 967 4848).
Mind – mental health charity with resources and advice to support someone with anxiety and the impact this may have on their wellbeing (0300 123 3393).