by Shane G. Owens, PhD, ABPP

Welcome to the big leagues, kid. You’re an adult now with a new job. You’ve been working for this all your life. Don’t screw it up!

Sound familiar?

Your brain may be using different words, but if you just started a new job, there’s likely some version of it playing in your head.

A little anxiety about any new experience is natural and healthy. Without some fear of messing up, we don’t pay enough attention or work as hard as we should. Think back on all the important exams and assignments you had in high school or college. Would you have worked as hard on those if you hadn’t been nervous about your grade? Probably not. 

Some anxiety about your new job will keep you focused and improve your performance. It will help you to be on time. It will help you to notice and act on important details about the office, your coworkers, your boss, and the tasks to which you are assigned. It will keep you safe and healthy.

Too little anxiety can hurt your performance. You might miss important details. You might be less diligent. You might lack focus. Think again about those papers and exams. Think about the time you blew off studying to go to that concert or to hang out with your friends. Did that work out well for you? Probably not.

Too much anxiety can do similar damage. The more time you spend worrying, the less time you’ll spend doing a good job. Think back again on those projects and exams. Did you do well when you spent more time worrying about your grade than you did working or studying? Probably not.

If you think your anxiety about your job might be a problem, do these three things:

First, seek feedback about your performance. It’s likely that performance reviews are part of the job. If you hear from your bosses that you are doing well, it’s likely your anxiety is appropriate. Don’t stop with your boss, though. Check in with trusted coworkers, too. They will likely notice if you are having difficulty managing anxiety and stress. It’s worth mentioning that checking for feedback or reassurance too frequently can be a sign of trouble with anxiety, though, so be on the lookout for that.

Second, think about how your life outside work is going. Examine the impact your job has on the other valuable things in your life. Anxiety that requires attention likely will have an impact on your relationships, your hobbies, your sleep, exercise, diet, and appetite. If you spend a lot of time outside of work thinking or worrying about your job, there might be a problem.

By far, the best thing to do is to get help as soon as you ask yourself whether you need it. Only a psychologist or other mental health professional can tell you whether your anxiety is something that requires treatment. That new job likely comes with medical insurance; here’s a chance to use it.

About the author:

Shane Owens headshot.pngDr. Shane Owens is a board-certified behavioral and cognitive psychologist and an authority on college mental health and suicide prevention. He specializes in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders in young adults and parents. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the American Board of Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology. Dr. Owens uses mainstream and social media to disseminate evidence-based practices and to educate and empower the public. He contributes to US News Health, and Fatherly.

Thank you for this. Toward the end where you state that if you’re wondering whether you should seek help, that means you should, has motivated me to be proactive.