Let’s get something out of the way…anxiety is a mental illness. Plain and simple. It’s an invisible illness, like depression, that you don’t see physically, but without a shadow of a doubt it’s real and it hurts.
So what do you do when you find out your co-worker has anxiety? Do you avoid them to “give them space” or do you continue to treat them like anyone else so they don’t feel left out?
In my experience, it’s a mix of both that will get you the best results.
Here are some tips from an insider on what to do when faced with a coworker with anxiety.
Don’t give up on asking them to lunch or office events. Even if they say no every time, it shows you care enough to continue to ask.
Don’t distract them unless it’s absolutely necessary. This includes walking past their office and saying hi, playing with things on their desk, pranking, and any other non-work related disruption. Some anxiety sufferers have a hard time focusing. When you distract them for no reason, it can be frustrating to get back on track.
Call their desk before showing up at their office. Not only is this common courtesy, but it gives them time to prepare for you to show up. There are times I’m okay with someone just dropping by and then I have days I would sooner jump in front of a moving vehicle before talking to anyone. A two-second phone call is all it takes to know if you can show up or if an e-mail would be a better means of communication that day.
Don’t take their moods personally. Everyone has their bad days. Some anxiety sufferers have more than their fair share. Understand they are doing their best to control the madness inside of them, but sometimes it leaks out. In my years with anxiety, I’ve learned how to apologize pretty well because of this.
Give them space. Places like vehicles, designated break areas, and hallways are off limits for stopping them. If they are out of their safe zone, they’re on a mission. Best to let them complete it and send them an e-mail about whatever it is you wanted to stop them for.
Don’t pressure them. Anxiety sufferers know their boundaries and they live by them. Don’t try to get them to do something that pushes them past that. If they tell you they are not comfortable doing something, give them an alternative option. If you push them too hard, they will mentally shut down and you won’t get anything productive out of them until they can get their brain back online. For some examples of things that are simple for the average person but isn’t so simple for anxiety sufferers, check out my post that explains it all in plain English.
Don’t flood them with images or articles on how fortunate they are compared to others. I have an entire GeekMom article on this one. Seriously, check out “What Not to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed…” it’s a mind opener for those not in the know.
Routines are sacred. Please don’t disrupt them. We don’t do things on a schedule or by a checklist for our health…oh wait. Yes we do. They give us a sense of security to know what will come next. If that routine is disrupted, it causes a mental break that only time will heal. If you need to add something to our routine, give us time to adjust to it.
In the end, the best thing you can do is talk to them about how anxiety affects them and how you can help. Small changes in how you communicate could make the difference between a relationship built on frustration and an award-winning partnership of coworker awesomeness.