Exploring and Addressing Generalized Anxiety Disorder in the Workplace

By Eda Talushllari

Most recently, the population has been dealing with the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic. Due to the uncertainty and fear in the world from the Coronavirus, it is natural for individuals to experience high anxiety levels at home and at work. Career counselors need to be aware of anxiety caused by the Coronavirus, but they must also be aware that anxiety can be manifested through Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). It is important for career counselors to understand the variety of anxiety disorders identified by the DSM-5 to best assist clients during this stressful time in history.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety can manifest in several forms, especially in the current atmosphere with uncertainty and fear; however, it is important for career counselors working with clients to identify the following signs of more severe anxiety, such as GAD, as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

  • Your client tells you they have been worrying for six months or more on several topics ranging from work to performance at school.
  • Your client tells you that it is hard to stop or control the worry.
  • Your client has as at least three of the six symptoms below:
  1. Feeling restlessness or “on edge”
  2. Being exhausted and/or fatigued
  3. Trouble concentrating or their mind often goes blank
  4. Cranky or irritable
  5. Having tensions in their muscles
  6. Having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting unrestful sleep
  • The anxiety, worry, and/or physical symptoms that the client experiences cause stress at work, in social settings, or other areas of their life.
  • The disturbance can't be tied to other areas in life (like abuse of a drug or abuse of medication) or other medical conditions.
  • The disturbance is not explained through other forms of anxiety like social anxiety, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorders and much more.

Remember that if you are not capable or experienced in helping the client with their Generalized Anxiety Disorder, please refer the client to someone who can help. This is not only the right thing to do, it’s the most ethical thing to do.

Impact of Anxiety on Work

According to Cuncic (2020), anxiety and more specifically, GAD, creates issues at work such as an “inability to concentrate”, “failure to meet deadlines”, and issues in the body ranging from headaches to dizziness to an upset stomach. Additionally, individuals with an anxiety disorder like GAD, are “three to five times more likely to go to the doctor” and “six times more likely than non-sufferers to be hospitalized for psychiatric ailments” (Zamora, 2006).

Currently, the pandemic sweeping across the United States and worldwide is causing extremely high levels of anxiety as individuals are unable to work, unemployment rates are increasing, and there is a lack of clarity and future direction for many.

Here are just several things that clients are dealing with:

  • As of March 31st, the CDC states that there are over 140,900 cases of the Coronavirus in the United States (Center for Disease Control, 2020).
  • The US stock market has continued to decrease, and the DOW sank to “its worst percentage drop since 1987” (BBC News2020).
  • Unemployment might reach 30% in the next few months in the U.S. which would make this one of the “worst in modern history” (Soergel, 2020).

It is understandable that anxiety in our clients is so prevalent now since economists predict that “it will take some time for the economy to fully rebound” (Marte, 2020).

Anxiety-Reducing Strategies for Clients

Career practitioners may be overwhelmed by the number of clients presenting with high levels of anxiety. Below are several strategies that career practitioners can encourage clients to utilize to reduce anxiety.

  • Recognize and explore the symptoms of anxiety and the potential causes (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2020)
  • Practice mindfulness techniques such as accepting the negative emotions that one might have instead of eliminating or avoiding the negative emotion (Psychology Today, 2006)
  • Create a routine geared towards self-care. Sleep at the same time, eat healthy foods, exercise, drink water, and wake up at the same time (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2020).
  • Establish clear boundaries with your work, your manager, and your coworkers. Decide when you will answer emails/phone calls, and when you will not. Limit your ‘screen time’ (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2020).
  • Talk to someone about your concerns. Whether that is a close friend, a coworker, a family member, or your manager or supervisor at work (Zamora, 2006).
  • Take advantage of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) that your employer might offer (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2020). This service may provide several free counseling sessions..
  • Seek assistance from a licensed professional for severe anxiety.
  • Explore medication and/or psychotherapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective for anxiety (Harvard Health Publishing, 2011).

Future Impact

The impact of the current global pandemic on the workforce and the health and stability of several industries is unknown. As a result, career practitioners will be working with clients experiencing higher levels of anxiety. This article provides several strategies to employ with clients who are facing anxiety as a result of these unknown factors.

As career professionals we must do what we can for our clients who are experiencing anxiety during these troublesome and uncertain times.



American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Desk Reference to the diagnostic criteria from DSM-5. Washington, DC: Author.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2020). Anxiety and stress in the workplace. Retrieved March 19, 2020 from https://adaa.org/managing-stress-anxiety-in-workplace/anxiety-disorders-in-workplace

BBC News. (2020). Coronavirus: U.S. stocks see worst fall since 1987. Accessed on March 17, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/business-51903195

Center for Disease Control. (2020). Cases in U.S. Accessed on March 31, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html

Cuncic, A. (2020). Understanding how to cope with generalized anxiety disorder at work. Accessed on February 20, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/cope-with-generalized-anxiety-disorder-at-work-4125397

Disability Benefits Help. (2020). Can I continue working with anxiety disorders? Accessed on March 19, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.disability-benefits-help.org/working-ability/anxiety-disorders

Harvard Health Publishing. (2011, June). Generalized anxiety disorder. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/generalized-anxiety-disorder

Marte, J. (2020). Coronavirus shifts U.S. recession debate from 'if' to 'what shape'? Accessed on March 11, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-recession/coronavirus-shifts-u-s-recession-debate-from-if-to-what-shape-idUSKBN20Y33B

Psychology Today. (2020). Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. Accessed on March 23, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/mindfulness-based-cognitive-therapy

Soergel, A. (2020). Fed official warns of 30% unemployment. Accessed on March 23, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/economy/articles/2020-03-23/fed-official-unemployment-could-hit-30-as-coronavirus-slams-economy

Zamora, D. (2006). Anxiety at work: A career-busting condition. Accessed on March 9, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/features/anxiety-at-work


Eda TalushllariEda Talushllari has a Masters and Bachelors in Human Resource Development and is currently working as a Learning and Development Specialist in Houston, TX. She is finishing her Facilitating Career Development course and loves coaching and mentoring future Human Resource professionals. She is a advocate for mental health and you can connect with her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/edatalushl/

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Ellen Weaver Paquette   on Friday 04/10/2020 at 02:56 PM

Timely and informative

Nancy J. Miller   on Wednesday 04/22/2020 at 02:59 PM

Thank you for pulling together so many relevant resources.

Eda Talushllari   on Monday 05/04/2020 at 05:07 PM

Thank you Ellen and Nancy for your comments. I'm glad to hear you found the article helpful!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.