Managing anxiety in the workplace

Anxiety is a real difficulty for many adults with autism or Asperger syndrome. It can affect a person psychologically and physically. Anxiety is a feeling of worry, fear, nervousness or unease about something and can negatively impact your day to day life.

Anxiety can happen for a range of reasons and people with autism or Asperger syndrome can vary in their ability to cope with it. It may be caused by issues in the workplace, such as workload, performance or conflict with colleagues, sensory issues, not understanding what is expected of them, the rules of social interactions or the unwritten rules of the workplace.

Outside of the workplace, factors such as relationships, caring responsibilities, family or debt problems can create anxiety.

Employees could take steps to manage these issues, by communicating with their managers and seeking help where necessary, but this may not always be easy for an autistic employee to communicate and may need to be supported.

Anxiety can affect both the mind and the body, and produce a range of symptoms. The psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety are closely linked and so can lead to a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break.

Employers can support their staff and look out for signs that an employee is suffering from anxiety. These could include:

  • taking more time off work
  • becoming more emotional or over-reacting to what others say
  • feeling negative, dwelling on negative experiences
  • starting to behave differently, feeling restless and not being able to concentrate
  • easily losing patience
  • difficulty concentrating
  • thinking constantly about the worst outcome
  • difficulty sleeping
  • depression
  • taking frequent trips to the toilet
  • becoming preoccupied with or obsessive about one subject.


Some people may experience physical symptoms including:

  • excessive thirst
  • stomach upsets
  • loose bowel movements
  • frequent urinating (going to the loo)
  • periods of intensely pounding heart
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • pins and needles
  • tremors.

Mind reports that 1 in 6 workers are dealing with mental health problems such as anxiety, depression or stress. These conditions can stop people performing at their best.

Managers should be confident and trained in the skills they need to support staff who may be experiencing anxiety at work. Informal and formal conversations will help establish a rapport with members of staff as addressing issues early and maintaining good communications is crucial.

Understanding emotions can be difficult for people with autism. By helping someone to understand anxiety, you can help them to manage it better.

Managers should:

  • have a conversation in a private place free from sensory distractions
  • make sure there are no interruptions
  • consider the time of day (maybe the morning so that person is not tired or likely to go home upset.)
  • be focused, get the information that will help achieve the goal of supporting a member of staff
  • always allow the person time to process their answer
  • be sensitive and try to put yourself in the others person's position and see things from their perspective
  • make arrangements for a follow up meeting to review the situation.


For more information about managing anxiety please read: