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Starting a new job can be stressful and scary for just about anyone. The uncertainty may leave you feeling intimidated, uneasy, or unqualified.
New job anxiety is very real and very common. Many people are filled with doubts and negative thoughts when they begin a new chapter in their professional life.
Here, we take a closer look at what happens to our bodies and minds during these transition periods. We also provide some tips to help you manage these feelings.
Am I having new job anxiety?
Anxiety is an emotional defense mechanism that puts us on alert in threatening situations and situations that we perceive as threatening.
These emotions trigger a stress response in our bodies, which can cause physical, emotional, and mental symptoms.
New job anxiety can cause many physical symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, changes in appetite, muscle pain, and restlessness. You may find it difficult to fall asleep or stay awake.
If the anxiety escalates to a panic attack, you might also encounter shortness of breath, stomach pain, lightheadedness, dizziness, trembling, and a racing heart.
The mental symptoms of new job anxiety may include constant worry, racing thoughts, negativity, and feelings of impending doom or danger. You may be irritable, on edge, and struggling to concentrate. You might also lose confidence or feel out of control of your situation.
Therapist insights on new job anxiety
Pauline Yeghnazar Peck, MA, MMFT, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in CA and NY with a private practice in Santa Barbara. She works with millennial and Gen Z individuals and couples to create the love, work, and lives they want. She specializes in anxiety, life transitions, trauma, and multicultural issues.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
ZDNet: Why do people have anxiety when starting a new job, even if it's a remote job?
Pauline Yeghnazar Peck: Anxiety is the body's natural response to a perceived threat. Starting something new is uncertain, whether the work is remote, in-person, a similar title you've already held, or altogether different.
There are many questions about whether you will succeed, whether your colleagues will like you, whether your boss or manager will approve of your work, whether you will be an effective leader to those who report to you, and more.
These unknowns trigger our anxiety system and cascading worries, fears, and activation. What is new and different for the body is often registered as possibly dangerous. This is evolutionarily adaptive and has helped us to survive.
It's important to know that it is completely normal, to be expected, and not a sign that something is wrong with you or off about the choice you have made to take the job.
ZDNet: What thoughts and emotions are normal for people to have when they're starting a new job?
PYP: It is normal to feel a large range of emotions and to feel seemingly contradictory emotions at once. You might feel anxious as well as excited, overwhelmed as well as curious, unsure and confident.
You might wonder whether the job you envisioned is actually going to match up with the lived experience of being in the role. You might wonder about the office dynamics and whether/how you will fit into them.
You might carry some concerns from previous workplaces and jobs, as well as have hopes that positive aspects of previous positions will be replicated in this new position.
You might wonder what elements of the job you will excel at and which might present challenges for you. You might be curious to see whether the company culture presented during the interview is actually the company culture employees experience.
ZDNet: How is new job anxiety helpful? How can it be harmful?
PYP: The anxiety alarm goes off when we think we're facing danger (even if we're not). It gives us forewarning and helps us prepare and thus increase the chances of survival and success. Anxiety about a new job can help us take action to support our success and efficacy in a new environment. We might prepare more, stay focused, take notes during training, ask questions, and proceed with some caution and observation.
These are great and will actually reduce some of your anxiety, as you are listening to the alarm and responding with appropriate actions.
However, if your anxiety is so elevated that you feel paralyzed and cannot take action or are self-sabotaging, it could be harmful. Anxiety is the opposite mental state to learning. Some anxiety will help you stay attuned and careful. Too much, and you will be so flooded you can't take anything in.
What to do when you're feeling new job anxiety
The following tips might provide some relief from new job anxiety. Some might be more effective than others depending on the individual and the situation.
1. Write down your thoughts and emotions.
The first step to managing your anxiety is understanding what might be triggering it. To do this, consider keeping a journal of your thoughts and emotions. Whenever you have a worry or anxiety pop into your head, jot it down, noting when it happened and what preceded it.
The goal here should be to catalog your thoughts and anxieties and track the times and potential triggers. While you might not solve all your anxiety issues or make sense of every single thought, you may be able to identify a pattern or trigger along the way.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, anxiety triggers a response from the autonomic nervous system, which generates your fight-or-flight response. This mechanism helped our ancestors react to life-threatening situations, giving them the adrenaline and alertness they needed until the danger had passed.
Anxiety and stress can send confusing signals to the autonomic nervous system. When we feel uncertainty and fear of the unknown, our body and mind perceive a threat. This can put us into a state of fight-or-flight without a proper off-switch.
3. Try reframing your thoughts.
According to Harvard University's Stress and Development Lab, there are several ways to reframe your thoughts and gain a new perspective on a situation. When negative and anxious thoughts creep in, consider reevaluating them and identifying something positive in the situation.
You can also think about the situation logically and examine whether the fear driving your anxiety is well-founded. For example, you can question your interpretation of the events that cause you anxiety.
Think of this as challenging your thoughts with reason rather than forced positivity.
4. Become aware of your physiology and practice self-regulating.
One of the best methods for managing anxiety and its negative effects is to self-regulate. When you feel anxiety coming on and start noticing symptoms, such as increased heart rate or racing thoughts, take action. You can try:
Deep or patterned breathing exercises
Eating or rehydrating
If you can spot your symptoms early and find an effective self-regulation method, you should be able to more effectively temper and control your reactions.
5. Remember: Your new job hired you because of your qualifications and strengths.
New job anxiety creates feelings of doubt and insecurity, but you have to remember what got you the job in the first place. Your employer saw value in your skills and potential in you. This early stage is the time for learning and adjustment, so give yourself some credit and be patient.
Face these feelings by looking over your resume and thinking positively about your accomplishments and what you have to offer moving forward.
6. Ask yourself: Is there anything I can do to remedy my worries?
After you've collected your thoughts in a journal, take some time to analyze them and figure out if there might be a solution.
You might calm your new job anxiety by reading up on the organization and your specific role. Do some research on the organization's culture to get an idea of what to expect moving forward.
Visualization exercises can help when starting a new job. Go through your morning routine in your mind, plus your commute and any questions you want to ask. Figure out your schedule and make sure you get a good night's sleep and have time to eat without feeling rushed.
7. Talk with someone you trust.
A great way to remove yourself from your thoughts and anxiety is to talk about them. Find someone you trust and confide in them. Simply talking about your feelings can help. There's research to back that up, too.
During a magnetic resonance imaging study, scientists showed participants images designed to evoke negative emotions during a magnetic resonance imaging study. The researchers found that affect labeling, or putting your thoughts into words, reduced activity in the amygdala — part of the brain involved in experiencing emotions.
So talk it out with your family, friends, counselor, or mentor.
8. Personalize your workspace so that it feels familiar and comforting.
Make your workspace your own by personalizing it. Surround yourself with familiar things to make yourself more comfortable and at ease. Bring pictures of your family and friends, add plants if you can, and pick out accessories that you enjoy.
Your physical comfort is also important for your mental health. Make sure you have your computer at the right height and your chair adjusted for comfort.
9. Stay organized.
Anxiety has many triggers, but new job anxiety often hits when we feel overwhelmed by new information and tasks. Combat this by staying organized and in control of your time. Schedule out your days to improve your focus and ward off distractions.
Try downloading one of the many note-taking productivity apps, such as Evernote, Notion, or Todoist.
Consider prioritizing tasks by their importance and completing a full assignment rather than switching between them.
You may want to break down large projects into smaller steps to save yourself from getting flustered and procrastinating.
10. Have a self-care routine each day.
Self-care is important for your mental health and quelling new job anxiety, but it can also help improve your productivity. If you take the time to rest, relax, and recharge throughout the day, you can reset your mind and body.
This might be as simple as taking a 15-minute break and going for a walk, listening to some music, or having a coffee or tea. The activity you choose is up to you. It can be physical, social, or intellectual.
11. Consider therapy.
New job anxiety can become a real challenge if you cannot find an effective way to manage it. If you need additional support, seek the help of a professional. Therapists and psychologists have the training and skills to help you understand your anxiety and cope with your symptoms.
In addition to giving you someone to speak to about your feelings, these professionals can employ various activities and techniques to help you confront your anxiety and triggers. Several websites and apps can help you find a suitable therapist or psychologist, including Betterhelp, Talkspace, and 7Cups.
This article was reviewed by Megan Pietrucha, Psy.D.
Megan Pietrucha, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical and sport psychologist in private practice in Illinois. She holds a PsyPact credential, enabling her to practice teletherapy with clients in 20+ states. She completed her bachelor's in psychology from Illinois Wesleyan University and her master's and doctoral degrees in clinical psychology from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University.
Her interests and specialization relate to treating eating and body image concerns, college student and student-athlete mental health, mood disorders, life transitions, stress management and procrastination, health and wellness, mindfulness, and sport and performance psychology. Dr. Pietrucha also provides assessment services, supervision, and clinical consultation.
In addition to her clinical work, Dr. Pietrucha has served as the training director for an APA-accredited internship program. She's also taught undergraduate and graduate courses in psychology. She works with high school and college athletes and teams, recreational fitness programs, artists, business leaders, and people who are motivated to optimize their potential in work and life.
Megan Pietrucha is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.