How to Explain Anxiety to your Boss

Refreshed Minds Blog - How to Explain Anxiety to Your Boss

Do you wish your boss was more understanding of your anxiety? Have you tried to explain but been met with a sarcastic response like ‘just get on with your job and you’ll be fine.’ Perhaps you’d like to explain how you feel but just don’t know how.

In this blog I’ll share with you some simple and effective ways to explain anxiety to your boss (or your family, partner or friend for that matter). I want to help make this conversation easier for you so you can receive the support you need

Where to start when explaining anxiety to your boss

If you’ve never experienced anxiety or known somebody who has it looks pretty weird. Basically you were once able to deal with loads of stuff perfectly fine and now you find milk on the counter and start hyperventilating. Or perhaps you have an emotional meltdown because you might not be able to have a particular seat on the bus to work. To the outside, everyday person it doesn’t make sense. And that’s ok!!!

PS. These anxieties over seemingly small things are perfectly normal!! You are not losing the plot. Watch the video I share below to find out why.

It’s important to realise that your boss, family member or friend aren’t being purposefully unhelpful. They just don’t understand.

What not to do when explaining anxiety to the boss

We can learn a lot from people’s mistakes and what’s not gone so well. I’ve seen and heard countless examples where people have done the following, it doesn’t go well so let’s avoid these:

Stressed Man
  1. Don’t talk to your boss on one of your bad days, you know when you’re a rambling, not logical mess. Inevitably the person you’re talking to can’t decipher your intentions or understand what you’re trying to explain and you’re in no fit state to have rational conversation. Inevitable disaster don’t do this to yourself!!
  2. Don’t start the conversation with how you feel, how difficult you find things and all the problems you’re facing. This is putting your worse foot forwards. Yes you want empathy and you want the person to understand but all they hear is someone making excuses. Remember the person you’re speaking to doesn’t understand anxiety yet. Don’t do this either.
  3. Don’t let someone else do it. Someone else in the office explains to the boss that you’re struggling, that you have all these issues and that they think it’s ‘Anxiety’. I know this can feel like an easy solution but it just creates more problems. What comes across is that you can’t speak for yourself and often the other person never says it quite right either. 
  4. Don’t go too deep. The opposite of point 2 is that you go too deep. You explain too much and the other person isn’t really interested. You may have read every Anxiety book you can get your hands on and explored the topic in great depth, that’s great but they don’t need or want that level of information. To find out what’s the right level read on…..

My top tips for explaining anxiety to the boss

Ok so hopefully you’re not going to do any of the 4 points above what do you do instead?

  1. Choose a good day when you’re feeling stronger and more emotionally settled. Even if you struggle badly with anxiety there are bad days and better ones. Best to opt for the latter. If you’re really struggling every day you need to calm your system down and I give lots of ideas of how to do this in my ‘15 Anxiety hacks‘ blog.
  2. Start the conversation from their point of view.  You might use, ‘I know you’re worried about me’ or ‘I know I’ve been distracted lately and that’s not great for the team’. Or perhaps something like, ‘I know you’re under a lot of pressure to reach our team targets, I’d really like to do better and I hope you can help.’ Doing this show’s you have empathy for their world and they’re more likely to want to listen.
  3. Tell the story yourself. Only you can explain what’s really going on, only you can give them the right information so don’t shy away. It’s your conversation to have and your experiences to share. Sometimes in life we have to pluck up the courage to do the scary stuff cause that’s the right thing to do.
  4. Give them just the right amount of information. I created this video to help explain anxiety. It’s only 3 minutes long and gives a really good overview, it’s great education for your boss, family or friends. The video shares just the right amount of information and is a great starting point for discusssions.
  5. Come up with solutions together. After showing them the video, explaining that anxiety is a normal human reaction and reassuring them that you’re working on it ask if they would be willing to help. You could ask if there’s anything they can suggest which will support you. Getting their involvement in the solution makes it more likely that they’ll follow through with the suggestions and there may be support available that you weren’t aware of.

The Do’s and Don’t of Anxiety

It can be really helpful if together you create a do’s and don’t list. Remember you need to educate your boss, friend or family member. Often they just don’t know what to do or say.

Together grab a piece of paper and agree on what you both will do and won’t do. Examples may be that you tell them when you’re having a bad day or that they don’t tell you to snap out of it etc.

Have an open and honest conversation. It’s an opportunity to map out how you both are going to help each other. 

This list is a working document, it’s not static. As you progress along your anxiety recovery your needs may change or you may find something else which is or isn’t helpful. Keep adding and moulding this document as you go along so that you both know what is expected. I find when people contract together to understand the results are far more effective.

There’s lots in there to help you craft and execute your perfect discussion so I wish you well. Let me know how you get on. 

If you’re struggling with your anxiety and feel you’d like some support you can find out more about my anxiety programme here.

Until next time



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