How to Talk to Your Boss If You're Struggling With Anxiety at Work
how to talk to your boss if you're struggling with

How to Talk to Your Boss If You’re Struggling With Anxiety at Work

  • Stress levels are rising in America as workers grapple with inflation, the war in Ukraine, and more.
  • Mental health experts shared tips for approaching your manager about your mental health. 
  • They said be honest, come with solutions, and frame it as a win-win for both you and the company.

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Right now is a difficult time for many Americans. 

The pandemic, inflation, and the war in Ukraine are chipping away at Americans’ mental health. The number of people reporting high stress has risen to “alarming levels,” according to recent polls conducted for the American Psychological Association.

People are recognizing the importance of their mental health. A new Deloitte survey of 1,000 workers found that 68% of workers say their mental health is more important than advancing in their careers. 

“We’ve lost a sense of control, something that’s instrumental to live a sustainably happy life,” said Jenn Lim, workplace happiness expert and consultant and bestselling author of “Beyond Happiness.”

Many are likely grappling with whether to talk to their manager about their mental health. A 2020 survey of 1,000 workers by HR and payroll company Paychex found that only 1 in 5 of employees discussed their mental health with a supervisor, and just 5% said they spoke with an HR representative. 

That’s a problem not only on a personal level, but on a business level too — burnout is associated with less productivity, more absenteeism, and higher turnover. 

This article was originally published in September 2020. 

How to talk about your mental health issues with your boss 

Anisha Patel-Dunn

Anisha Patel-Dunn, psychiatrist and chief medical officer at LifeStance Health, says employees should talk to HR if they’re not comfortable talking with their boss.

Azzura Photography

Anisha Patel-Dunn, psychiatrist and chief medical officer at LifeStance Health, recommends asking for a one-on-one video chat to talk about it. 

If you know what you’d like to request from your boss to ease your workload, you can say something like: “I’ve been struggling with a lot of stress and anxiety and would like to request some changes to my schedule or time-off, etc.” 

“Be as honest and as candid as you can be. Many managers and supervisors are experiencing the same emotions and/or have loved ones struggling with these issues,” the psychiatrist told Insider. 

It’s also OK to bring it up if you don’t know exactly what you’d like from your boss, according to Maureen Kennedy, lead professional coach at Bravely, a career coaching company. 

She suggested saying something like: “I’ve been dealing with some intense changes in my family life, and it’s been a major source of anxiety for me lately. I know I’ve been distracted during the workday as a result of this, and it’s taking a toll on my ability to be ‘on’ the way I need to be. I don’t know exactly how to solve this, because it’s an ongoing situation, but I think it could be helpful for both of us if we spent more time in our check-ins setting goals and priorities so I can know when I’m on track and when I’m getting behind.”

“Beyond Happiness” author Lim suggested framing the conversation around improving your mental health as something that would help both you and your employer. 

“Be honest about what you’re going through with the confidence that if you’re not at your best, you can’t do your best for them or the company,” she said. “If that conversation doesn’t move the needle with your boss or your whole, personal state of being, I’d ask yourself if it’s a team or company you’d want to stay with.”

What managers can do to proactively encourage workers to talk about their mental health and avoid burnout 

Maureen Kennedy, Bravely

Maureen Kennedy, head professional coach at Bravely, encourages managers to proactively help employees avoid burnout.


Breaking the stigma around mental health starts with leadership. 

“If the manager feels comfortable, they might share an anecdote about a challenge they are facing. It could involve parenting, schooling, dealing with older parents,” Patel-Dunn said. 

Asking employees directly how they’re feeling is important, too.  

Kennedy suggests asking specific questions like:“How’s your day going so far?” or “What’s your state of mind?” or “What’s your biggest obstacle right now?” 

“Don’t be afraid to ask more than once to get to a more truthful answer,” she added. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.

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