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Anxiety and Career Decision Making

How To Overcome Career Anxiety


Updated July 01, 2014

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can affect all aspects of a person’s life, including work. Anxiety can make performing at work difficult and stressful, diminish confidence in one’s standing on the job, and be key to career decision making. Specifically, choosing a career or to apply for/leave a particular job can be increasingly difficult for people with GAD. Why? Let's delve into the research.

Social Cognitive Career Theory

One theory on career development that has substantial research support is social cognitive career theory (SCCT). Briefly, SCCT demonstrates that the process of making choices in careers follows a path.
  • Person variables, which are all aspects of ourselves (personality, interest, skills, learning, culture, expectations, etc.) are brought to the situation.

    These contribute to career self-efficacy (our belief in our ability to be successful in a certain career) and outcome expectations (beliefs about the outcome of pursuing a certain career).

  • If self-efficacy and outcome expectations are positive and the potential decision matches with personal variables (such as interest), then it is likely that a choice will be made regarding career. However, this process is not easy for most people. For example, we may not have the skills to pursue a certain career, or we may not have the resources to get the education needed to enter into that path.

People with GAD have an additional hurdle in this process -- worry. The worrying part of GAD can interfere with a clear vision of one’s real abilities and the likelihood of certain outcomes. It becomes difficult to choose a career path that one can believe will have positive outcomes, which then leaves a person with GAD stuck in indecision or in a career he or she is already dissatisfied with.

Career Tips for People with GAD

There are a handful of tips that you can employ to get a clearer vision of your abilities and outcome expectations.

First, notice the role of your worry in this decision making process. Once you can recognize the role of anxiety and worry, and where it makes things difficult, it is easier to begin to remove its influence.

Think about how someone you trust, and who knows you well, would see the situation. How does this person see your ability, and how would she believe the situation would turn out? After doing this, allow yourself to let that idea soak in. See if you can hold onto it.

Look for real "data" within yourself. For example, look at actual data you have on past job success and performance (perhaps an old review from a manager) and the outcomes of major life decisions. Take note of those that turned out well and those that did not go well in hindsight, and use these to help guide you.

Finally, make back-up plans. If you consider a new career and are excited by it, but you have low outcome expectations, make a back-up plan in case things don’t work out. Perhaps consider going part-time instead of full-time, until you're comfortable. Develop your safety net just in case.

I hope these tips can help in making a more informed and thoughtful decision. Additionally, working though this type of situation with a mental health professional can also be tremendously helpful.
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