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Disability dialogue addresses anxiety in the workplace

In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Colorado State University held a series of disability dialogues throughout October. The dialogues came in the form of presentations, workshops and exhibits that focused on different elements of disability in the workplace.

On Wednesday, Cindy Sharpe and Sara Freeman, faculty members in the Department of Occupational Therapy, hosted the workshop “Understanding Anxiety in the Workplace and Strategies to Support Health”. The purpose of the workshop was to provide employers and employees the necessary skills to identify, address, and mitigate anxiety in the workplace.


Sharpe and Freeman said that anxiety effects 18 percent of the U.S. population and is one of the most common mental illnesses.

“(Anxiety) is a normal part of the body’s reaction to a stressor,” Freeman said.

Freeman also said that anxiety is especially prevalent among college students.

“Students identify that 80 percent of them experience anxiety in college life because it is a huge transition and there is a lot going on,” Freeman said. “So it is very normal for students to feel anxious.”

Freeman said that when a person experiences anxiety, the body’s biological response is to engage the sympathetic nervous system, better known as a fight or flight response. When this system is engaged, an individual can experience many symptoms, including: pupil dilation, fast and shallow breathing and increased heartbeat.

Freeman said that the body releases a cascade of hormones, but the brain can’t tell the difference between a perceived threat and actual threat.

In order to disengage the sympathetic nervous system, an individual must engage the parasympathetic nervous system to become calm and regain their composure, Freeman said.

To address anxiety in the workplace, Sharpe and Freeman offered a variety of techniques and resources to manage stress.

They suggested that individuals set aside time during the workday to de-stress. They identified exercise, tracing mandalynths, the practice of square or box breathing, yoga and group relaxation techniques as methods for reducing anxiety.


They also said that when an employee chooses to disclose their anxiety to an employer, it is important that they employer shows concern, supports the employee with specific performance feedback, and help match an employee’s temperament to specific job responsibilities.

Sharpe said that it is best to be encouraging and helpful when addressing someone with anxiety. She said regardless of whether or not a coworker discloses that they have anxiety, it is important to “create a supportive environment that is open.”

Sharpe and Freeman listed a variety of apps to deal with stress in the workplace such as Calm, Breathe2Relax and Personal Zen.

Freeman said she recommended these apps because they helped promote mindfulness by focusing you on the moment.

For members of the CSU community, Freeman specifically recommended the counseling center, the Center for Mindfulness, part of the Institute for Learning and Teaching, and You@CSU as resources to help students de-stress and address anxiety because they are very accessible.

For more information on how to address anxiety, Freeman said that students and faculty members should contact the Center for Community Partnerships, within the Department of Occupational Therapy.

To participate in the final Disability Dialogue, and learn more about the resources the university has to offer, individuals can attend the presentation, “Disability Awareness and Enhancing the Workforce through Inclusive Practice”. This presentation will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 26 from 12:30-1:30 p.m. in rooms Lory Student Center room 308-310. This event will be free and open to all students, staff and faculty at the university.

Collegian writer Nataleah Small can be reached at or on Twitter at @NataleahJoy.

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