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by Vault Careers | September 23, 2010


Job anxieties can be a funny thing: In the comedy Defending Your Life, the main character is made to relive an embarrassing memory from his career, when he cravenly accepted an employer's job offer without debate—despite the salary being well below his expectations. In his defense, he explains, "The man had a suit. And the suit had an odor. And the odor said $49 thousand."

Moments like that are all too common—most often it is our own inhibitions that deter us from pursuing our goals, and even a rough economy can't always account for the opportunities we miss due to trepidation. This is the focus of Work Makes Me Nervous, a book by authors Jonathan Berent and Amy Lemley that explores professional situations in which anxiety rules our actions. Nervousness of all stripes can affect workers, from limiting their pursuit of new jobs and promotions to outright paralyzing them at their desks. For all this, the book offers a detailed regimen for addressing and correcting stifling behavior.

Given that panic has become unavoidable in post-recession workplaces, Nervous arrives in stores at an all too opportune time. Acknowledging this, it refers to the article "Working Through Fear" by psychologist Judith Sills, which dramatically depicts the "nameless dread" found in today's offices. As Sills states, fear "hurts the sense of collegiality" amongst coworkers, while "we worry about [job performance] more, criticize ourselves more, and therefore enjoy work less." To counter this, it is suggested, one can harness that fear as adrenaline to fuel productivity.

The book's interactive lessons have much to offer, from breathing exercises and behavior identification to adrenaline control techniques. Of particular import is the "High Performance Mind" concept, classifying one's own critical and compromising mentalities that may dominate in the office—resulting in unhealthy personal expectations and withdrawal. To balance these out, a series of workbook segments help readers identify and gradually replace that behavior with productive redirection.

Going beyond exercises, Nervous acknowledges that professionals will often still need their employers' compliance to cope with anxiety disorders in the office. That's why the book also outlines the directives of the Americans with Disabilities Act (A.D.A.), and how its protections apply for employees and students with anxiety disorders.

Anxiety is familiar territory to the authors: Berent is a clinical social worker and advocate for avoidant personality treatment, while marketing copywriter Lemley has first-hand experience as one of Berent's own patients. Written from Berent's point of view, the content has a frank tone—while at times judgmental of certain behaviors and prone to flaunt his history of talk show appearances, the candid review of patient cases illuminates how each person uniquely achieves an emotional and mental balance.

Given the authors' clinical backgrounds, it's apparent that the book's strategies are geared primarily toward those suffering anxiety disorders. However, the practical conclusions it makes regarding communication, socializing and self-evaluation offer beneficial self-improvement aid for those simply lacking self-esteem. These are qualities that are all too valuable as professionals face a post-recession market, where emotional fortitude is key to navigating a successful career path.

-- Alex Tuttle,


Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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