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Fear in the Workplace and How it is Affecting Your Health


Published: 27 June 2017

Cover image for article: Fear in the Workplace and How it is Affecting Your Health

We are all aspiring to be like someone else, are we not?

Why can’t we just aspire to be the best version of ourselves? Why is this so difficult?

It stems from our belief systems, the things we believe to be true about ourselves and the world around us.

We all have Three Universal Fears:

  1. Fear of being found-out or not being good enough
  2. Fear of not belonging or not fitting in
  3. Fear of not being loved

After coaching many nurses (and other individuals), the universal fear that seems to rear its ugly head and do the most damage in both our work, and at home, is the fear of not being good enough.

This constant feeling of not being good enough relates directly to us striving to live up to the expectations of others, not wanting to hurt the people we love or not pursuing the things that make our heart sing for fear of not being good enough and that fear of failing.

This fear is destroying our relationships with both ourselves and others.

So many people, it seems, do not feel good enough, and are constantly striving to fit in and be like someone else.

Why is it that we are willing to compromise our standards, allowing others to run ‘ramshod’ over us?

This constant fear that we feel is far from life and death, right? However, it is holding us back from moving forward and ‘shining our light’.

Perceptions like this can have a damaging effect on us and our bodies.

Fight or Flight?

To understand this a little more, let’s consider the cavemen/women of prehistoric days.

Way back then, when our hunter-gatherer ancestors were confronted with a dangerous situation, they would engage their sympathetic nervous system to help them muster up the courage to either fight a dangerous and very real threat or to take flight and escape to safety. Their adrenaline would come rushing forward, preparing them to fight that sabre-toothed tiger who was a threat to the tribe.

In high-stress or physically exhilarating situations, the adrenaline hormone that is naturally produced and released from the adrenal glands (located on top of each kidney) into the bloodstream, rapidly prepares your body for action (Men’s Health 2008).

This hormone really helped our hunter-gatherer ancestors to cope with dangerous and unexpected situations but our modern-day, increasingly stressful and inactive lifestyles, means that instead of fighting lions we are battling with other demons, such as: the fear of not being good enough, the fear of not belonging and the fear of not being loved – amongst the countless other stressors we face within our daily lives at work and at home.

As nurses we know adrenaline, when given to a patient, produces an increased heart rate. This is exactly the same when we find ourselves in stressful situations. Our heart rate rises to take on the challenge we are presented with.

When we are constantly worrying about whether we are good enough or allowing ourselves to feel less than we are, our bodies can’t distinguish between real and dangerous threats or perceived threats. Therefore, this system takes over, building up our levels of adrenaline and cortisol that – if not managed – can be harmful to our bodies.

In survival situations, cortisol is delivered in optimal amounts that can be lifesaving. It helps our bodies to maintain fluid balance and blood pressure while suppressing other body functions that aren’t crucial in the moment, like reproductive drive, immunity, digestion and growth.

However, when we stew over a fear like ‘not being good enough’, the body continues to release cortisol. These chronically elevated levels can lead to serious health issues. Too much cortisol can:

  • Suppress our immune systems,
  • Increase our blood pressure and sugar levels,
  • Decrease our libido,
  • Produce acne,
  • Contribute to obesity, and so many more health issues.

(Health Living 2013)

Not Good Enough?

We now have a deeper understanding of the affect worry and stress has on our body. Let’s dig even deeper, and discover why this fear of ‘not being good enough’ is so common, and how we can create a change for ourselves, become less stressed and more in control of the circumstances we find ourselves in.

We might not know that we have a fear of not being good enough, but it is often at the very core of our stressors or the things that annoy us. This fear causes us to become a victim of our circumstances and we blame others for the way we feel, deflecting from what is really going on for us. We can become defensive, and our fight or flight response kicks in.

I am sure we have all been in a situation at work when another nurse or midwife has been critical of the care we are giving our patients; nit-picking over what we should or should not do for our patients. If this happens once, we might brush it off, however if this happens often, we may begin to expect it and perceive an impending threat over each task we approach.

That’s when we can become angry inside. We start to second guess ourselves, and if we have an underlying belief that we are not good enough, then this will fuel our stress levels causing unnecessary hormones to coarse through our veins, preparing us for battle or survival.

Most people don’t know how to fight these battles, and others choose to run and hide. We in effect are becoming a victim to our circumstances, allowing outside forces take over, we are not in control, we feel helpless.

Where a caveman would kill the sabre-tooth tiger and return to a calm state; the sorts of modern-day threats we face have no clear ending. Hormones continue to coarse through our bodies with no release.

Fear in the Workplace and How it is Affecting Your Health - Ausmed relaxing nurse


The solution? By understanding these fears, we can teach our brain to distinguish real danger from perceived danger. We can then begin to address the situation in a resourceful, appropriate way, with clear heads and our hormones returned to a normal resting state.

Consider: FEAR is just:

  • False
  • Evidence
  • Appearing
  • Real.

If we don’t begin to address these fears, we are going to get sicker, more stressed, our light will become dimmer and we ill subsequently throw more evidence to the believe that we are not good enough.

When we let others and the world around us define who we are and how we react, we are becoming victims to our circumstances, we fall below the line.

Some things we can do to help us:

  • Connect: talk to a colleague or manager. Raise any serious issues with them.
  • Consider practising mindfulness and self-care techniques. The more you do this, the more your brain gets used to making positive pathways.
  • Support differences in each other at work and encourage one another. Make your work-place a safe space and health will improve across the board – healthier nurses will in turn mean healthier patients.

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Portrait of Marie McAneney
Marie McAneney

Marie McAneney has a Diploma in Nursing and over 25 years’ experience as a Registered Nurse. In the past five years, she has held senior leadership roles, leading and managing both small and large teams. In 2011 she completed “The Australian Applied Management Colloquium”, and is currently studying Coaching through the Coaching Institute in Melbourne at the Professional Master Level. She is a qualified Hypnotherapist and Meta Dynamics™ Profiler and Practitioner, which focuses on an individual’s thinking style. She is extremely skilled in human resource and leadership management, with a focus on developing teams and individuals within teams Marie is passionate about influencing positive change within the workplace and its culture, and does this by inspiring and empowering nurse leaders, to lead their teams from where they stand, to rediscover their courage from within, and to effectively language and interact with the people in their world. See Educator Profile

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