Workplace phrases that spark anxiety, and how to deal with them

Kathryn Wheeler
By Kathryn Wheeler,
updated on Oct 15, 2020

Workplace phrases that spark anxiety, and how to deal with them

'Let’s have a chat', 'It’s come to my attention...', 'Please advise', these common workplace phrases strike fear in the hearts of many of us. But why do they have such a strong effect on us, and what can we do to make sure we don’t spiral?

The workplace is full of unique lingo that we wouldn’t use under any other circumstance. It’s as though we’ve developed a whole new language, to help us navigate different kinds of relationships, to keep professionalism high, and sentiments low.

That said, most of us will be familiar with the knot in your stomach feeling when you receive an email out the blue, brimming with corporate chat that, you think, could be masking something a bit more serious.

You may find that your mind starts to spiral as you work your way through everything that you could possibly have done wrong. But, following a study from, it turns out that we also have a very physical responce to workplace lingo, too.

Over a period of six weeks, 807 study participants were asked to wear a heart rate tracker while working. During the trial, senior members of staff were told to say 16 common workplace phrases, at random.

Woman looking at laptop

‘Let’s have a chat,' raised heart rates by 84%

The phrase that was found to have the biggest impact was, ‘Let’s have a chat’, which raised heart rates by a massive 84%. This was followed by ‘Would you be able to do a presentation for us?’ which raised heart rates by 79%, ‘Can you share your findings in today’s meeting?’ at 73%, and ‘Just make it happen’, at 64%.

But why do these phrases affect us so much? In truth, it’s probably a combination of things, including how we each respond to authority figures, our own self-image and how this is affected by affirmation or refutation from others, and the huge financial and wellbeing importance of job security.

So, what can we do to when faced with the anxiety that the workplace can often spark?

When considering the findings of the study, Ian Hurst – co-founder of mental health and suicide prevention non-profit We are Hummingbird – notes how this research should prompt us to re-think the way we speak to each other in the workplace.

“Dealing with difficult people is often the biggest cause of work-related stress,” Ian explains. “With the additional pressure of today's pandemic, even a request for a chat can become a stressor. I recommend the following four steps, which can help you to assess the situation and alleviate some pressure before you move forward:”


Discuss your feelings to a friend or colleague you trust. Getting things off your chest can help relieve pressure.

Use grounding techniques

This could be a something as simple as a breathing exercise. The five senses grounding technique is particularly effective. Look around and identify five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

Repeat a calming mantra

A mantra can be a mission statement or vision to repeat that is personal to you. For example, mine is: “Breaking the stigma with music.” This can help to ground you and make you feel more in control. (Check out Happiful’s eight affirmation to repeat when anxiety strikes ).

Write down your worry

This will help you to assess what your concern is and accept it is not something you can control.

The unfortunate truth is, every now and then we’ll come up against things, in work and in the rest of our lives, that can feel distressing.

But, if we take the time to acknowledge our feelings and make an actionable effort to reassess the ways that we’re treating and speaking to others, we’ll become part of the solution to moving forward to a kinder and more accepting world.

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