MIDWAY: Fear factor

Stress at work can produce serious phobias. At least 10 million people have a phobia - and for some that means facing their fears every day at work. Dealing with a phobia at work is tricky. What will your colleagues think? How can you avoid your phobia and still keep your job? Obviously, if you’re scared of heights then working on 30th floor of a high rise block isn’t going to be easy. And if you’re claustrophobic, you’re likely to ditch the lift.

But a phobia can occur about any object or situation, and some are complex and not easy to define. In addition, modern technology is creating new phobias as the demands of email make us obsess about the state of our inbox. But workplace phobias often share one thing in common - a fear of what other people think of us. “The most common work fear is social phobia,” says Professor Robert Edelmann, a patron of the National Phobics Society. “If you have a social phobia, it’s likely to be revealed at work.” “A social phobia can manifest itself in many ways,” says Edelmann. “It could cause intense blushing, you might not want to eat lunch in front of people or shun after-work parties. You may also dodge giving a presentation and avoid speaking in meetings.”

This is something Anna Lancaster, who works in magazines, can identify with. “I have an irrational dread of meetings,” she says. “I was shaking before one team meeting where I had to present an appraisal of a competitor. During the presentation my voice was shaky, I went bright red, my hands were trembling and I felt sick.” There can’t be many of us whose stomachs don’t turn at hearing the word ‘appraisal’ or learning we have to give an important presentation. But when does a bit of healthy fear become a phobia? “It’s perfectly normal to have fears but it depends on how you deal with them,” explains Edelmann. “If you’re scared of doing presentations but you still do them then your fear is not a phobia.”

How you think appears to be the difference between someone who is fearful and someone who has a phobia. “Positive thinking is the key. If you tell yourself you’re going to look stupid in a meeting then you’re setting yourself up for failure. If positive thinking isn’t helping, then see your doctor,” advises Edelmann.