Career

I’ve got some good and bad news for all the anxious people out there.

As an anxious person myself, I know that anxious people will naturally want to know the bad news first, so I’ll start with that.

Bad news: People with higher levels of anxiety tend to go on to have lower levels of career satisfaction. That’s according to a new study, which found that people with more anxiety at age 21 had lower career satisfaction at age 27.

OK, now the rest of this post is about the good news.

The good news, from the same study, is that more developed coping skills for dealing with anxiety mitigate this association between anxiety and career satisfaction. In other words, higher levels of anxiety might be linked to lower career satisfaction, but being able to cope with those high levels of anxiety weakens the link.

In the study, this finding was specifically for young adults. In particular, while more anxiety at 21 correlated with lower career satisfaction at 27, better anxiety coping skills at 24 disrupted this correlation.

If anxiety coping skills are so important, where do they come from?

No doubt there are many factors at work. In this case, though, the researchers were interested in how people’s teenage friendships impacted their anxiety coping skills at young adults.

To answer this question, the researchers went all the way back to when people were 13. They looked at how people handled their friendships as teenagers, and in particular, whether people were able to navigate differences and disagreements in their friendships in a healthy way.

When I say “healthy,” what the researchers looked for was whether people were able to navigate differences and disagreements while maintaining both autonomy and relatedness. In conflicts within friendships, people often give up their autonomy (for example, by being overly accommodating), or they drift away from their friends. However, the happy medium is when people are able to work through conflicts while both keeping a sense of autonomy and a sense of relatedness.

As it turned out, teenagers who had higher autonomy and relatedness with their best friends went on to become young adults with good anxiety coping skills. So, to summarize how all this fits together:

  • 21-year-olds with higher anxiety became 27-year-olds with lower career satisfaction
  • 13-year-olds with more friendship autonomy and relatedness became 24-year-olds with better anxiety coping skills
  • Better anxiety coping skills disrupted the link between anxiety and career satisfaction

That’s all good for those 13-year-olds with good friendships. But what about the rest of us?

There’s also a more general lesson here: while we don’t have control over our levels of anxiety, developing better skills for coping with that anxiety can change the effect anxiety has on our lives.

Image: Flickr/The Edge Foundation