Sometimes it can be triggering to read about anxiety. Please pay attention to how you’re feeling as you read this, and take a break if you feel you need to.

Sexual harassment is inherently scary, and feeling afraid or anxious is totally understandable.

Some of the things you may be worrying about:

  • Is the harassment going to get worse?
  • What if they won’t stop?
  • What if they hurt me again?
  • If I report it will this only get worse?
  • What’s going to happen to my career if other people find out?
  • Should I report it?
  • Should I try to talk to the harasser, to try to get them to stop?
  • If I manage to stop them, will they take it out on someone else?
  • Did I do something to cause this?
  • What if no one believes me?
  • What if this somehow gets turned against me and I get in trouble?
  • Will I get fired?
  • If I say something to HR and nothing happens, how will I be able to keep working here?

That fear can be self-protective, as it is alerting you to possible threats and trying to keep you safe. Anxiety can affect your sleep, appetite, memory, ability to focus, and overall mood. If you’re feeling really anxious and stressed, you may also start to feel more impatient, irritable, or confused, or have difficulty enjoying things that usually make you happy.

When you’re feeling anxious, you might find it hard to bring a typical level of focus to your work or personal life. You might be making mistakes in a way that’s unusual for you. This can compound the anxiety and lead to an increase in overall stress.

Anxiety can show up in thoughts, emotions, behaviours, and physical symptoms.

Thoughts: It can be a state of thinking, like thoughts that replay over and over again, or worries—a lot of “what ifs” like the ones above.

Emotions: It can be a feeling you experience that is similar to feeling scared, afraid, tense, or uneasy.

Behaviours: It can make you pace, double-check on things, bite your nails, avoid situations that feel scary, or seek reassurance from others.

Physical symptoms: It can cause physical symptoms like muscle tension, headaches, a racing heart, trouble breathing, and nausea.

What are panic attacks

  • Panic attacks can be confusing, especially if you haven’t experienced them before. They can occur in your body even at times when you are not “feeling” anxious or having anxious thoughts.
  • It’s easy to mistake panic attacks for heart attacks or other health issues. If you are unsure what is happening, please seek medical advice. Once you’ve been able to rule out other possible concerns, it can be helpful to recognize that you’re having a panic attack and remind yourself that you are safe and okay.
  • The physical symptoms of panic attacks are very real. What you are experiencing is real. But a panic attack is not physically harmful. You cannot die from a panic attack. Tell yourself that, despite how it feels, you will be okay and the panic will go away eventually. Think of your panic attack as a false alarm.
  • You can read more about panic attacks in this article from Anxiety Canada.

What can help

  • It’s important to know that anxiety is treatable. People with anxiety disorders can feel better, most often from the support of health care professionals.
  • Anxiety and fear happen when we feel unsafe. If you’re able to take steps toward safety, you may notice less anxiety as your mind and body adjust to no longer being in as much danger. However, even when you are safe, you may continue to feel on high alert. It can be helpful to remind yourself when you are in a safe environment by saying things like, “I’m safe now.”
  • Often during this time it can be hard to prioritize taking care of ourselves; but while these strategies don’t solve the issue, they can make a difference to our ability to handle the sources of stress. It can be really difficult or even feel impossible to take care of yourself when you’re struggling. Exercise, eating regular meals, staying hydrated, trying to sleep, and spending time with loved ones can all help us to cope better. If this is hard for you right now, we get it. Try not to judge yourself or feel guilty. Instead, pay attention to what you are already doing well, even if it’s something small. You Feel Like Shit is a game that gives tips for self-care. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow Tiny Care Bot for self-care reminders.
  • When feeling anxious, it is common for people to start doing things like drinking or eating more, shopping more, or spending more time watching TV, on social media, or playing video games. If this sounds like you, be patient with yourself and understanding about why you may be seeking distraction. There’s no benefit to judging yourself. If these behaviours are starting to have a significant impact on your health, relationships, finances, etc., be honest with yourself and seek help. Connect with a professional—a therapist, a helpline—or consider small steps you can take to reduce the harms you are experiencing.

If you continue to feel anxious or afraid, consider talking with a professional. A helpline can assist, or your family doctor, or a therapist who’s trained to support people who have experienced work stress, sexual harassment, and/or sexual assault.

Another thing that can be very helpful is to find ways to change your perspective. Anxiety Canada may have some useful resources for you.