I am 19 and work in a large office with many coworkers. As it stands I suffer from severe social anxiety and am currently in therapy to address this. I've had to quit college twice now as I have panic attacks there and am unable to attend. My relationship with my coworkers and my boss is becoming increasingly tenuous as I find it harder to communicate.

It is my fault, but, at the time of being hired, I did not address or even mention my anxiety to my boss or anyone interviewing me for fear of being judged. Since then I have not told my coworkers, but I would not be surprised if, when asked, they would tell you I'm nervous.

Thankfully, up until this point, I've not had a panic attack in the office. That being said, it's a real possibility and it is one that worries me greatly.

My question is not how can I mitigate my anxiety in the workplace, but, for now, what can I do to address the existence of my anxiety with my boss? I know this question may best be addressed with my therapist, but I would honestly like to know what others would have to say on the topic.

So, how should I address this issue with my boss? How should I tackle the fact that I failed to address this during the hiring process. Is there anything I should know about rights or anything along those lines?

Edit: For some background information, I wasn't officially diagnosed with social anxiety disorder till December, 2013. I've been at my current job since May, 2013. So I knew about the disorder during the hiring process, but had no official diagnosis.

Please note this question is not a duplicate of How can frequent anxiety attacks affect me in business and the workplace? The question expresses fears and the answers attempt to assuage them. This doesn't help my current situation.

  • How has this worked out for you, almost 6 years later? I'm finding this thread as I struggle with my own anxiety issues Jan 3, 2020 at 13:14

4 Answers 4


I don't know the legal aspect of this. But in terms of talking to your boss, I would urge you to have a one on one with him/her and speak the truth. It's important that your boss understands your personality. This would help you to solve any problems that you might face in future. If your boss does ask about why you didn't inform while you were getting hired, you can always say that you were already taking therapy and you believed that it would improve soon.

In case of your coworkers, most probably they have already noticed that you are a bit nervous type of person. But whether you have to tell them about your panic attack medical situation is a personal choice. In an ideal scenario, your coworkers are more of a friend to you (like in my case), and you should be able to talk to them as a friend would. In case you have more of a formal relationship, you need not disclose your medical condition but be more open and let them know that you do get nervous easily (maybe talk casually about this while you have lunch together?).

Just know that hiding everything may not work in your favor. Be as honest as you can be.

  • @JoeStrazzere oops my bad. You are right about what you said. Jan 21, 2014 at 5:08
  • I think having a one-on-one with your boss or being honest to all co-workers is highly dependent on company culture. Certainly OP's boss and certain others will need to know, but I think they will need outside guidance about how & when to do so.
    – user30031
    Oct 30, 2016 at 14:08
  • Be careful with this advice. I once told an employer about some anxiety issues I was having and was fired shortly thereafter.
    – Cypher
    Jul 17, 2017 at 4:00

I'm a not a lawyer, but here would be my suggestions:

  1. Consider what specific changes do you want in your work environment. The idea here is that you may tell your boss you have social anxiety and his response may be something like, "So what?" as it doesn't tell him what changes you want to accommodate you. Do you want to be left alone most of the time? Do you want to be able to leave if things get a bit tense?

  2. The history of your condition isn't that important here to my mind. What is important is to communicate going forward that this is what you have, here is what you may need, and what kind of arrangements can be made. Think more of the future and less of the past.

  3. Scheduling a meeting with your boss would be a good idea once you've finished the first suggestion. If your employer is large enough, there may well be people in HR that may be useful to know in terms of handling the changes and handling possible blow back that may happen.


I think you should ask your therapist how to address this concern; they have probably dealt with very similar situations before.

That being said, go through a similar process you would for notifying the company of any other illness (Notifying HR and your supervisor I assume, and letting them know how you expect it to affect your performance and which accommodations you need). For example: If you have the flu, you ask to stay home. If you need consideration for taking time to collect yourself in case of a panic attack, let them know what that entails.


As someone who has had this exact problem, I feel compelled to say that, unfortunately, you should not seek accommodation from your boss.

The reason is that if you secure any accommodations for this problem, it will only make it worse. Your boss may be happy to make changes to make you more comfortable, but it will only make you complacent in your anxiety. You will be doing yourself a major disservice, and, rather than being able to function comfortably in your role, your anxiety will use the opportunity to invent new reasons to be anxious, which will ultimately mean you will not be any more comfortable despite your accommodations. I know it's a bitter pill, but you have to face this issue.

I say this not as a moralizing elitist, but as a person who experienced the very same problem as you and made the mistake I feel you are going to, with disastrous consequences. I know your question was about the workplace relations aspect and specifically not about the psychology, but, unfortunately, you cannot separate the two. Exposure ultimately will help you.

  • This seems like something that is a personal experience and very possibly not applicable in every person's experience of this issue.
    – user30031
    Oct 30, 2016 at 14:05

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