I'm a researcher at a university and work in a shared office, where the placement of my desk gives the people moving behind my back an unrestricted view to my screen and papers. I'm self-conscious when reading or writing, especially if it's any kind of planning or note taking. I'm concerned that anyone seeing my unfinished work would think that I'm stupid and incompetent. I feel the same in meetings and seminars, where I would like to make notes of what is presented, but there's always people sitting next to me, seeing my notes.

My anxiety for being watched also makes me unable to use headphones to block the usual office noises, as it would make me unaware of my surroundings. Unable to concentrate and think, my work has reduced to mechanical tinkering with irrelevant details.

I cannot move my desk and there's no other office space available. I've tried working later than my office mates, but when I finally have the office to myself I'm too exhausted to be productive anymore. I've tried working at home, but I would not have access to all the resources I need and I would loose my only social environment.

Yes, every psychologist and self-help book would say that everyone is too occupied with their own work to care about mine. I don't doubt that's true, but that does nothing to ease my anxiety.

Can you suggest anything? I would like to go to therapy, but I can't afford it. I'm not even entitled to the occupational health services or assistance from my superiors, as I'm technically not employed by the university (it's complicated, please don't ask me to explain).

  • You haven't gotten to the bottom of this if you, i.e. you have not investigated the reason for this. Too bad you say you can't go to a therapist but the only thing that really helps is getting to the why of your anxiety and learning how to deal with that. There are no easy tricks. The thing to investigate is how to get professional help.
    – user8036
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 11:22
  • It may be that I don't feel safe in my work environment. I can't concentrate on my work when every sound and move around me seems to catch my attention. Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 15:08
  • 1
    Is this about Academia or the Workplace, by the way? Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 21:09
  • I think in my comment I forgot to mention music or white noise and discreet earbuds. Can be quite helpful. Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 21:10
  • @aparente001 Yes, this is very much about Academia and Workplace SE, but they seem reluctant to discuss these kinds of problems. // As you can read from my OP, I have already ruled out headphones. Earbuds are no different, because they would also leave me anxious that someone may be standing behind by back. Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 6:09

3 Answers 3


If there are rational reasons for hiding your screen, you can apply a privacy filter to your screen. Then you have to be exactly where you sit to be able to view your screen's contents.

If there are no rational reasons, then CBT may be a solution.

  • I'm not sure about rationality, but I do have a need for privacy. I would like to keep my diary, e-mails and websites to myself. A privacy filter would certainly help on that, but it would have to be removable to allow me to show things on my screen when needed. I'm also concerned that a filter could be taken as a sign of distrust by my office mates, which may have some unwanted consequences. I agree on CBT and whish I could have it. Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 15:00
  • You may be suffering from General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), a common condition. You can successfully and easily apply CBT yourself without the help of a professional. There are books and online services for this.
    – Gruber
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 8:13

I am in a similar situation. Just this semester the school where I work moved me from a private office to a shared one. I am not worried about the privacy of my work since my desk is far away enough from others. It's the distraction of all the normal noises that kill my productivity. Even simple things like eating at my desk is uncomfortable especially when other instructors have students coming in who invariably want to talk to me too--just because I am there.

I have been taking medication for OCD for over 20 years and this is one area where it has not helped. I'm simply easily distracted. I have tried the headphones but can not afford one for $100-$150 dollars so perhaps they simply aren't made well enough to block the noise.

One thing I have thought about that might be an option is purchasing a room screen--yes it screams (Don't bother me!) but I'm at that point. I'll just put a sign on it that reads, "I've been bad and they put me in jail!" They make a 50 x 70 for $60-70 and a half screen for about the same amount on Wayfair.com and other similar web sites.

I hope this helps you. I suppose we should just be happy to have a job and that we do not live in FL or east TX--but it sure does make life difficult!

  1. See your primary medical provider ("GP"?) and get a letter with a diagnosis (e.g. "anxiety disorder"). Take that to your employer and ask for a reasonable accommodation.

    Here is a site that I think will help you: https://askjan.org/media/accommrequestltr.html

    It's based on disability laws in the U.S. but the basic approach should carry over.

  2. Take a look at Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) as a therapeutic technique. This is a long term approach. For example, my son got over a specific phobia using this approach but it took one year to work his way up to the phobia and another to work through the phobia. It's very step by step. I wrote a bit about this therapeutic technique on another SE site.

  3. Some people find a high dose of SSRI (ramped up slowly), and a tiny preventive dose (spaced at intervals) of something in the Valium family such as Xanax, helpful in conjunction with the above (both 1 and 2). When I say "tiny," I mean you might need to break the tablets up into quarters or work with a compounding pharmacy to get really small doses that don't leave you too sleepy to work.

    Medication should of course only be considered through a careful discussion with your medical provider. A GP should be able to screen for OCD and discuss medication options with you.

I like Fred Penzel's articles about OCD. Here's a nice starting point: http://www.wsps.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=82:ten-things-you-need-to-know-to-overcome-ocd&catid=0

Note: I'm not saying you have or don't have OCD. I'm suggesting that you get screened for it; and I think you may find it helpful to learn more about it.

When going for an evaluation, it can be helpful to take a filled-out OCD checklist along. This can jump-start the evaluation process.

  • I guess you and the others are right. I have no leverage to negotiate about my work environment, but I guess that's not the root of the problem: it's my head that I have to fix. I have a history of mental health problems, but no treatment other than a moderate dose of SSRI (citalopram) I had for 12 years and ended four years ago. The drug may have improved my functionality, but it robbed me of my emotions, so I'm not keen to renew the prescription. Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 10:19
  • @WillyLoman There's rarely a quick fix for the way our heads work. I hope you do get started working on that. But in the meantime, I think that if you look into it, you will find that you have more leverage than you realize to negotiate about your work environment. Also it can be helpful to talk with a medical provider about side effects, different formulations, and dosage levels. Different SSRIs have different side effect profiles in general, and also there's the individual variation factor. Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 17:23
  • Finally, even if you didn't understand what I said about tiny doses of something in the Valium-Xanax family, I hope you'll print that part of my answer out and take it with you if and when you go to a consult. SSRIs take time to take effect but the complementary medication I described starts working right away. // Let me be clear, I'm not encouraging you to take one thing or another, or even anything; but I am encouraging you to have a conversation with a provider. Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 17:25
  • So. I did go to see a GP and presented the idea of a low dose of Valium (or Diapam, as it's sold here) to ease my anxiety. She made it very clear that it is not my job to suggest medication, especially if it's an addictive drug that is commonly misused and illegally traded. I think she suspected that was also my intention. She virtually kicked me out of the examination room and left me empty-handed. Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 19:24
  • @WillyLoman - Sounds like that GP doesn't take a very collaborative approach. Did she at least screen you before she got mad? // It can be tricky to request controlled substances with a doctor you don't know well. I hope you'll try a different provider, not necessarily for a prescription -- that would need to be a discussion with the provider, as part of a more comprehensive approach to treatment -- but I can offer a couple of suggestions to have a productive appointment. (I'm sorry that first one wasn't productive. But frankly ... Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 19:48

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