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Why you need to host an anxiety party—and how to throw one
Remote work doesn't have to be isolating. Learn how Laura Wong, a Growth Product Manager at Hotjar, has started using anxiety parties as a tool to increase team trust and collaboration.
Last updated31 Aug 2022
Remote work sounds like a dream—and in many ways, it certainly is. But for many remote workers, the setup can bring up loneliness, stress, and anxiety. Laura Wong, one of Hotjar's Growth Product Managers, has been tackling the issue with an innovative solution: an anxiety party.
With overwhelmingly positive results, Laura found out how anxiety parties were a helpful way for her team to open up and be vulnerable, strengthening their bond and trust. We caught up with her to gather the important details about her team's anxiety parties—and, just as importantly, how to host your own.
Let's start with the basics, shall we?
What is an anxiety party?
"An anxiety party is a group workshop to share the anxieties you’re having," explains Laura. And there's no reason to be anxious about it: The workshop allows everyone participating to express their work anxieties and get feedback. "Then the rest of the team listens to these anxieties and can validate or discuss them after each team member has finished sharing."
It started as a ritual from a design team at Google (where else?). Operating in a flat hierarchy and without much interaction with other colleagues, it didn't make sense to have a regular performance review. But still, the team members had some anxieties and personal worries that they wanted to ensure were well-founded and not a result of just overthinking. With that in mind, they created a workshop where each team member could raise a concern and secure feedback and validation from their colleagues: an anxiety party.
Personally, Laura found that the parties helped spark open conversations within the team, bringing up shared issues they wouldn't normally talk about—and relieving a lot of their anxieties, too.
Here's why you should also want to be in one.
Why do I want to be on the guest list for one?
Anxiety parties can sound scary, and it's totally OK to feel intimidated by the prospect of joining one.
"Some people in my team shared that they had been quite anxious before the party," tells Laura. After all, it can be scary to share potentially personal worries with your co-workers. "But after our first one, a lot of people said they felt very calm. And it helped foster openness in the team, too."
Other benefits include stronger bonds, team trust, and improved collaboration. Especially in remote work scenarios, it's easy to overthink worries and anxieties, which can quickly escalate to unrealistic proportions. Anxiety parties help release some of that emotional pressure, allowing the team to show empathy—especially concerning their differences and conflicts.
"It's very cathartic," summarizes Laura. "We learned things about each other that we wouldn't have otherwise. It really helps the team bond."
And what team leader wouldn't want that, remote work or not?
When’s a good time to host an anxiety party?
Unlike what you might expect, there's no need to wait for anxiety to knock on the door. In Laura's case, she had heard about anxiety parties during a one-on-one with her manager.
"I proposed it during a quarterly retrospective, and everyone was excited at the idea," she says. "And before that, we had done a team health check survey that showed us that we weren't very good at giving feedback to each other.
This workshop was a way to encourage people to be more comfortable with each other and to help build psychological safety, which was another aspect we wanted to improve."
In other words, there's no reason to wait. You and your team can benefit from hosting an anxiety party at any time, even if feedback is not necessarily an issue.
What can I expect after a session?
A single session can bring immediate results—and who doesn't love a party?
As Laura points out, the easiest benefit to identify is connection. "Especially as we're a remote company, these chances to talk in person don't come very often. A workshop like this kind of helps replace that in-person connection," she says.
So, are you ready to host an anxiety party for your team? We asked Laura to share her insights and planning details.
How to host one
Hosting an anxiety party is easy: simply brainstorm the idea with your team to see if they're interested. And if they are, pencil in a Zoom meeting and make sure everyone can attend.
Ideally, an anxiety party would be organized by the team or squad leader, who will also facilitate the workshop. However, that's not a rule: depending on the company, team members might even be able to organize and host their own anxiety parties.
"There's not much to prepare, to be honest," Laura said. "Since it's a third-party workshop, I just adapted it to our own purposes—we use a Miro board template that anyone else can use, too."
In summary, if you have ten minutes, you have time to prepare the party. And to make your life even easier, we're sharing Laura's template below:
During the event: let's get the party started
The first thing you should do during the meeting is to give your team some time to think of the worries and anxieties they wish to share. (Bonus: the participants don't have to do any preparation).
"In the first few minutes, everyone silently writes down their work anxieties on paper—these are private experiences not meant to be written on the group Miro board or elsewhere," she explains. They should be work-related too, for example:
I'm always taking sick time, and I feel guilty about what others think of that
I'm always too busy, and I'm not able to help others in my team
Once everyone is done, the facilitator gives everyone the chance to share one of their anxieties. The speaking order should be decided ahead of time so people know when they're going to speak (and decrease the possible anxiety about being randomly called).
"Usually I'll say, OK, it's your turn to share. After that, I'll say thank you for sharing your anxiety and for being open with us. Now, can everyone please take a moment to think of your score and then put it in the chat?" she explains.
After a team member finishes sharing, everyone else is going to rate it from one to five, putting the number into the chat at the same time. Giving it a one means "I haven't noticed this or It doesn't bother me," for example. Three would be something like, "I've noticed it, and sometimes it affects me personally." Five means "I've really noticed it, and yes, it does affect me."
"It's optional for people to explain why they chose the number they did," Laura clarifies.
"In our team's case, most people share their reasons. Whether they put a one or a three or four, it was really helpful to validate or reassure what the person had originally shared."
Usually, the higher the score, the more likely it should be discussed by the team, and ideally, everyone should come to an agreed-upon solution to help relieve the pressure of that anxiety on the rest of the team.
Bonus tip: as a facilitator, don't worry about responding to each person’s anxieties after they share them. Laura stays true to her script to avoid showing favoritism or making a bigger deal of one person's anxiety. No matter how big or small they may seem to that person, they're all equally important.
Finally, Laura encourages future anxiety party hosts to let the conversation flow and simply let people volunteer. "Don't worry about awkward silences. That's inevitable," she says.
Post event: finding solutions together
The most interesting part of this workshop is that everyone tries to come up with a solution together. "It's not on the anxious person," she concludes.
Laura says she was really surprised at how willing everyone was to participate and to give input on everyone else's anxieties. "We had 100% participation—everyone wanted to share, even though it was voluntary. Everyone saw the benefit of having a safe space to discuss their worries. I think everyone sees that you are really helping your fellow teammates, and it's almost like a gift to acknowledge everyone's anxieties."
And of course, the final feedback of Laura's anxiety party was positive.
She tells us that one person felt really anxious before the workshop, but in the end, they were very calm and grateful for the event. "I think gratefulness was a very common feedback. Some people also asked if they could share it with their other teams—they knew that their other teammates would appreciate it too," she shares.
While there's no absolute truth, it's safe to say that an anxiety party will give each team member something different—but ultimately, something positive.
Conclusion: when’s the next anxiety party?
Although Laura was a little bit nervous about hosting the workshop, it's safe to say it was a success. Her team even requested it to become a regular thing! "If a squad member requests an anxiety party, I'd try to fit one in as early as possible," she explains. Otherwise, you can book them at the end of every quarter or even twice a year.
Remote work doesn't have to be anxiety-inducing, and there are even more ways of building trust and bringing everyone together. An anxiety party is only the beginning.
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