Are you feeling anxious because your employer told you of their intention to polygraph you and the rest of the team at work?

Anxiety varies in its effects on people. For some, it’s just a mild wave of insecurity, making them feel uncertain about their current and future state of affairs. For others, it feels like they might have a heart attack, and others might feel the onset of a panic attack destroying their mental state and well-being.

Anxiety is a real problem, not just a made-up condition that doesn’t merit any medical attention. If you’re suffering from an anxiety disorder, you might wonder how it will affect your polygraph results. Will your mental health affect your results? What happens if it causes you to fail the lie detector test? This post aims to give you the answers you need.


How Many Americans Have an Anxiety Disorder?

The stats around how anxiety affects Americans is shocking. According to research from Mayo Clinic, more than 40 million adults in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder. Of this, only 36.9% receive the treatment they need for their condition.

Anxiety is a reaction to a stressful environment, and several different anxiety disorders exist. For the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on the types presenting the biggest risk to employees.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

This anxiety disorder affects up to 6.8 million American adults, representing 3.1% of the US population. Of these individuals, only 43.2% receive treatment for it. The stats show twice as many women suffer from GAD than men, and it’s common for GAD to occur alongside depression.

Panic Disorder (PD)

This anxiety disorder affects 6 million American adults, representing 2.7% of the population. Similar to GAD, twice the number of women experience PD compared to men.

Social Anxiety Disorder

This anxiety disorder affects 15 million adults representing 7.1% of the population. Men and women experience this condition in equal numbers, typically starting at 13. Around 36% of people with SAD don’t receive treatment for the first decade after noticing the onset of the disorder.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD affects 7.7 million American adults representing 3.6% of the US population. Women are five times more likely to experience PTSD than men.

Related Illnesses Leading to Anxiety Disorder

Many people with anxiety disorders have a coinciding mental or physical illness compounding the effects of the condition. Some of these ailments include the following.

  • Bipolar disorder.
  • Adult ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder).
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Stress.
  • Eating disorders.
  • BDD (body dysmorphic disorder).
  • Headaches.
  • Fibromyalgia.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Rare cancerous tumors that produce specific “fight-or-flight” hormones.


What are the Effects of Anxiety?

People suffering from anxiety disorders experience a range of symptoms, depending on their type of disorder. The following are some of the common signs of anxiety.

  • Increased heart rate.
  • Rapid and shallow breathing.
  • Feeling tense, nervous, or restless.
  • A sense of impending panic, danger, or doom,
  • Trembling.
  • Sweating.
  • Feeling tired or weak.
  • Issues with concentrating and overthinking about subjects that trouble them.
  • Problems sleeping (insomnia).
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) issues.
  • Having issues with controlling worrisome thoughts.

People with anxiety disorders may experience complications with their mental health and personal habits that accelerate or worsen the effects of their condition leading to the following problems and difficulties.

  • Substance and alcohol misuse and abuse.
  • Social isolation.
  • Problems functioning at work.
  • Poor quality of life.
  • Suicidal thoughts.


How Do Doctors Treat Anxiety?

Doctors treat anxiety disorders using a two-pronged approach. They often recommend a combination of psychotherapy alongside drug-based treatments to help the individual overcome the cause of the stress and anxiety in their life.

Psychological counseling involves working with a qualified therapist to talk out their problems and reduce anxiety in their thoughts. Doctors will prescribe medications like buspirone, benzodiazepines, or beta-blockers to help calm the patient when they feel anxious.


How Does the Polygraph Exam Process Work?

The polygraph process starts a few days or a week before the day of the exam. The employer will call the team into their office individually and notify them of their intention to polygraph the staff. The HR team is usually responsible for carrying out this task in larger corporations or companies.

During the meeting, the employee is notified of what they’re being polygraphed. The HR team ensures the employee is aware of their rights involved with the test. If the employee agrees to the polygraph[h policy, the employer gets them to sign documents relating to the test. These documents notify them of their rights and the questions asked during the exam.

They’ll give the employee at least 48 hours’ notice of the test. Still, many companies give up to a week’s notice to let the employee prepare properly for the lie detector test.


The Introductory Phase

The employee will enter the exam room when test day arrives and meet the examiner. The examiner acts professionally, is friendly to the employee, and doesn’t display authority. They’ll review the circumstances of why the employee is being tested and explain their rights. They’ll also go over the questions asked in the exam.

The Polygraph Equipment

When the employee is at ease and ready to start the test, the polygraph examiner wires them to the device. These instruments include sensors on the fingers, corrugated rubber tubes across the abdomen and chest, and a blood pressure cuff secured to the upper right arm. Some examiners may also require the examinee to sit on a motion-detecting pad.


The examiner starts the questioning process when the employee is wired up and ready to go. They begin by asking control questions to establish a baseline response from the examinee. When they have this data, they’ll move on to the questions covered in the pre-exam review.

They’ll methodically ask the questions, noting the examinee’s responses on their laptop screen. If the examiner encounters a question where the examinee displays possible deception, they’ll repeat it to confirm their findings.

Suppose the examinee repeatedly shows signs of deception toward a specific question. In that case, the examiner asks them what they think might be causing the issue. If the employee and examiner cannot resolve the problem, the examiner views their answer as deceptive.


After finishing the exam, the examiner removes the instrumentation and escorts the examinee out of the room. The examiner will review the test data later at their office if they suspect the examinee is being deceptive.

After concluding their test results, they’ll compile a report for the employer. Typically, the examiner sends this report two or three days after finishing the exam. The employer is responsible for notifying the employee of their test results.


What Part of the Lie Detector Test Can Trigger Anxiety?

The most common areas where people with anxiety disorders experience a flare-up in their condition come from the days leading up to the exam, the moments before the exam, and during the exam itself. Some might also experience symptoms post-exam.



The days leading up to the test and the morning of the exam are stressful times for anyone scheduled for a polygraph, not just those with anxiety disorders. Most people will never have taken a polygraph and don’t know what to expect from it.

As a result, people with anxiety disorders, especially those with severe AD, might overthink it, leading to them developing a panic attack or depression around the day. This can occur in individuals that have done nothing wrong as well.

The stress of wondering if the examiner will uncover something in their past unrelated to the reason for the test or the thought of failing the test due to their condition may trigger feelings of uncertainty, leading to anxiety.


During the Exam

The exam is usually the most stressful part of the experience. Those individuals with anxiety disorders may find the pressure of the situation unbearable, causing them to have a panic attack in the room, especially under repeated questioning.

The examiner may not force the examinee to stay in the room if they want to leave. They must comply with the examinee’s request to stop the test. If the examinee requires medical assistance, the examiner will call for a medical team to provide service onsite.


Post Exam

It’s less common for people with AD to experience elevated levels of anxiety or panic attacks after the exam. However, they may experience a latent reaction.


Can the Polygraph Misinterpret Anxiety for Deception?

The modern polygraph is a highly sensitive and accurate device. Alongside an experienced and competent examiner, there is little chance that the examinee’s anxiety will show up as deception. Most examiners have the skills to determine the difference between anxiety and deception.

However, it’s the examiner’s duty to ask the examinee if they have any anxiety-related issues before they start the lie detector test. Before the exam, they’ll ensure the examinee is at ease and comfortable with the situation.


Should I Use My Anxiety Medication During the Polygraph Exam?

Suppose the examinee has a genuine anxiety disorder and uses medication, like Xanax or beta-blockers, to combat the effects of their condition. In that case, they must notify the examiner before the test starts. The examiner will require the examinee to present proof of their prescription before they start the test.

The reason why it’s necessary to tell the examiner about medication use before the exam is because it’s a common countermeasure. Countermeasures are tactics used by guilty people when taking polygraph exams. Drug-based countermeasures, like anti-anxiety drugs, suppress the SNS and its ability to launch the fight-or-flight (FoF) response under stress.

Since the examiner relies on the FoF to determine deception, the examinee might think that by using the drug, they can get away with lying to the examiner. However, if the examiner determines they’re using these drugs with malicious intent during the exam, it constitutes an immediate failed result.

Typically, the examiner will not run the exam on a medicated person under the influence of drugs like Xanax or beta-blockers. Still, it depends on the merits of the situation. A qualified and experienced examiner can see through the suppressive results of the medication, allowing them to determine if the examinee is acting deceptively.


Can I Refuse to Take the Polygraph Exam on the Grounds I Have an Anxiety Disorder?

Yes. You can refuse your employer’s request to take a polygraph exam. You don’t need to prove grounds of having an anxiety disorder to do so. The “Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988” (EPPA) provides employees with the right to refuse participation in polygraph policies instituted by employers.

The employer may not reprimand or fire you for refusing to participate. They may not make your life uncomfortable at work or bully you into taking the lie detector test. These actions violate the EPPA legislation.

If the employee experiences any of these actions by their employer, they have a right to seek legal counsel. They can file a complaint with the US Labor Department against their employer. The Labor Department is obligated to investigate all the complaints they receive. If they find the employer violates the EPPA, the Labor Department issues a financial penalty against the company.


How Can I Reduce My Anxiety Before, During, and After the Polygraph Exam?

There are strategies people with AD can use to limit the stress they feel around the polygraph exam. Since stress is the precursor to anxiety, limiting it helps these individuals cope in the days leading up to the exam and during the exam itself.

Research polygraph exams, the instruments, questions, and processes. It helps to remove the fear of uncertainty involved with the unknown events surrounding the polygraph exam. Ensuring you stick to your routine during the days leading up to the test and on the morning of the exam keeps the nervous system operating regularly.

Avoid caffeinated beverages, like coffee and energy drinks, as caffeine is a potent nervous system stimulant. It may cause a heightening of the senses and activation of the sympathetic nervous system and FoF when combined with the stress induced by the test.

Download a guided breathing meditation and listen to it the night before and the morning of the exam. When presented with an environmental threat, most people suffer anxiety attacks because of shallow breathing. By breathing deeply, you help keep the sympathetic nervous system in check.

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