Anxiety and Work

Anxiety and Work

Anxiety can suck everything out of you, and make you feel completely lost. I personally have struggled with anxiety, and even though mine has lessened over the last year, I think it's role in the workplace is something that needs to be discussed more. 

Everyone's anxiety manifests in different ways, and I think that's the first thing everyone should take into consideration when beginning the healing process- be kind to yourself. I won't pretend to know your anxiety, or the personal struggles that come with how your's manifests, so I will only speak to mine and hope that we can find solidarity. 

My anxiety started in 2012. I still believe that mine had a lot to do with my circumstances at that time, but even after my circumstances got better, it still took time for my anxiety to calm. In 2012, I had just turned 22, and I was making the transition to move back to the US from the Middle East. In all honesty, I did not want to move back- my heart was in Jordan. I had made some amazing friends, I loved the culture, and I loved my job. It felt like my home. I "grew up" there- I had my first real job, I was living on my own, and I felt a part of something. I had just started dating my (now) husband, Justin, and we were talking about marriage. I knew my life would change drastically when I hit US soil, and I don't think I was mentally prepared, but I was in denial about that. Almost right after I arrived, I started experiencing pretty bad social anxiety and depression. I wasn't prepared for the reverse culture shock, and I found myself retreating into myself. I isolated myself- I didn't contact a single friend, I didn't return messages, and I didn't have a desire to be around people. When I did run into people I knew around town, I found myself trying to avoid questions about my life in Jordan, and couldn't handle being around people that didn't share that part of my life. Whenever I would explain how much I loved my time in Jordan, how much I loved the Arabs I lived life with, and how much I truly enjoyed the culture, I got a "Seriously? The Middle East? I find that hard to believe". It made me feel more like I had just lived a separate life from everyone I knew, and I was more of an outsider, and I became more defensive. I became more anxious, more withdrawn, more depressed.

One day, I just quit my job- no new job prospects, no nothing. Just left. I felt I couldn't function in a work environment around people. Meanwhile, I was trying to navigate a long distance relationship with Justin. We started dating in March of 2012, and were married in June of 2013 (hey- when you know, you know), and spent 9 months, as well as our entire engagement apart. Two weeks after we got married, we moved to Minnesota. Another new place, more new people, more new changes. My anxiety worsened, and didn't let up until around the end of 2015. My anxiety would manifest in hot flashes, nausea, nerves (shaking, rapid heart beat) and I was tired all the time. I finally went on Prozac, my but that made me even more tired. In 2015, I decided I wanted to try to beat this for real. I went off my medicine (my doctors kept upping my dose, making it worse) and started focusing on my anxiety. 

For me, that was the key. Just running straight into it. Facing all the emotions, owning them, learning them, and then navigating through them. It was embarrassing to get hot flashes and nervous in public, but oh well. That was where I was at, and I was going to just ride it. I started to think on what was causing these episodes, pay attention to my triggers, and then intentionally place myself in those situations to beat them. There was something freeing about knowing what would make me anxious, and choosing to do that anyway. This method does not work for everyone, but there's something to be said for taking control of what you know intimidates you. 

Anxiety is all about control. The workplace can be hard- you feel trapped in a sense. You have set hours, you are surrounded by people, or you might be like me and work alone and feel a sense of loss from the outside world. I think there are 3 things that can help with anxiety at work:

1. Prepare yourself. You know your workplace. Start paying attention to what your triggers are, learn what you can handle and can't. Have a mental game plan for your workday.

2. Communicate. Anxiety still has a stigma. It's still private, and scary, and even embarrassing. You know what makes that stigma disappear? Talking about it. Once you learn your boundaries, talk to your coworkers and your boss about your anxiety. Be honest about how you are working on it, and ask for help in the areas you struggle in so that you can be the kind of employee you both want to be. You would be surprised how people are willing to help. 

3. Be kind to yourself. This looks different ways for different people. For me, it meant pushing myself to overcome, and not getting mad at myself when my anxiety flared up anyway. For you, it might mean taking a step back from some obligations, rest, and focus on healing. I know that some people have found journaling to be helpful as well. Some practical things that helped me were baths, exercise, and hobbies. That's part of how Pen+Pillar came to be, actually. 

Lastly, don't seclude. Speaking from experience, you will worsen your anxiety, develop deeper depression, hurt those around you, and implode. My anxiety was my struggle, but it was also hurting others around me, and that's not ok. Owning that gave me motivation to heal. If I cared about my relationships, I would get healthy, because I genuinely love the people in my life that were investing in me. It's the best way to thank them.

You can beat this. There is hope, and you can get better. Talk to someone, and know that it will take time, hard work, and perseverance, and that is ok. But, you will earn your healing, and there is so much joy and freedom in that. You are strong, capable, valuable, and so much more than your anxiety. This is just a part of your story, but it's the part that makes you an overcomer.

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