Do you work 9am-5pm Monday to Friday? Have you ever noticed a pattern around how you feel on a Sunday that could be linked to knowing that your working week is starting the next day? Dread, even? I remember Sundays being the most emotionally difficult day of my week because of the anticipation of the week ahead in the office. It was even more painful than actually being there. The emotions that we are left with at the end of the working day can be hard to shake. It can feel like work has taken over our time of rest and leisure and enjoyment at home with our families or out with friends.
Even though I have experienced it for myself, each individual journey is unique. I am still amazed at how much people are affected emotionally by the behaviours of others in the workplace. It can be so difficult to enter the work environment and function in the role that one is paid to perform, because of anxiety experienced by even the prospect of being there. Stress related to specific roles – heavy workloads and time constraints, pressure to perform with restricted resources, lack of support from structures that are also under immense pressure – can contribute to increased anxiety, Sadly a major factor is also the experience of workplace bullying.
Many clients discover through counselling that what they are looking for is the confidence to move on. This may be to leave their current employment and apply for alternative jobs or work for themselves. This can be a difficult realisation for so many reasons. When one’s confidence has been knocked this can lead to doubts about whether one could perform in a different organisation or role. Some people have worked for the same employer for most of their career. Working in a role for many years can make it hard to let go and say goodbye to a job that you know deep down you are good at, the effective working relationships, and of course the good old comfort zone.
First steps towards managing anxiety – my story
My personal experiences had led to a rise in my levels of anxiety to the point where my body was doing things I thought were related to some physical illness. On one occasion I believed the pain in my chest was actually a heart attack and when I spoke to an emergency doctor on the telephone, they told me this was more likely part of a delayed anxiety reaction to bereavement. I remember feeling angry that I was not being taken seriously. Actually (especially considering that I had witnessed the aftermath of a violent physical attack on a family member much more recently), the doctor’s assessment was very accurate. Many years later I do appreciate it, especially having since experienced GPs with very little awareness of emotional well-being. I have now reached a point where I recognise that my anxiety levels do tend to increase post-bereavement and also when I don’t get enough sleep.
What helped me to reduce anxiety?
* reducing or eliminating caffeine. I swapped not only coffee but also tea and some soft drinks, which also contain caffeine, for herbal teas;
• reducing or eliminating alcohol. (Personally I decided to give up alcohol completely so as not to feel like a hypocrite when working with vulnerable young people);
• ensuring a good night’s sleep. The internet can provide lists of healthy sleep and bedtime routine habits for all ages. There are also a range of ‘night time teas’ available;
• taking up or increasing a form of exercise. Personally, I found Tai Chi to be extremely beneficial;
• support from others. Professional counselling support helped me; also making family and friends aware of how they could be supportive.
Taking the steps listed above didn’t ‘cure’ me from panic and anxiety but certainly did help.
Anxiety in the workplace: my journey through anxiety to becoming an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) Counsellor.
That was my experience. But a few years later something surprising happened. None of the things I had put in place to care for myself had any effect on the anxiety I was experiencing at work.
For me personally, it took a traumatic birth experience, during which my only child almost died , followed by a period of PTSD, before I began to effectively evaluate my priorities, break free of a toxic environment and do what I love, as opposed to trying to fit my life around a job that was making me miserable. I now work in private practice and receive referrals through employee assistance programmes. This short term face to face counselling is completely free of charge to the individual as it is paid for by the organisation that they work for. I am glad to see so many clients state that when they approached their manager for support they were given a number to call for an EAP service. I am hopeful that this might mean workplaces can become more healthy and effective by being aware of and caring about emotional well-being of people.
Written by Rei Aziz