Anxiety In The Workplace – Why Things Need To Change
So nearly three years ago I started getting anxious at work. This is not an easy topic for me to talk about, as it was a particularly tough part of my life. Reflecting on it brings back some uncomfortable memories. I have come pretty far since then. I have built up my own copywriting business from scratch over the last three years and now I absolutely love my job. Not many people can say that.
Who knows, I probably wouldn’t have got to this point if I hadn’t had these problems. It forced me to make a change and do something that makes me happy. It wasn’t easy to make the decision to leave a very well paid job in a great career, but money is not my number 1 priority anymore. I now know what I need in life to stay content and fulfilled, and for that I am very grateful.
Here’s my experience of anxiety of the workplace:
I had just been promoted, and my career was progressing as I hoped it would. So why did I constantly have the sick feeling in my stomach?
On the surface I seemed perfectly fine, putting on a strong front like I always do – but inside I was falling apart.
Looking back, there are a few reasons why I might have developed severe anxiety at this point in my life. Some are to do with me, my past experiences and my personality and others are to do with the situation I was put in.
My father died when I was 18 and I went through some other not so fun life experiences. After seven years of being strong, it was finally catching up with me.
On a teambuilding day with work I got smacked square in the face (on my nose) with a cricket ball. I was bowling and standing too close to the batsman and he hit it pretty hard in my face (accidents happen). My nose promptly started to bleed and swell and I went home a very unhappy bunny. I think the concussion from this contributed to my anxiety (see concussion symptoms here).
I am naturally a massive worrier. Always have been, always will. I want to succeed at everything and I don’t cope very well with failure.
I was promoted, but I still had to do my old job as well as managing a new department. This meant I couldn’t do either jobs properly. My boss said they were trying to hire someone to fill my old role, but it didn’t happen until it was too late. I was under ridiculous amounts of stress to deliver and was terrified of making a mistake.
A few people at my work didn’t respond very well to my anxiety once I got signed off by the doctor. I was signed off work for two weeks. My boss just didn’t get what anxiety is. He tried to help and was perfectly nice about the whole situation, but I could just see he just didn’t get it.
When you return after getting signed off for stress you are supposed to ease back in, take it easy. However, I was still piled with the same workload and the same stress. My team had a go at me for not supporting them enough, I tried to explain at that point I couldn’t even support myself. I think that was my worst day.
I don’t blame my boss or my colleagues as it was a great company to work for. It’s not their fault that there is a lack of understanding of mental health in the workplace. People who haven’t experienced anxiety/depression/stress for themselves simply cannot relate.
Experiencing mental health problems at work is tough because there is still a huge stigma. Most people are terrified to admit they have a problem because they think they will be looked down upon. When they do hit breaking point they suffer far worse than if they had spoken to someone and adapted the way they were working.
I dreaded going in to work every day and practically had a panic attack every morning before reaching the office. Just getting through one working day seemed like an impossible challenge, and I couldn’t go on any longer. I turned up at the doctors in a shaky mess and I didn’t have to say much for him to sign me off, he could see what the stress of work was doing to me.
I then had two weeks to reflect on my career. For five years I thought I was doing something that made me happy, when actually, the passion just wasn’t there anymore. I realised I really hated SEO (search engine optimisation) and was far more interested in content and writing. SEO is basically a cat and mouse game with Google, you can try lots of different things to improve your rankings, with no guarantee that they will actually work. This meant I wasn’t getting much satisfaction from my job.
I made the decision to hand my notice in and go freelance. As soon as I handed that letter to my boss I felt a weight off my shoulders. I wonder what might have happened had my work dealt with things differently. If there was some kind of government scheme in place or training to help managers understand the mental health challenges employees face.
I have heard so many stories like mine over the years. Something needs to be done to rectify this problem. People shouldn’t be judged or dealt with in completely the wrong way when they are already fragile.
Thankfully I am my own boss now, so I can manage my workload and I have a lot of freedom. It’s something I don’t think I can ever give up now. I won’t put myself in that situation again. However, I do feel for the people who are at work right now and are suffering with anxiety/stress/depression and not getting the help they need. Or worse, being pushed further into a dark hole by their managers and colleagues.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking they can just hang in there. They might have a couple of more bearable days and think they can soldier on, until the same thing happens and they come crashing down again. Maybe some people would be able to get through tough periods of anxiety and stress, if they just had the support they needed at work.
What more can be done about mental health and anxiety in the workplace? Your thoughts and suggestions are very welcome. And if you are reading this and going through the same thing, don’t worry, you are not alone. More people are dealing with similar problems than you might think…
I hope sharing my story helps a few people xx