I've recently started to really dread work and get very anxious about it. What can I do?
The first thing to do is to get more specific.
Part of what makes anxiety so debilitating is that is tells you there is something horrible waiting up ahead and it makes you feel so worried that you want to stop looking and thinking about it. This is one of the things that gives anxiety its strength.
Instead of turning your head away from anxious thoughts, step straight into them - it becomes the difference between hearing a bump in the night when it’s dark and turning the light on to see exactly what it is.
So, write a list of the aspects of work that are making you feel a sense of dread and then you can split them into two.
First, things you can do something about.
So if there are things that make you feel anxious that could be changed by taking some action do something about it.
If there is a work relationship that is worrying you talk to the person you’re struggling with. If there is a part of your job that you are finding really hard, ask for some support with it. If there is something that is making you feel uncertain, see if you can get some clarity.
Anxiety always lives in the future so anything you can do to address matters that you have some influence over will make you feel better.
Second, things you have no control over.
There might be parts of your work that make you feel dread that are immovable or unchangeable. If so you need to find a different way of thinking about them.
Try and look at a bigger picture. Are they so bad that you’d consider leaving your job? If not, try and create some balance around them where you acknowledge the difficulty and discomfort they cause you but consider that in the overall context of your job as a whole.
Consider talking to someone about how you feel. We often make our anxiety worse by keeping it to ourselves so think about opening up to a trusted friend or colleague, or doing some work with a therapist. You might find that there are aspects away from work that are contributing to your feelings of dread about going to work.
That sounds rotten. Let’s see what may help. It needs a little more exploration around what it is you're dreading as this would lead to different pathways. For example:
- Dreading the monotony. Could you introduce some spontaneity in your day in other ways? Eat somewhere else, chat to a new colleague, sit somewhere else? Or could you ask to take part in a project that’s different from your regular work?
- Dreading the work. Do you enjoy what you do? Do you find it meaningful? Could you shift the work in some way to create more meaning/value or could you ignite this side of you outside of work with a hobby or volunteering?
- Dreading the atmosphere. Is it dull and soul depleting? Could you switch it up and create a new dynamic? Introduce different events, different ways of working, different vibes? Or work elsewhere at other times (in a cafe, at home, etc)?
- Dreading the isolation. Do you feel disconnected from the others? How could you reconnect and feel part of the team? Introduce social events? Work in the office more?
- Dreading the threat of consequence. Does it feel unsafe at work, i.e. you worry your boss will shout or criticise you for your work? Could you speak to another line manager about this?
- Dreading doing something at all. Is your energy low so any task is a huge demand on you? Maybe you’re burned out? Maybe you need a break or a rest? Can you look at what would help you heal and replenish some energy at this time? Could you chunk your day into lots of little steps rather than a whole day which may feel too much?
- Dreading the boredom. Does it feel dull and uninteresting? Do you have fun in your day and if not, how can you (in or out of work)? Life needs pleasure.
In organisational psychology theory, when an employee finds work unendurable, there are four main options they can use:
- Have a voice. Say it’s not OK. I want to change it.
- Loyalty. It’s not OK but I want to see this through for the organisation. I’ll make it endurable so I can get through it.
Disengage. I don’t know what to do so will do the minimum to get through (this often leads to low mental health so is a risky option)
Exit. This no longer serves me or interests me. I’m out.
You are a powerful human with choices. If you feel dread about this, listen to it. You have the power to do something about it .
Thanks for your question. I’m sorry to hear that you have started to dread work and feel anxious about it. The following are ideas on what you could do:
- Identify what is making you feel dread and anxiety. What specifically are you finding difficult about work?
- Once you have identified the triggers, ask yourself what you are thinking about the triggers. It’s likely you have worries related to the triggers. For example, let’s say a trigger was doing presentations, an associated thought might be: ‘I will make a fool of myself’ or ‘I hate public speaking.’
- For any worries ask yourself whether they are based in reality and likely to happen, or are more hypothetical. Hypothetical worries usually start with a ‘what if’ for example: ‘What if I forget what I need to say in a presentation?’
- For worries that are based in reality (maybe they have happened before or are issues that need immediate attention) do problem-solving work to address them. Brainstorm any and all solutions and then weigh up the pros and cons of each option to help you decide what to do. Consider whose help you need to deal with any real problems. For worries that you know are unlikely to happen, acknowledge your feelings about them but then move on to changing your focus of attention - you can do this through distraction or relaxation. The latter might look like doing a hobby, exercising, socialising, meditating, or getting out in nature.
- Don’t be afraid to take time off work to recover if necessary or see your GP if your symptoms persist.