Anxiety in the Workplace (anon)

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If you suffer from any mental health conditions in or out of work, know that you are NOT ALONE.

At Plasticity Labs, we encounter research everyday which stresses the amount of health related issues experienced in the workplace. Stress, anxiety and depression just to name a few. We are doing our best to educate ourselves and others on simple ways to give and get support at work when it comes to mental health. We thought a very powerful place to start, would be in the simple act of raising awareness. If you suffer from any mental health conditions in or out of work, know that you are NOT ALONE.

The following is a post from an anonymous guest blogger that wanted to share their experience of anxiety in life and in the workplace. Please read, share and reach out if you would like to share your stories or questions with us. A big thank you to our anonymous writer.

I was only six years old when I experienced my first panic attack. It was my first day of grade one, and I couldn’t handle the uncertainty of not being previously acquainted with my new teacher.

I was eight years old when I sat on a bench, head between my legs, taking long, deep breaths to bide time until my vision returned. Hyperventilation became one of my telltale panic symptoms.

When I was 10 years old, panic attacks became part of my daily life. I would wake in the middle of the night, caught in the vice-like grip of anxiety, overwhelmed by a sense of impending doom. I would cry without knowing the reason why. I would feel like I couldn’t breathe.

By the time I was in high school, I was regularly skipping meals because my stomach was so upset that I would vomit if I ingested anything. I spent many sleepless nights staring at the ceiling as my mind examined every minute possibility of failure awaiting me the next school day.  As careful, as meticulous, as conscientious as I was, I always managed to be convinced of failure. Even when I did sleep, I woke most mornings with awful headaches caused by clenching my jaw in my sleep.

When I was 21 years old, I had a nervous breakdown. My body and mind collapsed under the cumulative stress of over a decade spent coping with the physical and mental rigors of chronic anxiety. I struggled through the rest of university. I encountered a sort of “mental paralysis”, during which phase I could not effectively write term papers, retain information, or organise an argument. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I couldn’t bear to leave the house and attend class. I couldn’t find the words to explain to my professors what was wrong with me.

Amidst all the difficulty, it was helpful to have a name for all the debilitating symptoms which had plagued me since early childhood: generalised anxiety disorder. Obsessive compulsive disorder. Clinical depression. I lost the better part of my 20s to the haze of mental illness, but being able to make sense of my experience – being able to put a name to it – gave me the strength to build a new life founded on the firm supports of therapy and medication.

Though graduating university afforded me a sense of relief (I found exams and term papers extremely stressful), I realised that I faced yet another difficulty in applying for full-time work. Acknowledging the full weight of my lifelong experience with anxiety, I understood how it limited me and how it had dominated my life. I also understood that I would likely have to work harder than the average person in order to become a fully functional member of society.

I didn’t know if I could do it.

The workplace presented a daunting challenge for me. I was concerned that I would not have the mental and emotional fortitude to perform at the level I demanded of myself.  A certain amount of anxiety in everyday life is normal and healthy, and it can be leveraged to increase productivity. Unfortunately, living with anxiety disorders often compromises productivity. Clammy hands before a meeting becomes tachycardia and hyperventilation. Frustration at a schedule change becomes incompetence and stuttering.

I made the conscious decision not to inform anyone at my workplace about my mental illnesses. I wish I could say that this was because I was confident in my ability to perform well regardless, but the truth is that I haven’t informed any of my coworkers or managers because of the stigma that still haunts a mental illness diagnosis – that mental illnesses are not “real” illnesses, that anyone experiencing severe anxiety is weak, that depression can be cured by eating organic foods, and, most pointedly,  that one suffering from a mental illness cannot be as competent as one without mental health concerns. Despite my firm belief that those suffering from mental illness can excel given the right environment, I do not have as much faith in the ability of others to display compassion.

For the first several months in my office position, I was convinced on my own incompetence, worrying it would only be a matter of time before someone discovered that I was a fraud. While I struggled under pressure in university, in the office, I found that the compulsion to prove myself made me very efficient. This efficiency warranted me more responsibility in increments and won favour among my managers. I began to gain confidence as I received encouragement from management.

Still, entering full-time work was difficult. The sheer amount of mental fortitude I needed to brave a full day in an office environment was unexpected. People coming and going, phones ringing, emails flying. An open office environment does not afford one much privacy, and I had to become adept at filtering out general office noise in order to concentrate on my own work. I also had to contend with people stopping by my desk to chat and place requests, which, quite frankly, frightened me at first. I had difficulty processing all of the information on the spot and would often have to take detailed notes, and then review the notes several times, before I fully understood what was being asked of me. I found this so stressful that on my first day, I had to excuse myself twice in order to brave a panic attack in a washroom stall.

As I grew acclimatised to my managers’ expectations, my panic attacks became less frequent. Now, I typically only experience panic attacks if someone is putting pressure on me to finish a task under a very tight deadline. Just yesterday, I had a panic attack at my desk – complete with chest pains and hyperventilation – because a customer would not stop calling me despite repeated assurances that I was on schedule to complete their request. Because of situations like this, my team members are helping me learn how to set boundaries for troublesome customers so that I can create a more constructive and productive working environment.  

I am one of the fortunate few who can work full-time while struggling with anxiety-related mental illnesses. I use techniques daily in order to help myself function: positive self-talk, to remind myself of my competence; taking notes during meetings to review later; excusing myself from an uncomfortable situation in order to regain composure in private; listening to music to help me focus and drown out general office noise. At the end of the day, I still feel exhausted, but now I also feel accomplished – I left my apartment, went to work, and made it through another day.  Each day, I have conquered my fears and anxieties. Each day, I am stronger.

- Anonymous


If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues in the workplace, please utilize the following resources:

https://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/depression-in-the-workplace/

http://www.mentalhealthworks.ca/sites/default/files/free_resources/MHW_workplace_resource_web_June2012.pdf

http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/your-organisation/support-workplace

http://www.hrzone.com/lead/culture/guide-to-anxiety-in-the-workplace-for-hr[/vc_column_text][divider line_type="No Line"][social_buttons facebook="true" twitter="true" linkedin="true" pinterest="true"][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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