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When Work Anxiety & Stress Strike, What Should We Do?

When Work Anxiety & Stress Strike, What Should We Do? Blog Feature

Dan Baum

Paid Media Specialist, 8+ Years Experience in Marketing Strategy & Data Analysis

May 30th, 2019 min read

No one likes getting out of bed in the winter.

At least not in New England, where the air outside is so frigid, it hurts to breathe. Why would anyone live somewhere where it hurts to breathe for two months out of the year? I don't know.

Anyway, one particularly cold Tuesday morning in February comes to mind.

It was so early, it was still dark out. When I left the house, my hair froze in the maybe 30-second dash to my car. And even though I had left the car running for 15 minutes to warm up, it was still nowhere near habitable. Of course.

I was trying to get into the office early to crank some work out for a client whose Google Ads campaign needed extra TLC to get the results they were looking for.

I find I get a ton more done in those early a.m. hours when no one else is in the office yet.

That may not sound like fun to you, but I had been looking forward to it. It feels amazing to get a half a day’s worth of work in before the day even starts.

Then Panic Struck Out of Nowhere

As I was driving, my heart rate shot up, my palms started sweating, and I struggled to catch my breath. The anxiety of facing another stressful day with a stressful client had caught up with me.

I pulled over.

I had never had a problem with anxiety or high amounts of stress before.

But there I sat on the side of the road, unable to stop freaking out about the insurmountable amount of work I had to get done that week. About challenging conversations I may have to have with clients. And on, and on.

I strongly considered just turning around and saying, "Forget this. Not today. It doesn’t matter. Who cares. Screw all of this. I’m going back to hibernate until springtime finally cuts through this miserable weather."

I had been bending over backward for months trying to get my workload under control, to a point where I could breathe and actually lean into the joy my job typically brings me. 

Instead, I was still crippled with anxiety and asking myself:

"Why is it taking so long for me to figure it out this time around?"

"From now on, will stressful times always lead me to have a pre-dawn mental breakdown on the side of the road?"

"Why am I putting myself through this?"

"Why would anyone let it get to this point?"

"What Am I Doing with My Life?"

Have you ever asked yourself that question? I thought I was the only one who fell into ruts of asking myself, "What am I doing? What's the point?" on a sometimes daily basis. 

As it turns out, I'm not. We all do. 

What's worse, however, is that -- on top of questioning everything -- you then observe your peers around you, looking like they know what's going on and oh, so put together. 

But there you are, spiraling, right? While they have it all under control. They know exactly what's going to happen next. 

They know what their "plan" is.

And then there was me, who had never related more to Phoebe than in the last six months:

friends-burnout-work-stress

Sometimes this emotional spiral can feel never-ending.

Every moment of every day, you think to yourself:

"I'm not normal. I must be doing something wrong. Everyone else has it together, but I am different. I am defective."

When that would happen, I would breathe and tell myself, "This will pass. All of these feelings will pass."

And immediately, I would feel... relief.

Well, until I realized, "Wait, if this is all supposed to pass, why the heck hasn't it actually passed yet? Why does this anxiety keep coming back?"

For me, it also seemed like it was a different kind of anxiety every day.

One day it was, “Why aren’t things falling into place?”

The next, “Where are they actually supposed to fall into?”

And finally, “How do I get to the point where I feel like I’m good enough?”

We've All Been There (Even If We Don't Admit It)

Obviously, you’re not here to hear about a quarter-life crisis -- is that even a real thing? -- or listen to me panic about what’s going on.

Like me, you're passionate about digital sales and marketing, helping grow a business (either your own or someone else's), and developing your career.

But even for those of us who really love what we do and where we work, we all encounter these stressful times.

Unfortunately, those moments are incredibly isolating and lonely.

We think no one is feeling the way we do. So, we keep quiet, because we don't want to be perceived as weak or incapable by those we work with and for. 

What are we supposed to do?

Maybe you're reading this hoping to hear someone older and wiser say "This industry is tough, but don't worry, you’ll get through it somehow." Or, my personal favorite, "It will all pass."

Well, I'm sorry to say, I don’t have an answer. 

Although I'm pretty sure that is the answer in a way -- no one knows exactly what's going to happen next. No one has a clue. And we should embrace that, as it's the one universal truth that connects us all. 

You are not alone in this.

The whole world has felt the exact same way you do in those moments -- many probably do right now. The problem is that we don't talk about it with each other. 

Things are always changing in our lives -- the industries we choose to work in, the technology we rely upon to do our jobs, the people we work with -- but you can't lose sight of the fact that you've also accomplished a lot.

Romantically, academically, professionally, athletically, or whatever other qualifier you want to choose. 

And that's where you need to start.

Find Something That Makes You Feel Good

For me, it's working with my hands. 

The moment I have that "What am I doing with my life?" feeling, I hit the garage and start putting something together.

Refreshing an old coffee table, fixing a broken chair, building a corn hole set, or even constructing a freaking LEGO set puts me straight. 

I can tell myself, "Look at this. I did this. I did something productive today."

I can look at whatever that thing is and be proud that it came from my head to my hands. I created something from nothing. Because of me, that thing exists. It's a prideful moment that helps me put things into perspective. 

Or maybe I'll chat with one of the kids I sponsor in the Dominican Republic.

dan-baum-impact-dominican-republic

They absolutely love talking to their friends in America -- and that feeling of pride comes back again. I made a child’s day today. It’s a reminder that, despite that occasional feeling of insignificance, I can be good and do good. 

Of course, what helps me might be meaningless to you and what helps you might be meaningless to others.

But it doesn’t matter. It’s meaningful to you, so who cares?

Find your thing. It's your life, so just live it and don't spend it worrying about things outside of your control. Do what relaxes you and what you’re passionate about, and watch that immense pressure dissipate.

Everyone goes through it, and quite often.

Whatever your “pick me up” is, it doesn’t even need to be for you personally. I know I instantly feel better about life when I can bring something of value into another person’s life. You are valuable to not only yourself, but others around you.

Acknowledge the Pressure We All Feel & Then Talk to Someone

It seems that a lot of us put ourselves under a ton of pressure to be doing something significant and impactful with everything we do in our careers -- and that pressure of having to do that all the time is enough to drive anyone crazy.

But again, the most important thing to realize is that others are experiencing the same fears, stressors, and anxieties you are.

We get caught up in competition at work, to a point where we are afraid to be vulnerable with each other. Coworkers cease to be friends and human beings, and instead become competitors in a struggle to advance.

Talk to them.

Others who are in your role are the best people to open up to. You’ll be surprised at how similar your situations are. Odds are they are or have gone through the exact same thing.

After that bitter cold morning in February, I finally talked to someone here at IMPACT -- a guy who started around the same time as I did in a similar role.

Over a couple of beers after work, we talked about life and our careers and what was happening -- and soon we realized we were both feeling a lot of the same things. 

And for the first time, I felt a weight lift -- I wasn't actually alone. While that was exactly what I needed, the real value of that conversation came afterward. No longer feeling isolated, I felt empowered to seek out others at IMPACT who could help me find and create the solutions I needed. 

As it turned out, "they" were right. It -- whatever "it" may be for you -- will actually pass. 

It's all about how you manage those stressful times and feelings of crippling self-doubt. So, the next time it happens to you, stop and bring yourself back to focus by doing something that fulfills you. Then talk to someone. 

You're not alone. You'll get through it. And you'll be better off when you do.

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