Anxiety and lateness for work
January 8, 2010 7:53 AM   Subscribe

Early-morning anxiety about work is making it hard for me to get up and I'm constantly very late for work. What should I do?

I had about eighteen months of significant work stress and an overload of work, ending about six months ago. I had worked a lot of overtime and agreed with my manager to claim this back by coming in late for a couple of months. I normally work nine hours four days a week.

I used up the extra hours by coming in around 9:30 or 10 am (around 2 hours late). Once I'd done that, however, over a period of about two months, I found that I was unable to start getting up again early enough to start at my usual hours.

For the last four months, I have been getting in between 9:30 and 10:30 each morning, working therefore around 2-3 hours a day and 8-15 hours less than I should each day. I have made some of this time up by coming in at weekends, but probably only half to 2/rds.

I usually wake by 6, which is the time I should get up in order to be on time, but I feel extremely anxious. The anxiety is focussed around my lateness for work and the possible disciplinary consequences, and it gets worse each morning as I get later. I think I get enough sleep and try to be in bed by ten each night, though I usually have around two nights a week when I sleep poorly.

My manager is remote, unsupportive and hasn't mentioned my lateness. I think he hasn't noticed. I manage several staff - they are aware of my lateness but are very loyal and make excuses to themselves such as "she probably has a meeting in another building" when they know that's very unlikely.

I am on 60mg duloxetine / Cymbalta for long-term depression, and have been on it for about 18 months. I have had anxiety / panic attacks in the past but not at this level for years. I have a therapist with whom I am discussing my anxiety about work. She feels I'm in the wrong job, which may be true, but because of my personal circumstances I can't see myself being able to change careers for at least a couple of years. My current job is in the public sector in the UK.

I have looked at the previous questions about getting up in the morning, but would like to know any specific strategies for getting up when it's hard to do so because of anxiety.

I would also like advice on whether I should tell my manager about my lateness. Of course if I do so I will need to have some kind of strategy about either paying back the money I've been paid for the hours I haven't worked, making up that time, or taking it as leave. Have you been in a situation where you are performing poorly at work because of anxiety? If so, did you tell your manager, and how did that work out?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
As far as getting up in the morning - how does the anxiety change if you know that you do have everything ready for work. I realise I'm channelling flylady right now, but how about creating two areas, one in your bedroom, one near your front door. The bedroom area is where you layout your outfit for the morning, a hairbrush etc. The front door 'launch pad' is where you keep keys, wallet, bag, etc, which you prepare the night before. This could even go so far as to have a check list by it, which you can tick everything off the night before.

If you can bear it, if you get your breakfast laid out before as well - all you need to do is get out bed, and go through the pre prepared processing line you've set up for yourself.

One way to achieve this is by setting your phone alarm for 9pm, then you know you have to spend 15 minutes preparing things for tomorrow morning.

You will get lots of great advice about therapy, exercise etc soon I know, but these practical solutions will also help in the basic sense of helping you leave the house on time.
posted by Augenblick at 4:19 AM on January 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do you have any hobbies that you could work on in the morning? When I worked in an office, doing something that I enjoyed before I left for work helped me feel more in control of my life. On days that I got up an hour early to write, I was much more likely to be on time.
posted by mmmbacon at 8:08 AM on January 8, 2010

You're depressed and anxious, which is a form of illness. You should discuss this with someone at work, but if you can't take the problem to your manager, you should go to your HR people and talk it through with them. You might find it worthwhile to join your union to ensure you have legal advice handy should you need it. Sometimes just the magic words "I'll need to talk it over with my union rep before I make a decision on that" can make all the difference to the progress of the procedures.

Public sector tends to be much more thorough about this sort of thing than private enterprise. My sister works for a social services department and took a year off because she alleged she was being bullied by her manager, and this led to depression and anxiety. I have no idea why it took a year to investigate this, but there was no come-back on her: it was found that she had indeed been bullied and was allowed to return to work as though nothing had happened. I'm not saying you're being bullied, but your manager's previous decision to overload you with work is clearly a factor here and it sounds to me like you've burned out. You should use the system you have to your advantage rather than continue like you are.

My own experience of work-related stress, sleeplessness (I once went for five whole days and nights without sleep, ouch!) and anxiety while working for a private sector employer ended in me being sacked, albeit in a fairly friendly way. You have benefits in your job that people fought long and hard for, and I recommend you use them.
posted by BrokenEnglish at 8:17 AM on January 8, 2010

I would advise you not to talk to your manager or to HR -- they generally aren't there to help you with your problems. You should, however, talk to your psychiatrist. That's what he's paid for.
posted by anniecat at 8:47 AM on January 8, 2010

It might mean that you need to change jobs, but I would explore the broader psychological issues with your therapist first. You wouldn't want to switch jobs and just find it happening all over again at the new job. I know you say it would be difficult to switch jobs right now, but if this job is causing psychological issues it is probably not healthy for you.
posted by caddis at 9:53 AM on January 8, 2010

I honestly wouldn't bring up the past lateness to your manager. Maybe he is showing support of you by not mentioning it? Believing that to be true and remembering the loyalty of your own staff may help to reduce the anxiety about the lateness itself. Every little break counts, right?

Good luck.
posted by travertina at 10:05 AM on January 8, 2010

Maybe you could try exercising in the morning? It might be easier to get out of bed when you know your first activity is not going to be work-related, and the physical exertion would probably burn off a lot of the anxiety.
posted by frolic at 10:39 AM on January 8, 2010

I agree with not discussing this with your manager ... it is very possible/likely that they are doing you a favor by turning a blind eye. I think worrying about the past might make it harder to resolve this issue -- just focus on getting better about it now and in the future. Let bygones be bygones, since no one is saying anything and you are just punishing yourself with thoughts of what you're going to have to do to make up the time. If you feel immoral, you can find a way to stealthily give back a little extra time without credit after you get yourself back on a normal schedule, but first get back on a normal schedule and give yourself a break!

I really do feel for you, as I have had a similar issue myself. I have 2 issues -- the first is getting up in the morning (my anxiety & depression has me sleeping a lot and also having trouble falling asleep at night) and then getting out the door in the morning.

I think how you can get past this is a very personal thing -- what works for me might not work for you. What exactly happens in the morning? It sounds like you have no problem getting out of bed. What ACTUALLY makes you late? What is your thought process? Do you spend your mornings fretting about going to work and willing yourself to leave the house until you actually do so? Or do you deal with your anxiety by letting yourself get involved in other things and losing track of time?

For me, I tend to lose track of time because I distract myself with internet, television, daydreaming, etc in the morning. So, for me, the best tricks have been reminders (cell phone alarm, etc) that break through the distractions and tell me "you better finish getting ready and get out the door!". If you are conscious of the time and just not able to get yourself out the door, that might be trickier.

My thoughts (if this were me), would be to (1) make your morning enjoyable. Get up early enough not just to get ready, but to get a little serenity and enjoyment out of the morning. I try to give myself at least a half hour to just sit with a cup of coffee and look out the window in the morning to wake up and not feel crazy & rushed. (2) bribe yourself to get out the door. Pick up a latte when you start your commute, get a good audiobook to listen to during your commute that you ONLY listen to during your commute, make a great playlist to listen to ONLY during your commute. Find a way to look forward to what happens once you get out the door. (3) bribe yourself to get to work, in much of the same way. if you already eat breakfast, maybe start eating breakfast at work. plan to get to work a little early so you can chill at your desk or read the news for 10 minutes before starting work. find ways to make your first hour at work a little more enjoyable.

Another thought, that is a little more drastic, is to find a way to be accountable. Do you have a non-coworker friend who you could enlist to encourage you? Maybe they can call you in the morning at the time you should leave the house to ask if you've left yet. Maybe you can set up a meeting with your boss or coworker to check-in about something at an early hour so you HAVE to be there (but this might cause more anxiety, YMMV).

Last, stop thinking about doing this EVERY DAY. Once you get to work on time for a few days in a row, it will start to become a habit again. Don't look at this long, looming issue if you can avoid it ... make it your goal to get to work on time ON MONDAY. Give yourself some credit for accomplishing that,because you'll have broken a chain of a habit you don't like.

Good luck!
posted by tastybrains at 11:04 AM on January 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

I am going through the same situation as you, so I understand how you're feeling. Each day you don't make it in on time and have to use vacation/sick leave compounds the feelings of depression & anxiety. I tend to dawdle in the morning, filled with anxiety and apprehension, and watch TV shows I've recorded, saying "I'll leave after this show." I now see it as using the TV show to justify my procrastination for a defined period of time. Not good.

I've found that when I have a meeting or appointment in the morning that forces me to get to work on time, I feel so much better for the rest of the day. So I've taken to either scheduling events between 9-10am when given a choice, or sometimes I'll add a routine task to my Google Calendar around this time. When I see that slot filled on my calendar for the morning, it helps to get you moving in the morning by creating a sense of purpose. If you do use Google Calendar or some other web-based organization tool, setting reminders that can be delivered to your cell phone is also helpful. If I have to be at work insanely early for something, I'll set a text message to be delivered to me when I absolutely have to leave for work. Something like "GET YOUR ASS MOVING", etc.

It will get easier once you establish the routine. Best of luck.
posted by jingo74 at 11:19 AM on January 8, 2010

Maybe you need a vacation and/or a new job. If you just can't make yourself do what you need to be doing, that's usually a sign that you need to be doing something else.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:38 PM on January 8, 2010

I am in a similar situation. What has helped me has been to take a betablocker when I get up (I am on atenolol). It keeps me from feeling overwhelmed by the anxiety, and doesn't make me feel gross or tired like Xanax can. Maybe your doctor could start you on this.
posted by Shebear at 6:35 PM on January 8, 2010

As Augenblick said, have everything ready the night before.

As soon as you get up in the morning, exercise. Studies indicate that high-intensity aerobic exercise helps to ease anxiety for several hours.

This next part is key: don't stop. Take your shower and get dressed and walk out that front door. Don't think. Don't sit down. Don't open your computer. Don't check your mail. It might help to unplug your computer the previous night, or close it off, or cover it, or otherwise make it difficult to access and give you a visual reminder not to go there. Put big, awkward cushions or books on the chair you usually sit, as a stop sign.

Pick up breakfast/coffee on the way to work and eat/drink it there. Once you're at work, you can take a breather before you start your day, and maybe give yourself a little reward. It's okay to be early, so don't delay because it's not time to leave yet. Just get out of the house.

Do this every morning to make it a mindless habit.

Then, NOT in the morning (except to quickly and directly counter anxious thoughts with more balanced ones), give yourself some time to counter-think. What's your thought process when you're feeling anxious? Is there evidence that what you're thinking isn't entirely accurate? Is there a problem that needs to be addressed?
posted by moira at 8:26 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Eat/drink your breakfast/coffee at work, that is.
posted by moira at 8:27 PM on January 9, 2010

Sorry, I had to come back to correct myself. It's regular aerobic exercise that seems to be most effective for anxiety. Regular, high intensity exercise is most effective for depression.
posted by moira at 10:33 AM on January 10, 2010

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