Help this amazing, but neurotic young woman, not drown in this overwhelming work situation.
May 6, 2012 2:41 PM   Subscribe

Help me get through a toxic and stressful situation (revolves around work) and successfully get some coping mechanisms (and cajones) for the first time ever. After a couple years of amazing- work has gotten tough-and I need help getting through it- and I respect you guys on MeFi a lot... I'm getting support but there must be some other things I could be doing. I've attempted to write in order of: context, challenge, question.


I only mention all the following because I want to show how difficult I can find things, and explain how I DO have coping mechanisms- just not great ones.

A few years ago, I experienced some considerable back to back major crap- my mom died and I got divorced at almost the same time. In addition, while I've always been quite sucessful on the surface (honors BA from a great University, teaching credential, respected at work) my 20's were always been peppered with periods where I quite sick with bulimia, dabbled with drugs, and definitely drank to much.

I went a little nuts after this and took I job in England that was really not great for me (I was working 70 hours a week unsuccessfully and worrying about it the rest of the time I was awake) I faked it until I DIDN'T make it. I never stood up for myself. I couldn't articulate any of the how's and why's that went into my work. I guess my downfall was a little mix of perfection with fear of people being disappointed in me. Hence my need for cajones.

I then got into an abusive situation (a lot of which I blame on spending most of my 20's married not quite married but definitely wrapped in cotton wool) where I knew really nobody outside of work (which was not going well) and was really isolated.

I ended up having a mental breakdown. All by myself. In a foreign country. It took 2 years before I was able to work again, most of that time I was sat in my pyjamas up in the PNW. Then I thought "Miss Pony- you can give it one more shot" And I did! I got a one job that lead me to Mr. Pony, and another that lead me to this job. Life the last 2 years has been pretty amazing.

My challenge:

My job is perfect perfect perfect for me, but riddled with toxic people/problems that has lead to some pretty serious breakdowns in how well I can do my job. We are now VERY understaffed and its taking its toll. I could go on and on, but I imagine most of you know what a tough work situation is like.

It's making me really angry, I'm not coping that well. I get a few weeks of okay, but then get overwhelmed, I start to worry... and spend 3 days agitated and prone to rage at poor mr. Pony and stay up all night :-(, spend the next few days exhausted from it... and terrified Mr. Pony thinks I'm a loser.... Then I feel back in control for a while- happy, grateful, calm- but just about anything can throw me, and the fact that work is not going to get better makes me think I really need to not have a repeat performance and its time to batten down the hatches.

I don't make much money but am on the waiting list for NHS psychological services and I imagine that will help a lot. Not so keen on meds though, the side effects of the few that have helped were horrible, and I'd like this to spur some life changes more than anything else. But I can't financially (and career wise) leave my job. And I honestly, most of the time, think I can get through this.

And so now for my questions:

1.) What can I do immediately to start taking control?

2.) What are some easy things that I can start doing in my routine that will help me stay a little more sane?

3.) Are there books, cd's, movies that you cannot help but be distracted by?

4.) Any life balance tips?

Thanks everyone in advance!
posted by misspony to Human Relations (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you are focusing on work, but ideally (unless you are in a profession that is more of a calling and doesn't feel like a "job") you should be working to live, not living to work. Develop more of your life outside work, friends, hobbies (especially physical ones), goals. These are things you have control over. When things happen at work that make you feel out of control, the fact that you are in control of the rest of your life reminds you that the work situation is out of control, not you.

Take time each day (preferably at the beginning) to get organised, schedule your day INCLUDING down-time. THat will make you feel control over your work and life. If your schedule is overfull it is also something concrete that you can look at with the attitude of "no wonder I didn't get everything done!" rather than beating yourself up at the end of the day "I didn't get everything done because I am lazy and spend a whole ten minutes at my desk eating lunch instead of working non-stop!"

Priotise your tasks; you have four groups important and urgent, important and not urgent, not important and urgent, not important and not urgent. Allocate time for all four (right now you are probably defaulting to addressing the first group.

If your workplace is toxic, do you have a plan to escape? Good luck!
posted by saucysault at 2:55 PM on May 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you can't leave the toxic people, maybe you can make the toxic people leave? It'll be challenging, but that seems like the only other option.

Or if you prefer to just deal with it, I recommend meditation right after work to help you shift gears and leave your job behind.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 3:03 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you are being incredibly hard on yourself. You're stressed and anxious, and that's going to leak out in different ways. In fact, it does sound like you are coping, and while you may not always respond the best, being angry or overly critical of yourself is only going to make things worse. Try actively acknowledge the things you do well, both big and small. Whether you did a great job tidying up after dinner or completed a major project, recognize all the ways in which you are awesome. As someone who has succumbed to extreme emotional duress in the past, the fact you are functioning is commendable and worth celebrating.

Also, Mr.Pony obviously loves you, so do what you can to banish any concerns that he's going to think you're a "loser." Have you talked to him about this fear? If not, I would mention it to him. I am guessing the love and reassurance you will receive from him will go a long way towards making this easier. The more open and communicative you are with him about this whole situation, the more support you will receive and the better he will be able to cope with any unfortunate or unfair outbursts from you.

In terms of life balance, set aside 10 minutes at the beginning, middle, and end of the day just for you to use however you like. Take a walk, read an article, wash your face, listen to a favorite song. If you enjoy it or it is some form of self-care, you will undoubtedly feel better and those 10 minutes are short enough that they are easy to make time for throughout the day. If for some reason, you forgo one of those 10 minute breaks, you can either increase the time of your remaining breaks or just shrug it off and make sure you do it the next time. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 3:16 PM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I find really making the most of the tiny, tiny fractions of time I'm alone when I'm at work to be completely free. I skip down the hallway to the bathroom, I sing in the bathroom, I practice the mashed potato I'm the ATM room, I practice the cha-cha in the vault.

-physical excersize keeps me more awake, alert, and less fidgetly and antsy (also I have Tourette Syndrome and it helps with that)

-the playfulness cheers me up, and so does having a completely harmless "secret"

-keeping up a professional public face in an onslaught of shittiness is wearying and it's nice to take a completely unselfconscious break to just be yourself
posted by Juliet Banana at 3:32 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

It makes sense for you to be stressed out about a job that involves understaffing, overwork, and toxic colleagues. I'm sure Mr. Pony doesn't think you're a loser for finding a stressful situation stressful.

I like Work From the Inside Out by Nancy O'Hara if you're looking for relevant self-help books.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:49 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing taking time for yourself to decompress. This can be as simple as jumping into the bath for a soak right when you first get home (my therapist actually recommends this for anyone who comes home still in work mode, to shift gears), listening to an audiobook or reading on the way to/rom work, committing to no-work times and zones fully.

For instance, all electronics get turned off during dinner--phones, everything.

Also, if you can take time off, when you do, go somewhere you actually cannot be reached by work. Cruises (or boats in general) are good for this.

My BIL is a doctor, and his work is very stressful. So he took up quilting to calm him down when he is off work and idle, so his mind doesn't turn to work. He's completed some beautiful quilts. Some people game, some write--it's up to you what you decide to pursue.

Also, do not sabotage yourself with all-or-nothing thinking! That seems to me to be the root of your problems, really. One bad day or week at work is not failure and you are not a loser! Those are just setbacks. Believe me, everyone has them! It is not that everyone else is perfect--everyone has flaws and problems and doubts, but they have learned not to judge themselves as harshly as you judge yourself.

It's perfectly okay to vent to Mr. Pony when these things happen, too. He needs to know when you are stressed--but then you need to be able to let that stress go and do something else.

Work is not your whole life. Life is all the other stuff that makes work bearable.
posted by misha at 3:57 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do have to say that if I were Mr. Pony or indeed anyone in your real life circle, I would find the disjunct between your discussions of the understaffing, overwork, and toxic colleagues on the one hand and your insistence that "my job is perfect perfect perfect for me" a little whiplash-y.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:06 PM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, see, your job isn't perfect because it's understaffed and you have to deal with a toxic culture. So, first up, confront the reality of that because it will help you down the track.

Okay, then, positive coping mechanisms right now - yoga. Very helpful. Gets you relaxing but also moving. Bubble baths. Reading. Listening to music you love. Watch movies you love. Go out with Mr Pony, just the two of you - nothing even potentially stressful.

Mindfulness - learn to be present in the moment. You cannot control the fact that your workplace is understaffed and toxic - again, it's very important for you to acknowledge that it is - and you cannot be getting angry and continue to work there. Once you hit the angry/resentful phase in a workplace, it's best you get out ASAP. So, unless you can actually not get angry about the workplace, you might have no choice but to leave.
posted by mleigh at 6:58 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

You are not trapped in your job. Start getting resume's out there, if for no other reason than to give yourself control over your situation.

In my experience, lots of toxic work-mates equals a toxic work environment. It's a Chicken/Egg issue that's not worth your time to parse. Toxic is toxic. Healthy people try not to be in toxic situations.

I too have issues with perfection, mainly that I don't believe in it. While this can cause a bit of grief when certain numbers don't add up, at the end of the day I accept that I'm allowed to make mistakes. I don't try to, but if I do, I shrug my shoulders and do what I can to correct it. Ease up on yourself.

I would like to reiterate that your job is not perfect, perfect, perfect. If you feel stressed, anxious and generally beat up, it's nowhere near perfect.

What do you like about your job? Isolate those things and put them into concrete sentences:

1. I like my job because I get to sit in a cube doing spreadsheets and nobody talks to me.

2. I like my job because it's an easy commute.

3. I like my job because it's causal and I can wear my jeans to work.

Now, where can you find another job, with these attributes? Then go looking for that job.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:17 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

1.) What can I do immediately to start taking control? Yoga.

2.) What are some easy things that I can start doing in my routine that will help me stay a little more sane? Yoga.

3.) Are there books, cd's, movies that you cannot help but be distracted by? Yoga.

4.) Any life balance tips? Yoga.

For real.
posted by corn_bread at 10:59 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Karate has been the silver bullet for me. It's taught me mental centeredness, emotional regulation, and the ability to remain poised in intense interpersonal situations. I used to be a nervous wreck at work. Now, I don't break a sweat. The before-and-after is astonishing, really.

Also, kicking and punching the snot out of a punching bag is cathartic, fun as hell, and makes your body very happy.

Yoga + karate, and you will be rockin'.
posted by quivering_fantods at 12:08 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I'm stressed by work I like to go for walks in nature. Where I live there is a big forest at the edge of the city so I can connect with nature (reminds me there is still some beauty in the world) get some exercise and it is far enough away to feel like I am physically removed from the place so it feels like a real break.

When work makes me angry I walk home, or get off the train early and walk the rest of the way, so that by the time I arrive at home I have dealt with my issues. Playing loud music in my car on the drive home was an alternative I used to use when I was driving to work.

I don't have a Mr Hat so to deal with the tendency to bitch I write a huge list of everything that is making me mad right now, and then usually remind myself that, actually, I am up against rather a lot, and I shouldn't give myself such a hard time. Once I've allowed myself to feel that my life IS hard work, and actually I am doing ok all things considering, I tear the list up and throw it away. It's cathartic mainly.

Even if you are busy/broke I would urge you to still invest the time in having fun (whatever that looks like to you). Its easy to think "I have too much to do" but a little bit of fun goes a long way to helping your productivity and perspective. So hold on to your Friday/Saturday nights no matter how understaffed you are at work!
posted by EatMyHat at 8:06 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just want to say thank you everyone. Pretty much each answer had something that stuck out at me. I've found a martial arts studio at the end of my road, a volleyball team in my city, and a yoga class. I've started taking baths... and meeting friends about once a week. I've also started reading again- which is really great because it gives me some other world to think about!

I'm trying to make the conscious choice to balance and work through things productively. Thank you mefies for helping out.
posted by misspony at 3:02 PM on June 6, 2012

Mr. Pony and I split up a month ago and I moved out.

In retrospect our home was feeling VERY unsafe and unstable, but I just couldn't put my finger on why.

Since I left I haven't been upset or worried about work, at ANY time, since. No anxiety, no fear, no freaking out.

AND!!! AND!!! I have maintained the new habits that I picked up on this question.

Thank you again everyone!
posted by misspony at 2:52 AM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

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