What to do about stress and work?
February 24, 2013 1:16 PM   Subscribe

I've been very stressed for a few months. I've tried managing it, however on Thursday I almost snapped and became quite teary to the point a co-worker mentioned it to my team leader. My team leader was great and told me not to worry. Unfortunately after a stressful weekend I still feel very weepy and have a very tight chest. I think I may need to take a few days off work in order to recover. I haven't got any holiday left so would need to take it as sick. How should I go about getting some time off to recover and get myself straight again?

I've been very stressed over various things for the last three or four months. I've tried managing it by taking it easy in the evenings, I meditate (however I've been finding it hard to meditate due to the stress) and trying to manage my stress levels at work by asking for help and taking a bit of time to talk to co-workers as a de-stressing measure. I'm not very good with prolonged stress. I can cope short term and I can cope with a lot if I can plan and be organised. However the last couple of weeks at work have been a cause of stress due to various problems and I've been unable to plan my time effectively and I feel like part of my work has suffered which also makes me stressed. I reached the point on Thursday where I was struggling to hold it together and not cry at work. My team leader was informed by a co-worker that I was stressed and getting upset. He was great about it and said not to worry about it.

Unfortunately this weekend has also been very stressful and I still feel very weepy and am experiencing a feeling of tightness in my chest (thankfully I'm not yet experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath and sleeplessness which will happen if I can't de-stress). I've spent the majority of the weekend at my Dad's just chilling out and because I knew then I'd get some decent food inside me as I just don't feel like cooking. At the moment I just feel so tired both physically and mentally. I feel like I just want to curl up and sleep for a few months. I'm concerned because for several years I suffered with ME and I've been a lot better over the last year and a half. I know that stress can trigger a relapse of ME and I don't want to go back to not being able to do anything.

I think I need to have a bit of time off work to de-stress and recover from this. I haven't got any holiday left so it would need to be sick days instead. However I'm not sure how to go about it. Do I need to see my doctor and get signed off? Or do I just go to my team leader and explain things to him and ask if I can have the rest of the week off sick due to stress? I don't want to let my team leader and co-workers down and put extra work on their shoulders. Also I feel bad that I feel I need to have the time off. I know I need it but I still feel bad thinking about asking for time to heal. Even when I was suffering from ME badly I still felt bad having time off. I really need to go in to work tomorrow as if I don't it would put a lot of pressure on my other co-workers and my team leader. I think I could just about cope with working tomorrow but I'm not sure if I could deal with a whole week.

If it helps I'm in the UK. So what would you recomend I do? How do I deal with getting time off to take care of myself so I don't get to the point where I can't sleep, feel like I can't breath and am having chest pains?
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It's a huge first step to recognize that you need some help. And you WILL get better.

I was in a similar situation a few years ago, and this is what I suggest:

1. You're not in any condition to go to work right now and remain healthy. Call in sick and make an appointment to see your doctor asap. If you need some short-term medication to handle the stress, consider taking some (I had the chest tightness as well and a prescription for Klonopin worked wonders.). If you need a doctor's note, get that covered.

2. As far as your co-workers and supervisors are concerned, you're sick. That's all. You're not taking mental health days, you're not under stress. You're sick, end of story. Do not tell even your most trusted coworkers that you're stressed. Even though people are supportive, etc., don't tell them.

3. While you're taking your sick days, work on strategies to get well. Eat well, sleep enough but not too much, get some exercise, hydrate, try to meditate, etc. Also, consider if you and the job are suited for each other. Is the job itself stressing you out because it's a bad fit? Maybe it's time to look at other jobs.

4. Tell yourself that this is a glitch, that you're getting help, and that you're not returning to work until you feel better. Knowing that will loosen most chest tightness.

5. Don't feel bad about taking time off. You need to be healthy. And while we all want to think we're incredibly important cogs in the machine, when it's all said and done, we're just cogs in the machine. They'd rather have you take the time to get well and return healthy than have you stressed and fragile.

Good luck. It sucked beyond belief when I went through this, but I took a few weeks of sick time (the flu is an amazing thing) and I returned recharged and ready to go.
posted by kinetic at 2:01 PM on February 24, 2013

"So what would you recommend I do?"

You definitely need some time off. I have been in this situation and not too long ago. I took some days off for myself and thought through my priorities. I also found that exercise helped. I swim at a local hospital gym and I love getting in the hot tub. It just melts my stress away.

"How do I deal with getting time off to take care of myself . . ."

Part of that depends on your office protocol and your relationship with your supervisor/team leader. You said he was great about your needs before, so maybe you should talk with him again. Your health is your most important asset.

And, (((Hugs))).
posted by michellenoel at 2:02 PM on February 24, 2013

Thanks for your replies. I don't want to thread sit but just thought it worth mentioning that I actually think my job is ok and am happy where I work. My job itself is fine, I have a good level of autonomy that I enjoy whilst also having a fantastic level of support from my team leader and I work with some wonderful people. It's just that I've been experiencing a lot of stressful situations at work and in my home life. I can cope with a couple of stressful days. However I've been stressed in various ways for a few months now. Unfortunately I'm the type of person who doesn't realise how stressed I am until the symptoms start to appear. I've gotten better at spotting it but as I know I'm no good with prolonged stress I tend to avoid it, so then I don't get much practice at spotting the symptoms.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 2:25 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

What makes you feel refreshed? I've been stressed at work lately too and I've found myself wanting to cook. I think because I can't cook at work and I actually enjoy grocery shopping, plus things like chopping are therapeutic and bonus, when it's all done, I have a meal. Anyway, I'd identify a few things like that (yoga? Reading magazines? Walks outside?) and just do those for a few days.

Also, I understand the guilt, especially when you like your job and your team. I had a family situation recently where I needed to take time off from work and the thing that helped me not feel guilty about it was the recognition that I actually could not work at that point. I couldn't stop thinking of my family.

You fortunately recognize that attempting to continue working through this is not healthy. You are sick - not coughing up blood sick but you are sick. And you can't contain it anymore. So don't. Good luck!
posted by kat518 at 3:02 PM on February 24, 2013

Call in sick tomorrow and go see a doctor. Your coworkers will probably cope with your absence better than you think.

I don't know how much documentation you need to provide in order to take sick time--at my office I just have to call in and say I'm not feeling well and will be in touch the next morning if I'm not feeling better. I don't need a doctor's note.

You, however, do need to see a doctor, so you can go ahead and get one if you need it. The doctor is not required (and in fact may be prohibited from) disclosing your health concern to your employer. All the note needs to say is that you sought medical attention and may need a few days' rest to recover. This is all true.

I think your anxiety is making you worry that you won't be able to "get away" with taking your sick time. That's the anxiety speaking. (And honestly, if they give you a hard time, maybe it isn't such a good workplace after all?)
posted by elizeh at 3:08 PM on February 24, 2013

Were I work we can be off sick for a week before needing a doctors note. As long as we call in in the morning work is fine. Having thought about work tomorrow Elizeh you're probably right. There's a co worker that can handle some of the duties I normally do on Mondays and normally it's a bit quieter on Mondays. Thank you for your suggestion Kat518 about thinking what makes me feel refreshed. I do enjoy going for walks in the woods so I can do that, and I enjoy cooking and swimming. All of which I haven't been able to find the time or energy to do lately. And the fresh air, exercise and decent meal will definitely help.

Thank you all for helping me feel less guilty about taking time to recover from the stress.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 3:44 PM on February 24, 2013

I think you'll feel better if you see your GP and get signed off work. If you're experiencing so much anxiety it's causing chest tightness, that's something you should see your doctor about anyway.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:23 PM on February 24, 2013

There's a co worker that can handle some of the duties I normally do on Mondays and normally it's a bit quieter on Mondays.

Also realise that both of these points are irrelevant. You either need to take sick leave or you don't. By the sound of it you are suffering from legitimate health concerns either due to stress or whatever else you are dealing with so you probably need to take sick leave. And as DarlingBri says, once you get to a point where you're accepting that you need sick leave go to your GP and get yourself signed off work for a few days. You'll feel less ambivalent about the whole thing thus reducing your stress levels about that as a starting point.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:18 AM on February 25, 2013

i find that journaling is also a great stress reliever as i'm able to get my stressed out thoughts & feelings down on paper and out of my head. hope you get some rest and start feeling refreshed soon.
posted by wildflower at 3:50 AM on February 25, 2013

Thanks for your replies. I've had today off to get some rest and do things that make me feel refreshed and happier. The only problem is that I am missing the company of the people at work. I can't win lol.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 4:50 AM on February 25, 2013

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