Stop-gap strategies for work anxiety
March 8, 2013 7:10 AM   Subscribe

I have on-going problems with work anxiety and impostor syndrome. The worst part? I’m starting a new, high-demand job in two weeks and need help now.

For various reasons, I’ve had increasing, crippling work anxiety over the past five years. These is not your garden-variety nerves. This is stomach pain and insomnia-producing anxiety that saps all of my creativity and makes my entire life miserable. I’ve left two jobs before reaching my first anniversary because of it.

This hasn't been too much of an issue in the last year because I'm in a lower stress, cushy contract position. However, this job is painfully boring and full of crazy-making politics, and it will likely be going away soon due to some restructuring. And even though it's low stress, I only made it this long because I took two months off last year to deal with depression and anxiety. I’ve been looking for a new gig for awhile, but I’ve been super picky about what I apply for.

Yesterday I received a job offer for an interesting new position with a start-up. It’s is a good career move with a lot of fringe benefits and a great manager. I think I should take it. However, I’d be nearly 100% responsible for an important part of the business. I’m the only one doing what I do at this company. Also, there are several aspects of the job that are new to me. It might be a fake it til you make it scenario.

I’m terrified. I don’t feel like I can do the job. I think while I have some experience, I’ve never really stayed anywhere long enough to learn anything. I seriously doubt my creativity and my ability to execute. I can't stop thinking I'm a total fraud. But on the other hand, I know I'd feel this way regardless of where I went. Sometimes it gets better; sometimes not. I have a surprisingly good track record and reputation despite the anxiety; I just burn out really quickly.

I’m on medication for bipolar depression and looking for a new therapist (I’ve dumped two in the past year). I also have Klonopin to fall back on. That said, I’ve never been able to properly deal with my anxiety and confidence issues. I’m working on it through meditation; exercise has been difficult because of unrelated health problems.

I know I need long-term therapy. What I could really use, though, are strategies for mitigating some of my fears over the next two weeks. What can I do to build my confidence and prepare for a new situation?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried hypnosis? I use hypnosis to regulate my anxiety issues and, so long as I keep up with it, it definitely helps. There are youtubes for hypnosis as well as apps for iOS (I dunno about other platforms) that give you hypnosis sessions to use, if finding a hypnotherapist in the area is time- or cost-prohibitive.
posted by tigerjade at 8:17 AM on March 8, 2013

In addition to finding a therapist, maybe a job coach wouldn't hurt. I would also get a nice primer on cognitive-behavioral psychology like "Feeling Good" by David Burns. It's not going to resolve the more extensive issues you can fix with the help of a trained professional, but it outlines how and why our thoughts often define how we feel about something. I've also found rereading Steven Covey's "Highly Effective People" helpful when I need some perspective.

Also make sure that you are top of time management. Make sure you have some "me time" / "quiet time" blocked into your schedule whenever it makes sense for you - maybe the beginning of the morning, maybe right after lunch. Use that time to unwind and recharge. Make sure you prioritize what's important to get done periodically also - a lot of people use the end of the work day to make a "to do" list for the next day and week, updating it daily.

Every person is different in what works best for them. You might have a journal you write in at home; or you might have a close friend you see for Friday lunch who you confide in about your fears for a little while, but who you share other interests with, so you can steer yourself into talking about other things.

Do try to get exercise. I have physical limitations too, I understand. If you can't run, you walk. If you can't walk, you swim. Can't swim? Maybe yoga.

If you have anxiety about a specific skill, don't just let it rattle in your head. Do something about it. Read a book, take a class, get practice or tap an expert for more information. Then face the skill anxiety head on. I suffered from stage fright and fear of public speaking. Going to Toastmasters helped a lot. So did going out and doing a lot more public speaking. Karaoke, too.
posted by mitschlag at 8:17 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like the scariest part of what you are talking about is that you will be expected to be "creative" in this new role. We are all so used to hearing about creativity as a kind of mysterious unpredictable uncontrollable inspiration that happens to artistic souls or super geniuses who have this special power. This trope is all over historical biographies of successful people as well as fictional hero-worship stories.

This is of course not how creativity works at all. There are straightforward practical things you can schedule time to do that will make it much more likely that you will come up with a creative work-related idea. Maybe reading about that would help you feel more in control? I can recommend The Innovator's DNA, but there are other good books along these lines too.
posted by steinwald at 12:40 PM on March 8, 2013

I'm just tossing a bunch of ideas out here to see if any of them work for you--

- Know you already are not perfect and so there isn't any "perfect" way to do the job. There is just you and what you bring

- Plan out the worst case scenarios (the ones you are afraid of, that play in your head or behind your conscious thoughts) and then work out, what will I do after that? --> (get out of the spiral and start moving upward). The scenarios should end with something realistically normal, and life continuing, and contentedness with that

- Acknowledge your fears about yourself and add a, "Okay, so given that, I will..." -- the resulting "I will..." can be a phrase you tell yourself, an action you take, etc. E.g. "I'm worried I am not creative. Okay, so let's say I'm not creative enough. Given that, if I am feeling uncreative, I will still come up with three ideas. Even if they are not creative." "Okay, I don't feel invested and I feel paralyzed. Given that, I'm going to get dressed, find two things that I can bring to the table today, and go to work."

- Think about how you're going to start the job, but there will be a time after you've gone through the "starting" phase and (if you've stayed) you are looking back at that time from a place of relative comfort and security with your process, procedures, workplace; or (if you have gone somewhere else) you learned something which led you to a new place. "This, too, shall pass." Everything--including your anxiety and newness--will pass, so you can stay with it and engage it for a while! Everything--including any great parts of your job--will pass, so even if you mess something up, it's not you have done damage to something that otherwise would have lasted forever and been otherwise unblemished

- It's not critical that you are perfect, but it is critical that you show up (literally, by showing up; figuratively, by being prepared and bringing your whole self to work)

- Figure out some things you can do to get started again if you do get stuck in anxiety. Often if I can get my mind on a task I can regain momentum.
posted by ramenopres at 7:02 PM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

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