Isolating myself as a reaction to work stress
February 28, 2015 12:16 PM   Subscribe

I have a problem with work stress. It causes me to isolate myself and not want to go out and meet people and do fun stuff. I'd like to get some input as to how I can overcome this negative pattern.

Work kind of sucks right now. I'm not going to go into too much detail here but the office culture is pathological, we're working too many hours, the overall mood is miserable and we're under a lot of pressure to produce. I'm dealing with it reasonably well, with one exception: after eight to nine hours of this, I find it very hard to go out afterwards and do fun stuff and meet new people. I just want to go home, turn on the internet, order dinner from seamless and go to bed. The weekends are very much the same.

So how can I overcome this negative pattern? Is it a matter of maintaining stronger boundaries at work so that I don't absorb the toxins? Is it a matter of toughing it out, faking it until I make it and going out no matter how rotten I might be feeling at that time?

Some relevant information: I am taking antidepressants. I'm pretty happy with them. Let's assume for the sake of this question, that "DTMFing Job A" is not an option for now.

What do you suggest?

Many thanks in advance.
posted by jason's_planet to Human Relations (12 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Is going out something you, at some level, *want* to do, or is it just what you think you *should* want to do? Because I'm very much like you, and while I enjoy social time, it takes a lot of out of me - if I don't have it to give, I stay home. If I ignore that and go out anyway, I tend to have a maybe-ok time but feel even worse after and the next day, because I've overspent my energy. If you have a traditional job, you're seeing and interacting with people all day every day. It's ok to be tired of that and want some downtime too.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:25 PM on February 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You're in a bit of a catch-22. It sounds like you're suffering from burnout, and ironically one of the mitigating factors is lots of self-care. So hobbies, social connections, doing things which make you happy are a way to protect your resilience at work. The fact that you're neglecting these things because you're burnout is making it harder to manage your difficult work environment. So maybe consider starting to build up your self-care regime.

Can you go for a massage on your way home from work so you get back feeling more relaxed? Find time for one exercise session a week, something like swimming which is great for calming your mind while helping you feel stronger? If you're not up to socialising in big groups, could you meet with maybe one person once a week for coffee or a movie to get used to being out and about without a lot of pressure? Try to carve out a little time for yourself where you're actively engaging with things which make you happy rather than attempting to "switch off". I know it's difficult, but picture it as strengthening your inner resources so that you have something to fall back on when work gets too much. Good luck.
posted by billiebee at 12:32 PM on February 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I feel you so much! Some of it, I think, is cultivating the gentle art of Not Giving as Many Fucks at work. Do your very best during your eight to nine hours, then try to leave it there so your off-hours are not tainted with work toxins. Some of it is taking the best care of yourself that you can, whatever that means to you. I felt better when I scheduled workouts with friends after work so I wouldn't flake, changed my diet to reduce carbs, and made time to cook delicious healthy stuff for myself. And some of it is figuring out what kind of socializing would be the most fun for you under these circumstances. I like to go out during the week right after work so I don't lose momentum and wind up at home internetting. But I also let myself laze around Saturday and Sunday mornings and afternoons and don't have any expectations of myself because that sets me up to have plans in the evenings and not feel overextended. When work is super stressful, I tend to enjoy more one-on-one outings where I can really connect with trusted allies. When I'm less stressed, I have more energy for group stuff like parties, going dancing, weekend trips. If you want to socialize more, try to break the downtime pattern you are in by planning something you would normally really enjoy with people you really want to see -- a games night, a trip to some exhibit you've been wanting to see, a new restaurant.

Also: massages
posted by *s at 12:42 PM on February 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Sometimes when I feel this way, I try to practice "constructive living" -- the philosophy that just because you don't feel like going out (or doing something, anything at all) doesn't mean that you can't still just do it. I know, easier said than done. But if you start with the action (doing fun stuff with friends), the feeling comes later (rather than reversed.) So I would try not to wait until I felt like doing fun stuff, but just do them as a leap of faith that you will feel better having done them.
posted by caoimhe at 1:24 PM on February 28, 2015 [9 favorites]

Can you schedule something fun for the same time every week? When I'm very busy at work, I lose the energy required to plan new activities. But if I know that I always go climbing on Tuesdays, I just go.
posted by yarntheory at 1:24 PM on February 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: So how can I overcome this negative pattern? Is it a matter of maintaining stronger boundaries at work so that I don't absorb the toxins? Is it a matter of toughing it out, faking it until I make it and going out no matter how rotten I might be feeling at that time?

I think the latter tends to be the specific means to the former.
posted by PMdixon at 1:58 PM on February 28, 2015

Scheduled workouts are great, especially if they are paid and recur weekly. I have prepaid my Wednesday pilates class and I always go. It has a 36 hour cancelation policy and if I skip I eat the fee. Works a treat.
posted by crazycanuck at 2:18 PM on February 28, 2015

Best answer: Maybe not "fun stuff" per se, but what about just taking a book to a cafe or something? Just to get out of the rut of work-home-dinner-bed. You may even have a friend that might want to come along and just chill with you, reading. No social pressure, but a little bit of a change up?
posted by gaspode at 3:14 PM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

It took me a long time to realize that I find interacting with people mildly stressing. That's not necessarily a bad thing, I enjoy lots of things that are more in the exciting than relaxing category, but if I'm already at the limit it can be downright hellish. When my job was more taxing I stopped going out on Friday nights because I needed that whole extra day of downtime to recover from the week, but then Saturdays were fine for socializing.

Or, more or less what *s said
posted by rodlymight at 4:22 PM on February 28, 2015

Best answer: The pathological parts of your office culture will continue to drain you until they're either fixed or you leave. If both of those things are off the table, you have to reduce anything at work that makes you actively tired, however well-intentioned it might be. Conserve your energy.

So if you have a standing desk, cut that out—it's likely not worth the energy, especially when the work is already so draining. If you usually take lunch to do a walk-and-talk with co-workers for stress reduction, try keeping smaller snacks around and eating faster, then cutting out sooner. Sometimes going over the active hurts at work with co-workers can actually make them feel heavier and less surmountable. Or if you usually just eat snacks and feel like you're not getting enough time to decompress or enough to eat, go out for lunch—but by yourself or with your significant other or friends, to get nourishment, space, and exercise, but not keep obsessing about the workplace. Otherwise, when you're at work, put as much as you can at arm's reach—that goes for food, drink, and anything you need to do your job. Set up your workspace and your work routines to be as frictionless as you can make them, within the constraints of your job. Reduce the number of choices you have to make to avoid decision fatigue.

And then yes, as much as you can, disconnect from work at day's end. In your situation, when you work in a physical workplace that completely drains you, you have to find ways to leave the work in that environment as much as possible. If you must take it home, define rituals for checking into and out of work mode—only working by a certain lamp in a certain space in a certain room, with very specific tools (even if that's just office supplies or a set of browser tabs) that you always have at hand and don't need to think about finding or setting up, or only working on a certain computer, and switching to a tablet or your phone in another room for casual browsing later. If you don't need to be "on call," don't get email automatically downloaded to your phone. Set it up on your phone if you want, but don't set it up to automatically download. Choose when and where you'll make space to have work in your life.

And if you're crunched for time, still, don't make work the last thing you do before bed. Give yourself even a few minutes' space to read or browse the Web or watch Netflix before you go down for the night, and it'll improve your sleep and dreams, and make the next morning easier.

Also, though, reduce the pressure on yourself. Give yourself designated times to do nothing throughout the week—exactly like rodlymight says, that might be Friday night through Saturday afternoon. That's OK.
posted by limeonaire at 4:46 PM on February 28, 2015

Best answer: Can you distance yourself from the bullshit? Headphones, working from home, secret cues to yourself to not care, uplifting affirmations on post-it notes (I'd find this cheesy, but it works for some of my coworkers), an odd schedule (like 7 am to 3 pm) or whatever? Also, maybe try to get a sense of what factors cause certain days to drain you more than others. (E.g., for me, complaint-fests are very satisfying in the moment, but make me feel worse overall. And having about 2-3 hours of phone calls or meetings is the right balance; I still have time to feel like I got things done but don't start to feel isolated.)

I agree with those saying that as long as work is stressful, this will continue, but sometimes you just want one Sunday when you feel like being productive or social instead of hibernating in bed. So it can help to know, e.g., if I can work from home on Friday that week, I will actually be able to go to that concert / do my taxes / whatever on Sunday.
posted by salvia at 9:40 PM on February 28, 2015

I do the regularly scheduled activities thing so that I have to leave the house. Also, I go do things on most weekends. And I physically leave during lunch, but I don't know if you can do that.

Another thing is monitoring how stressed out you are that day. Is every single day a 10 when it comes to stress? For me a 10 is "I'm canceling my activity after work because if I see another human I will kill them, I'm going home and drinking." But not every day is a 10. So say, if your days range from a 7-10 on the stress scale every day, maybe force yourself to go out on 7 days because that's as good as you're going to get right now and maybe that's a day where you can afford to not rest as much by comparison.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:20 PM on March 1, 2015

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