Work anxiety: How do I stop the fearful, anxious thoughts?
July 3, 2017 10:52 AM   Subscribe

I started a new job 2 months ago, in a position I don't have direct experience in but I do have indirect experience in. Let's say I am a teacher without previous classroom experience but have taught things to others before (not my real job). The past couple of weeks were rough...had to make some hard decisions and face some stressful situations that I've never done before. Add to that some miscommunications between me, team members, and supervisor and I'm a giant anxious mess. How can I calm my thoughts, fight through my insecurity, and get back on the right track?

I have a long history of feeling insecure, unwanted, and "not good enough". This week a senior coworker confronted me several times on some miscommunication that wasn't intentional but made me feel really stupid. Add to that a super busy next two weeks where I have some critical tasks to complete and I'm currently a hot mess. I believe I can get the tasks done, but they won't be done in the way the senior team member (who had my job once) would do them. I'm feeling incredibly judged by that and scared I will be "wrong" or fail somehow. I also feel like any explanation I give will be perceived as me not taking responsibility (although honestly getting all these tasks done in 5 days just mathematically isn't possible).

I've been reassured that things are OK because I'm still learning my position and it will take me a year to be proficient in all areas. But right now I have this massive fear that I'm not living up to expectations. I'm nervous, shaky, and actually have a decreased appetite so I'm feeling the physical effects as well.

How can I convince myself that I'm OK and calm down enough to focus and get work done? How can I make these anxious, nervous thoughts stop? The senior team member doesn't want to keep "rehashing" this (he's not interested in dealing with feelings anyways) so I really have no one to discuss this with at work without things getting back to him.

Bonus points for anything that can stop the physical feels like my adrenaline pump just won't shut off.
posted by MultiFaceted to Human Relations (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Is this senior coworker your direct supervisor, or is your direct supervisor someone else? Who has actually been assigning you the work?
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:20 AM on July 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Direct supervisor is someone off site. The coworker on my team is at the same title/level as me but has been there longer and has more experience. That makes me feel somewhat like they are my superior (but in reality we are even on the org chart).

As far as assigning work, the coworker has given me tasks to work on and direction in what I should be doing, probably because of their experience in knowing what needs to get done. Ultimately when I have mastered my role I wouldn't need that direction.
posted by MultiFaceted at 12:23 PM on July 3, 2017

Ah, I see. Thanks for clarifying.

I think you need to speak to your direct supervisor for clarification on what your priorities are. They are who you report to, and they are the one who is supposed to assign you work, unless they tell you they've delegated that to someone else.

You're feeling like you have so many tasks this week you can't reasonably do them all in 5 days; are they all tasks your supervisor has assigned you? Are some of them tasks your coworker has given you to do? Just because they're senior to you (in terms of having been there longer) does not necessarily mean they can assign you work and expect you'll make it a priority.

Yes, it would be nice for them to help orient and guide you since they've been there longer. But they are not your superior and should not be acting as though they are.

You also may be experiencing imposter syndrome, which is common. Remember you wouldn't have been hired for this position if your supervisor didn't think you were capable of it. You're still learning the ropes, and it sounds like they expect and understand that.

Really, I think a discussion with your supervisor would be helpful for you. It's okay for you to ask directly about your duties and about whether your coworker can assign you tasks, and if so, how to determine their priority against things your supervisor has assigned you to do. I know they are off site, but schedule a meeting with them as soon as possible, even if it's a phone meeting. They should be checking in with you on a regular basis anyway while you're still so new.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:03 PM on July 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Interrupt the adrenaline by doing some vigorous activity or exercise, then see if some friends will watch a comedy or go out with you.

I know this doesn't sound business-y enough but that will sort out once the anxiety wave is spent. Who you are is okay, and is not equivalent to your job.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:08 PM on July 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I support the idea of doing exercise. It will produce good hormone and makes you less stressful.
Do meditation.
Also try not to think about the work as soon as you walk out of the company door.
These are the tips. Hope it is useful.
posted by mysunshine at 2:23 PM on July 3, 2017

Well, a lot depends on how your particular anxiety works. For me it's short-circuited by constructive transparency. "Boss, I'm concerned that some of this can't get done well. My idea for how to triage is to prioritize X and Y, but I'm still afraid that even Y might not get done as well as I'd like." See if they have any suggestions or if they'd like to get more involved to help make sure the most important things go right.
posted by salvia at 2:55 PM on July 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

The Stress Eraser works well for what you want. It is basically a gadget that helps you mediate with biofeedback. Under $200.
posted by mortaddams at 4:14 PM on July 3, 2017

What to do when your anxiety spikes:

When your thoughts start racing and you need to calm down, try the 4-1-7 breathing method: inhale for 4 counts, hold for 1, exhale for 7. Think about nothing except counting while you do this. Repeat until you are calmer. It will also help to slow your heartbeat, which can help you feel calmer.

Another grounding exercise: Put one hand on your upper-chest, and the other over your diaphragm (where your rib cage meets your stomach). Breathe slowly. Now, find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. It can help when you feel like you have lost all control of your surroundings / thoughts.

I learned both of these techniques to overcome panic disorder. They work really well for me, I hope they work for you as well :)
posted by ananci at 5:27 PM on July 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

"...busy next two weeks...
...I believe I can get the tasks done...
...although honestly getting all these tasks done in 5 days just mathematically isn't possible."

This sounds like you might be contradicting yourself?

I understand you're fuzzing the details for privacy on metafilter, but as you think to yourself and talk to yourself and write notes to yourself, make sure that you're very clear and grounded in the facts. Don't let yourself exaggerate or fudge details. Staying very present in what's actually happening helps reduce anxiety.

You could make a list of the tasks and their expected time frames, then schedule them on a calendar. Either you'll discover that you can realistically do the tasks in the time available, or you'll have hard evidence that it actually won't all fit in the time available.

If you can get it done, then let that reassure you: you can do it. If you're facing something actually impossible, you can show the schedule to your supervisor and ask for advice, because then it would be based on facts rather than feelings.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 5:49 PM on July 3, 2017

How can I calm my thoughts, fight through my insecurity, and get back on the right track?

Shift your anxious, catastrophic feelings into proactive ones. It's far better to ask for support upfront than being criticized after the fact.

Before you start something, check in and say, "I am going to work on the _____; historically I first do this, then whatever, then this final thing, but I would appreciate any tips about how you would proceed because I know this is a strength of yours."

This is a decent script because you're demonstrating you have knowledge, you recognize they have a certain way to do things, you're giving props to a senior coworker, and you're demonstrating your commitment to do things right.

I believe I can get the tasks done, but they won't be done in the way the senior team member (who had my job once) would do them.

Doing things in a new way may be setting yourself up for yet another uncomfortable conversation. If you plan on doing the task differently, you should check in before you start. Explain your reasoning for your process and ask for their feedback. They may have tried your different way and it didn't work. There's usually a reason why things are executed in certain ways. You may think your method is better but there's often a Butterfly Effect in the workplace where your different approach will make tasks more difficult for many others.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:02 AM on July 4, 2017

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