Coping Strategies for a Stressful Week at Work
October 6, 2017 9:19 AM   Subscribe

I'm coping badly with an event at work and need advice on how to manage today and next week.

Recently my supervisor and another department leader (Chuck) met with me to raise an issue that Chuck brought up. The manner of the meeting and Chuck's behavior led me to believe I was being fired. Later, my supervisor clarified that my job was not on the line and he understood that the meeting may have seemed that way to me. Nevertheless, he thought my assumption/response was unwarranted.

I know that my response has overshadowed the original meeting. This, if nothing else, will look bad on my record. I obsessed over the various issues last night and woke up feeling ill-equipped to go to work so I called in sick.

Externally, I seem fine. But, I haven't showered or eaten or gotten out of bed and I've been up for about 5 hours. My stomach is in knots. Internally, I am in a state. I feel like I'm going to spiral down and up quitting over the weekend. I don't want this but the thought of going to work next week is daunting.

How do I cope today and this weekend to manage the stress I'm feeling so I can make it to work on Monday?
posted by jojo and the benjamins to Work & Money (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If I were in your shoes, some things I might try to feel better would include:

- Crying. Just go ahead and wallow in my upset feelings. Let it all out. But only for an hour or so.

- Hard cardio. Exhaust myself with something repetitive that gets my heart rate up. When I'm in shape, it's running; when I'm not, it's on an elliptical. Swimming is also good for this.

- After initial processing: talking to a partner, trusted friend, or mentor about it, get some perspective, and some affirmation that I am good and not a complete fuck-up who is [etc. etc., your own self-talk may vary]

- Distract myself and pass the time. Find some immersive entertainment, treat myself to a pleasurable, nutritious meal, take a sleeping pill and get in bed early.

I would remind myself what not to do, also:

- Do not drink too much. It will feel bad later, and won't help with my self-talk.

- Do not get too comfortable talking about my situation with anyone I don't trust with 1000% confidence.

- Do not get into "treat myself" mode and spend a bunch of money on little trinkets. Aka don't go to the fancy grocery store and wander through the flowers and the candles and the dessert case. Pick one and just enjoy the bejeezus out of it.

- Don't try to get too much done this weekend. Be only as productive as I need to be in order to show up on Monday in clean clothes.

Good luck.
posted by witchen at 9:33 AM on October 6 [9 favorites]

I don't know you or your department lead or Chuck or the work you do. But if I were your manager, observed an unwarranted assumption/response when something came up and told you so, and the next day you call in sick, I'd be concerned about you. (Okay this is if I were your manager.)

And I would call you to make sure you were okay.

Flipping it around, you are asking what to do to cope. I'd recommend you call your manager, and talk about what the situation was and what your resolution of it is (you didn't mention whether you were going to fix it, do better next time, or whatever but something that needed to be changed needs to be changed). Then talk to your manager about what you heard in that meeting that you interpreted one way, and your manager another, just to clear that up.

And then talk to your manager about how s/he could help you out in the future should similar language come up in the future that would make you feel like you were being shown the door, when actually it was just corrective language (or whatever the words were used for yesterday's situation).

Its what a CEO once said (IIRC it was Ann Mulcahy of Xerox) "You gotta do three things. First, get the cow out of the ditch. Second, find out how the cow got into the ditch. Third, make sure you do whatever it takes so the cow doesn't go into the ditch again."

Hang in there!
posted by scooterdog at 9:35 AM on October 6 [7 favorites]

Later, my supervisor clarified that my job was not on the line and he understood that the meeting may have seemed that way to me. Nevertheless, he thought my assumption/response was unwarranted.

Oh, did he? I think it's really crummy of him to blame you at the same time he acknowledges that your reaction was understandable. (If he is indeed seriously blaming you; he may have just gotten defensive or something. I suspect this meeting was not planned very well, and that's on them, not you.)

In your shoes, I would try to make mental space for the idea that it's really not clear what is going on. It may be an issue between the two of them. Talk to yourself about it like you would to a friend and that you just have to wait for it to become more clear and until then it's pretty much out of your hands. And then make sure your sleep is not disrupted and that you are eating.
posted by BibiRose at 9:41 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]

- Hard cardio. Exhaust myself with something repetitive that gets my heart rate up. When I'm in shape, it's running; when I'm not, it's on an elliptical. Swimming is also good for this.

Honestly this is what does it for me. Do some physical activity to the point of exhaustion. If you still have anxious energy afterwards, do it some more until you can't really think about anything except how tired you are. Do the same thing tomorrow.

If you don't want to do that, I find a good way to take my mind off of something I can't change is to take a short trip. Nothing expensive, just maybe visit a friend who lives within driving distance with whom you can spend the night. Getting out of your habitat can help you get out of your own head.

As far as your particular situation, boy have I been there. We all screw up and/or get screwed over. But the worst part is over. That event happened. It sucked and was probably unfair. It's also in the past and nothing you can do now will change it, especially quitting.
posted by FakeFreyja at 9:52 AM on October 6 [2 favorites]

Hey OP, one of the best things I've gotten from Al-Anon is the understanding that roughly 99.9% of the time whatever the hell is going on with other people isn't personal even if I'm involved in some way. I've been a manager and managers will tell you that they also have bad days, say stupid things, or glare at you in passing as they go down the hall. Only they didn't even see you in the hall, they were thinking about something annoying at home (or having heartburn or whatever). And so you, the collective employee innocent victim, may often take things to heart and lose sleep and feel terrible over things that are A. nonexistent or B. minor or C. worth addressing but not worth suffering over.

If you are like me, it's possible that your nervous system is just overreacting to a normal thing, which is a supervisor managing a situation badly and then blaming you for responding in a reasonable way. That such things are normal suck but it's true. Also, if you are like me, it's possible that your nervous system is going off the rails because you are convinced that you are deeply flawed, the gig is up, you're about to be fired because you don't deserve the job, whatever. I hope you are not like me, because that shit is both exhausting and untrue.

In addition to the exercise, be super kind and gentle to yourself. Sometimes I do self-talk like I'm dealing with an injured animal with big eyes or a 3-year-old. And I do it kindly. And I say things like, "Oh sweetheart, of course you are afraid. It's so scary when you think you're about to lose your job. But you will be fine, even if you lose your job. And also, there's no reason why you should lose your job. You are okay, I love you, and I am right here with you."

Temperature changes can also affect your mood (according to DBT self-care lists and my own experience). So an ice pack on an extremity or the back of your neck (for not too long) can help shift you out of panicky, black-and-white thinking. So can a hot bath or shower. Other grounding DBT exercises that can help pull you out of your head include taking a walk (in/near nature, ideally) and just naming all the objects you see. Or choosing a color and then finding how many kinds of blue, say, are in the room or the street or your office, etc.

Laugh as much as you possibly can. If you like stand up, consider watching Tig Notaro's special Tig on Netflix, if you have it. Skip anything that bores you but the story of how she faces a cancer diagnosis and mines it for jokes is riveting and hilarious. Or watch funny TV shows.

In my experience, action is better than inaction. Get out of bed, put away your device, feed yourself, then plot a plan for today and the weekend. Make a schedule of all the ways you can take care of yourself physically and emotionally between now and Monday. Hang in there. Do breathing exercises. Call friends.

Monday is not getting-fired day. Monday is just another day at the office. You can do this. Breathe, go to the gym, do stretches, read books, listen to podcasts, take a bath, eat well, see friends, go to movies, etc. Do whatever you need to do--including cry and feel miserable for a while (but not all day)--to nudge your nervous system back to baseline.

Your brain and body are having a false alarm. It happens. To some of us, it happens way too often. That's okay. Just love yourself anyway and remind yourself that Monday is just another work day. Take care of yourself. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 11:02 AM on October 6 [14 favorites]

When I had to go to a public meeting shortly after losing my reelection campaign, I went out and bought a spectacular work outfit -- bright pink, even (not usually a color I wear) -- and showed up looking fabulous. It did wonders for my confidence getting through those first few minutes of awkwardness, and instead of every conversation beginning with, "Are you okay? How are you doing?" they all began with, "Wow, you look fabulous!"

(I still call it my "don't give a fuck" dress and wear it when I'm particularly stressed or feel particularly unsure of myself but need to not let that show.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:38 PM on October 6 [13 favorites]

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