After work anxiety
February 22, 2018 6:11 PM   Subscribe

I have moderate anxiety related to work. I often get home and panic that I may have done something wrong. Sometimes my ocd sends me back to work to verify that I did not make a mistake and all is well. I would love to hear from someone who has also done this and how they learned to quit doing it. Thanks
posted by DieHipsterDie to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Two things helped me with this: one was just time and experience. When I started out I was terrified of making mistakes and getting fired. Some of that was because I made a lot of mistakes. Over time I made less mistakes and also over time I learned how to get into jobs I was suited for. Also over time I learned what kind of stuff mattered and what didn’t and what kind of stuff got people fired and what didn’t. Also the reason why I learned this stuff was because the amount of anxiety i was carrying around was exhausting and I felt like, there is no way I’m getting paid enough to spend this much time and this much energy on this stupid job. So any time I started to get worked up I would try to instead of just panicking put it in perspective which got easier the more experiences had to compare things to.

Another thing I think about is that they only pay me to think about them for a specific 8 hours a day. Any time I spend thinking about them at other times is unpaid work and I don’t want to do that. So reminding myself that I’m doing unpaid work right now motivates me to try to think about something that I actually like thinking about.
posted by bleep at 7:50 PM on February 22, 2018 [10 favorites]

One method is to formalize organization with checklists. The act can have a carry on effect to finalize your attitude towards them.
posted by nickggully at 7:50 PM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks. I’d love to know if anyone else has gone back to work to ease their anxieties.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 8:38 PM on February 22, 2018

This was me. Sometimes I would get up in the middle of the night and drive to work. It would feel like a cold sweat and I was desperately searching for something to stop the churning fear in my stomach. I too thought I had mild anxiety. It was not mild. What helped was getting on medication. Please go to a doctor. You don't have to live like this!
posted by ohsnapdragon at 8:42 PM on February 22, 2018 [17 favorites]

My work is an office but I also take my laptop home every day, so it was not out of the ordinary for me to pop open the laptop after I got home and wrap up or fix something. Lately I’ve tried to dawdle before leaving work, just put stuff away and hang out for about 10 minutes chit chatting about mostly non-work stuff with coworkers, which is usually long enough for a forgotten something to bubble up or for me to get clear so I don’t spend my whole commute thinking about work.
posted by sleeping bear at 8:43 PM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

A few ways to think about this (it would help if we knew what kind of work you did)

1. Having good work-life separation makes you more effective when you are at work. Stop thinking about work outside of work, and you'll be better at it when you're there.

2. So, what if you make a mistake? If your workplace is really the type where one error and you're out, if you're in such a precarious position, then I'd concern myself with getting a better job. Otherwise, you fix it tomorrow -- it'll still be there, right? I'm sure others have made the same mistake before, and they're still around.

3. A "correction" made when you've driven back to work in the middle of the night, when you're freaked out that you might have made an error, is likely to be wrong / make things worse / cause more work in the future.
posted by batter_my_heart at 8:49 PM on February 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

Thank you, snapdragon. I felt like I was the only one. I’d feel so weak and pathetic doing it. I know that this behavior only reinforces the ocd but it at least allows me to relax for a few hours.

And yes, I do need help. Used to work in inventory and purchasing and would wake up Saturday morning in a panic wondering if I’d ordered some needed item.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 9:10 PM on February 22, 2018

I have a friend who's a doctor; one time this person bolted awake, stomach churning, got dressed, and drove 30 mins back to the hospital because of a sudden insight about a patient who had an uncommon issue. In that case, going back to work due to an anxious feeling turned out to be a literal lifesaver for that patient (whose potentially-fatal issue was caught & fixed in time, and who then recovered perfectly).


If you don't literally have a job where people could DIE if you forget something, PLEASE try to eradicate this behaviour rather than just cope with it. You deserve to live, and there's no way they pay you enough to justify having the job chew holes in your head.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:32 PM on February 22, 2018 [7 favorites]

Oh God, are you past me?
This was me at my previous job. All. The. Time. I'd go back on holidays. I'd return after an exhausting 10 hrs, braving a 45 mins commute back just because I was convinced that I had totaled something wrong/forgot to lock the safe/did an erroneous transaction and OMG even remembering that makes my head hurt.
A few things helped me, somewhat: I noticed that this was pronounced when my mind was 'on idle', so to speak, like vegetating on my commute back. So I'd watch stuff, read stuff, do word puzzles on my phone, anything to get my brain to focus on the 'now'.
I told a couple of my colleagues who were supportive and helpful. And when I'd start escalating the situation in my head, I'd text them and they would shut it down emphatically. No I did not leave anything unlocked. Yes they saw me. No I cannot go back. But yes, this needs someone trustworthy and empathetic on the other side.
Before leaving, I would speak aloud my checklist, going from one spot to another, physically checking it was done, and moving on. Somehow speaking it aloud made it much more 'checked and done' in my head, because my brain then couldn't play tricks on me.
I changed my job. This is an extreme step, but I realized that I couldn't remain functional with the general elevated anxiety all the time, even with the tricks. New job has its share of weird moments but nothing seems panic-inducing to that level.
But you know as well as I do that that kind of anxiety needs medical help, and I hope you'll seek it.
Good luck!
posted by Nieshka at 9:48 PM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

While I don't think I have ever literally gone back to work to check on something, I have totally done other similar things - called or emailed someone, checked my work from home.

This anxiety is not limited to work, though. I can spend at least five minutes before leaving the house checking appliances, and doors, and taps, and lights, and doors, and taps, and and and before I finally say "I have done everything that I can. If something happens, I wouldn't have been able to stop it."

I think the answer is therapy, but I know as well as anyone that it's not always easy to get there.

Some ways I try to cope:
* Ballet classes. They are a perfect mix of physical and mental exercise. An hour of being mindful of my body and how I am moving. There's no time to think about work!

* Listening to music to and from work.

* Paying attention when I work, rather than slipping into autopilot. The mistakes I am personally concerned about making are related to repetitive tasks. As simple as pushing one button instead of another. So when I am pushing that button I take an extra moment to be mindful of which button I am pushing. Then I move on and try not to dwell on "Oh but what if pressed the wrong one??"

* It might also be worth taking some time to think about the worst case scenarios of you making mistakes. Are you catastrophising? If you make a mistake, is it more likely that you will be fired on the spot immediately, or simply given coaching/a warning? Be realistic about what a mistake could mean and what that means for you. Do you want to work somewhere where a human error is treated like the end of the world?
posted by kinddieserzeit at 6:05 AM on February 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have totally done this. Gone back to check that I really did put my laptop in a safe place and not just leave it lying in the restroom or something stupid. I'm not sure that I have a foolproof solution, but having routines where I know I've done something because I do the exact same thing every day, an insane amount of phone reminders and taking a kind of mental photograph of me doing something are key (and trying to remember something unusual about the mental photograph so I know it's from today and not yesterday).
posted by peacheater at 6:38 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thank you all. Your answers are very helpful. One thing I wil quit doing is any work in the last hour that could come back and haunt me at home. Typically it’s something I’ve done last minute that I start to doubt.

By the way I approve loans to car dealers. A typical panic attack will be worrying that I misread a loan request and approved money to be issued on behalf of a dealer that is on a loan hold.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 7:12 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

For things like that I find physical checklists very useful - actually make up a grid with each row corresponding to something you should check and columns for each individual instance - then physically check each thing off as you make your decision. Then your mental photograph is of the filled out grid, so you know you're good.
posted by peacheater at 8:06 AM on February 23, 2018

I spend a few minutes at the end of the day summarizing what I did and didn't do, and planning for the next day. This allows me to review everything that I did AND didn't do, and put it to rest. Things I may have forgotten to bubble up at this time. When they do I write them down to be reviewed for the next day. I also stopped working up till the last minute of the day because if I leave work keyed up it takes a lot of time to spin my mind down. I'd rather finish everything without rush and tackle things the next day.

This was pretty wordy, but the actual suggestion is: develop a ritual for the end of the day. For you it may be going over your records and checking things over (a checklist).
posted by aeighty at 8:31 AM on February 23, 2018

Have you ever told your supervisor or asked what would happen if you accidentally approved a loan to a dealer with a loan hold? I think as a supervisor I would say that if that happened, we could absolutely deal with it the next morning.
posted by salvia at 8:41 AM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Salvia: That’s what he would say. The funny thing is if I went back to work and found that I had fucked up there is nothing that could be done till the next day anyway.

So much relief that I’m not the only person who has done this.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 9:16 AM on February 23, 2018

“The funny thing is if I went back to work and found that I had fucked up there is nothing that could be done till the next day anyway.”
^ This is key.
Keep a notepad handy at all times, digital or analog, with a dedicated space called “CHECK IN THE MORNING.” or “DID I F*** UP?” or whatever makes you feel the right amount of satisfaction using it.
Get the thoughts out of your brain for the short-term, and make them a problem for future-you who can actually do something about it.

(FWIW, should this help, I have recommendations for mobile apps and pocket notebooks that may make the experience just a little bit more pleasant.)
posted by D.Billy at 9:40 AM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Funny how ocd works. You can stare at a document and triple check it an hour later in your minds eye you start to doubt what you really saw. You can confirm over and over that you entered 100 but your brain starts to wonder if maybe you enterered 1000. It’s almost like your memories are being altered.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 9:58 AM on February 23, 2018 [5 favorites]

I recommend a book called Brain Lock that seemed helpful to my clients with OCD when I was a therapist. It's reassuring and offers concrete behaviors to affect actual changes in your brain to tackle these compulsions. This sounds quite severe and miserable and easily rises to the level of needing medical intervention. Good luck and peace to you.
posted by thebrokedown at 9:19 PM on February 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

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