Anxiety · Employee Concerns · Professional

How do I help an anxious employee?

So how do I deal with an employee with high anxiety? Particularly if I believe that anxiety is starting to negatively impact their work?

I have an employee I’m concerned about. Not a direct employee – I supervise the person who supervises this employee. Which makes it even trickier. My concerns are based on reports that I’m getting from this person’s manager. The employee’s anxiety has been a topic of concern since they were hired. We work with people diagnosed with serious mental illness who are often acutely sensitive to minor fluctuations in the moods and feelings of those around them. I think it is a type of survival mechanism many of our consumers develop – being aware of the moods of those around you can help you protect yourself (physically or emotionally). Our consumers are so vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment. I once worked with a consumer who was so sensitive to the tone and inflection in my voice that he could predict when I was getting sick 1-2 days before I noticed any symptoms. He would call the office and about 30 seconds into the conversation would ask if I was feeling ok. Inevitably, within a couple of days, I would start feeling bad. But, I digress.

Back to where I was going before – our consumers know when staff are anxious and sensing anxiety in a staff member can be a trigger for a consumer’s anxiety. We need to do everything we can to ensure a calm atmosphere in our programs to help our consumers maintain their recovery.

This employee experiences a high amount of anxiety. They express fear on a near-constant basis that something they did during his shift will result in them being fired. The employee has been with us for less than 6 months, so naturally there have been mistakes as they were becoming more familiar with our agency policies and procedures. This is expected as someone is learning a new job and hasn’t been a big deal. Frankly, compared to many other new employees, this person’s mistakes have been minor and infrequent.

However, whenever the supervisor brings up a mistake and talks about the way to do things differently in the future, this employee almost has a panic attack. They sweat profusely, their body shakes, and they have trouble talking. The supervisor has tried to be as sensitive as possible to this anxiety but we’re starting to feel that it impairs the employee’s ability to make solid decisions. The fear of losing their job has resulted in the employee sharing important information with his co-workers but not bringing it to his supervisor (out of fear he will get in trouble). This has resulted in an uncomfortable situation between the employee, their co-workers (who of course tell the supervisor when it is a concern about one of the consumers), and the program supervisor. It’s feels like a super-awkward game of telephone. It’s not healthy for the staff dynamics in the home.

So, my dilemma is this, at what point is this anxiety too much for our program? The employee has shared that they take medication for panic attacks so it sounds like they are getting treatment from somebody. As an agency we want to be understanding of someone’s symptoms and support them in getting symptom relief/learning to cope with them. I want to give this employee the opportunity to get their anxiety under control. We’re a pretty relaxed and tolerant program. We give our staff lots of feedback and opportunity to address any performance concerns. In addition, I understand what anxiety is like and I know sometimes it makes it hard for me to do everything I need to do at my job. Heck, at this point I have anxiety about THEIR anxiety which is making it difficult for me to focus on other aspects of my job. The program supervisor is working on getting the team on the same page and trying to reassure this anxious staff that their job is not in jeopardy (yet).

This employee has some important strengths and I think they could do well in our agency. But, if this anxiety continues to negatively impact other staff or we see if impact our consumers, then we will eventually need to let them go. Which will make me feel like a hypocrite. An unfeeling, unsympathetic hypocrite.

What would you do in this situation? Would love to hear some advice on this one.

Anxiety · Gym · Physical Health · Self-Care · Social Anxiety

Braving the gym

I almost let my anxiety run me out of the gym without working out this afternoon. But first, a little backstory.

First, I HATE GYMS. I think they are awful. I’ve yet to meet a gym that I felt comfortable at. So many people I don’t know, so much spandex, I sweat profusely, so much…everything. Did I mention I once passed out in my college gym while on a treadmill and broke my nose? I absolutely hate gyms. However, desperate times call for desperate measures. Over the summer I started jogging again both to lose some weight (the Freshman 15 is nothing compared to the Ph.D. 40) and to help with my stress level. I completed the Couch to 5K plan and kept up the jogging for 2-3X/week through the first couple weeks of the Fall semester.

Then, as usual when I’m stressed, my exercise (and self-care) inevitably trailed off until I wasn’t exercising at all. There was weight gain. I’m talking the kind of weight gain that keeps you from wearing 85% of your clothing (at this point, I’ve only got 4 outfits I can wear to work). I was eating sweets every day and using the drive thru with too much frequency. In addition to not looking great, I felt gross and uncomfortable in my clothes. I kept telling myself that when classes ended I would get back to jogging and yoga. Not surprisingly, when classes ended a few weeks ago, I did not start jogging (it’s cold!) or doing yoga at home.

I have a professional conference I’m presenting some of my research at in Washington, D.C. in mid-January. My first one so of course I’m anxious about the whole thing. It’s a requirement for school. Adding to that anxiety is concern (terror) about whether I’m going to have anything appropriate to wear. All my “professional” clothing is too tight. I don’t mean a little snug, I mean that it looks borderline obscene and rips if I try to sit down. I’m really strapped for cash, shelling out for this conference already added over $1000 to my credit card, so I really can’t afford to go out and buy a suit in a larger size.

That’s how I ended up with a gym membership. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make myself start jogging in the cold weather. So, I joined Planet Fitness because they are the least expensive gym in town (see above comment about lack of funds) and I’m desperate to lose weight so I can fit into my clothing. I broke down and did that on Friday (today is Monday). I’ve been each day since Friday (except Saturday – we helped a friend move which counted as my daily workout). The first couple of days weren’t too bad – I managed to find times that the gym was relatively empty. The physical set up is not great for me – I wish there was a set of stairs that didn’t require me to walk across an open floor to get to the second floor– the workout equipment on the second floor is less intimidating.

Today was very unpleasant. It was a bad day at work. I went to the gym as planned, changed into my workout clothes, and looked in the mirror (MISTAKE). I realized that, what was an appropriate workout shirt to wear outside in the August heat, showed more of my body than I was comfortable with now that I was inside of a building with a bunch of people I didn’t know. I wanted to put my regular clothes back on and run out of there. I almost did. It took me several minutes to convince myself to walk about of the locking room. The walk to the stairs was so uncomfortable – I felt that everyone was staring and judging me. Logically I know that most of the people in that gym didn’t give a flying **** about me or my clothing, but it felt as though they were all looking in my direction.

I managed to make it up the stairs and onto an elliptical machine in the corner. Which was fine until ten minutes later when two women started using other machines near me. I heard them and almost stopped my workout and ran back to the locker room. The idea of them being so close when I was feeling vulnerable because of my clothing and crappy day was a lot to handle. I didn’t fully do my cool down because I was so eager to get out of there. I called my sister before I left the locker room, so I didn’t have to make eye contact or interact with anyone on my way out.

So, obviously today was not a pleasant experience for me. However, I want to try to identify some positives in the situation to lessen the memory of my anxiety

1. Despite my mind and my body telling me to run away, I did not. Yay for
me!

2. I managed to walk across the open space to access the stairs to the
second floor…twice. Despite my fear and discomfort.

3. I was able to continue using the machine when surprised by other gym
patrons. My anxiety was present but did not prevent me from
accomplishing my goal.

Tomorrow, the real test comes. After such an unpleasant experience, will my anxiety convince me to skip tomorrow’s workout? It will be a battle between my desire for health and my desire to not be around people. Who will win?

As always, ending on happy doggie note. Check out the picture of the pup above. He’s so sweet when he sleeps.

Anxiety · Life Anxiety · Slowing down · Uncategorized

Slowing Down Is Almost Worse

Hello all! I know it’s been a while since I’ve written anything. As you can probably tell by my last post, life was pretty hectic for a while. There was family illness, work chaos, and school pressure. It took all of my energy to get out of bed and run from one responsibility to the next. I had no time or energy left over self-reflection (my mind/body were in survival mode). Things have calmed down for now (knock on wood) so I’m hoping posting can be a regular thing again.

As I mentioned, there was little time for me to think about myself or life over the past several months. In a way, there is something I find comfortable and familiar in being over-booked and stressed. I don’t always like it but I’ve felt like that so many times in my life that it is almost reassuring – I know how to be in survival mode. My path forward is always clear when life is like that. I just need to do whatever is necessary to make it to the next minute. I don’t have to think as much, it is almost like I turn part of that anxious brain off for a brief time. I know how to function as a stressed out individual. I’m not saying I like it. Nobody enjoys not sleeping, lack of exercise, and binge eating. It makes my body feel gross and then I stress more at the fact that I’m not taking care of myself.

BUT, honestly, sometimes not feeling overwhelmed and at the end of my rope is worse. I don’t know what to do when I’m not pulled in 50 different directions. If I’m not thinking about others then I have to pay attention to myself. It’s uncomfortable and unnerving to do that. I have to think about things that are going on in my mind and my body. I have to think about why I feel angry at people in my life that I care about. I have to think about why I don’t feel fulfilled or satisfied with some aspects of my life. I have to deal with an underlying desire for more in life, even though can’t identify what “more” I want. I have to face feelings that I am trapped in some ways. Trapped in a life of repetition, in a cycle of work -> home -> cook dinner -> watch TV -> sleep -> work again without end. It feels like I’m being smothered by monotony. There is no escape from this cycle because that’s just how life is – it’s how we survive.

I could go on and on, getting darker and darker in my thought process, but I’ll stop there. This is why I stay busy, this is why I take on too much, and this is why I over-extend myself. Because it’s easier to walk around thinking about how much I have to do than to thinking about some intangible thing (“more”) that I can neither define nor achieve. I’m aware that this desire for something is part of my anxiety – the opposite part side of being anxious about juggling a bunch of different responsibilities. I’m less familiar with this side of my anxiety – it’s particularly disconcerting. I’m looking forward to when an onslaught of responsibilities and problems return – at least I know what to do with all of that!

Last, but not least, check out the pictures of the pups at the top! They are rarely still enough for me to take a picture of all 3 but I lucked out the other morning. Just wanted to end this on a positive note!

Anxiety · Relationships

Significant Others & Anxiety

“Oh, you started a blog? Can I read it?”

NO!

I’m sitting here with a glass of wine (a rarity for me on a weekday) mulling over the above conversation and how odd it is that the person who should know the most about me/my anxiety is the person that I try the hardest to hide it from. My husband. With whom I do everything in my power NOT to talk about my mental health.

Admittedly, this is ridiculous. We live together, it’s pretty hard to hide when your mental health is not stellar from someone who is around you each night. He knows I experience anxiety, particularly social anxiety. It’s what keeps me from wanting to go hang out with our friends on the weekends, what causes me to decline attending his work events (for the first year his work teased him about not believing I was a real person – so now he keeps a picture of our wedding on his desk), what causes me to recoil every time he suggests traveling to see an old friend of his, and occasionally (not proud of this one) what, in the past, caused me to drink too much when I was around his friends to help me make it through an evening with people I barely knew. He’s pretty darn familiar with my anxiety. No doubt he’s been making excuses for years to explain my behavior.

Nevertheless, I prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist. I can talk about it in the abstract – that I have it, it’s often a problem, and these are the situations when it typically increases. But, for whatever reason, I can’t bring myself to point out my anxiety in the moment. It’s too hard for me to say “I feel really anxious today and I don’t know why” or “my anxiety made it really hard to do ___ today and I did/did not do what I needed to.”  Instead I use code words (I know they’re code words, I haven’t figured out if my husband does) like “I’m really tired,” “I don’t feel well,” or “It was just a tough day.”

I’m aware that this is poor communication on my part. If I had a client doing this I would urge them to work on their communication skills ASAP. I’ve made great strides since moving back to my hometown in talking to my parents and siblings openly about my anxiety (wish I could have done that as a teenager). I can talk to friends about it until I’m blue in the face. But, I hit this roadblock when I think about being brutally honest with my husband. Maybe it’s part of my own denial – if I can make him think that I’m ok then it’s easier to lie to myself when I’m struggling. Maybe I just don’t want to appear weak or needy to him. Whatever it is, it’s dysfunctional and I need to work on it. End of musings.

I’m including a picture of my puppy because he is too cute for words and it’s a happy way to end this post about my dysfunctional communication habits. Tell me he doesn’t have the sweetest face! He’s chilling in my big reading chair in my office, where he usually hangs out while I do my classwork each night.