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I tend to get very stressed out about how things play out around me in the workplace. A lot of the stress and anxiety comes from high level decisions and changes made by management and executives that are not necessarily detrimental to me but definitely change the workplace environment and expectations causing me to be consumed with inconsolable worry and anxiety.

As I get older I have been sufferring more and more anxiety attacks. We know the symptoms, feeling like I can't get a breath, heart pounding, cold sweats. Certainly my excessive worrying has helped me avoid bad situations in the past but more often than not my irrational worry and anxiety turns out to be unfounded, with little basis in logical fact (not that rational and logical thought really help; the fear is not rational).

Fear is the mind-killer

I feel like this hinders me severely in my career. My coworkers and boss have taken notice and this stresses me out even more because now I am afraid they think me weak.

My career aspirations are to make it into management someday because I am successful as a lead in turning around failing software projects and turning them into a success. I love working with people and clients and love to coach and guide people. I feel I would be a postive manager.

My anxiety attacks are a manifestation of my stress, however will management think me too weak to take charge and be an effective leader?

Am I too weak to be a good manager someday? Perhaps I need to come to terms with my own shortcomings as it seems my other peers are much more easy going with chaos going on around them?

  • 7
    Fear is the mind-killer Stick your hand in this box and all your fear problems will be solved. – Rarity Apr 17 '12 at 14:14
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    @Rarity I am not the Kwitsatz Haderach so doing so would be foolish ;) – maple_shaft Apr 17 '12 at 14:18
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    Foolish or no, either outcome will solve your fear problems... – Rarity Apr 17 '12 at 14:39
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    PLEASE NOTE -- Dealing with medical problems is off topic. How they would affect your workplace and your career is on topic. Any answers should address this question as such. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 17 '12 at 15:47
  • Sometimes you have to say... youtube.com/watch?v=i37uttMA6Mc – jfrankcarr Apr 18 '12 at 12:00
16

Because I'm not remotely a mental health professional, I'm going to focus purely on the Workplace-related questions. Please don't for a second think I am ignoring or do not respect very real mental health concerns.

That being said, with the exception of your confident statement in the middle, you just described almost every good software developer I've ever worked with, for, or managed! (And a few bad ones, too.)

I'm going to address some of your statements individually:

  • Decisions made at managerial levels above you are causing you to be consumed with worry and anxiety. -- How are these decisions being communicated with you and your peers? If your managers are dictating from on high, and they are not welcoming input or discussion, I'd be stressed out, too, especially if I am a developer who can see the big picture, who interfaces with clients, and who has a desire for positive outcomes for everyone. In other words, you care. This is good. Tipping over into all-consuming worry? Not so good, but sometimes not entirely your fault -- if I, as a manager, didn't constantly communicate with and not to my employees, I'd expect to face a stressed-out bunch. So, stop for a minute and think: are you worrying because something is unknown because your manager is a bad communicator? Don't own that worry, if that's the case. Confront it and make the manager be better (you said you like to coach, yes?)
  • Your boss and coworkers have noticed and might think you're weak, which makes you feel worse. -- Is this a perception, or have your boss and coworkers actually come up to you and said "suck it up, weakling!" If your boss hasn't, and this is a perception, go talk to him or her immediately and get the facts out in the open. You can only work positively with facts.
  • You confidently stated the things you are good at (turning around failing projects, coaching and guiding people) -- weaklings don't do that. Actual weaklings, and people who have little to no utility as leaders, tend not to find any positive factors about themselves or their work. You give yourself the credit you are due (and, to localize this answer for a moment, given the questions and answers and engagement you show on Programmers.SE, you absolutely should give yourself this credit). This is a good thing. It is clearly done without arrogance, and with confidence, which is an even better thing.
  • You think you have shortcomings -- Yep. You probably do, just like we all do. Dwell not on those, but on all the positive things you know are true. Work on your shortcomings, here, with a coach, whatever the case may be -- just like you like to coach others, let someone else coach you. It's why they (and mentors, and good people on SE) exist: because we all have shortcomings and we all consistently work at getting better.
  • You worry about irrelevance -- I find this one amusing, because in my experience, managers are the first to go. I've been through all the booms & busts, and it's not the developers who get tossed aside first. And it's not the out-of-work managers who can name their price in the next job: it's solid, thoughtful, productive developers. Usually the ones who worry too much, too. The ones who care.

Like others have answered, have a discussion with your boss, especially if communication is poor, and especially if you have a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder of any sort.

If you have not had any official, negative performance evaluations, then your conversation can go something like "You see my productivity and value to the company and my peers? Well, I'm stressed out to the max because of X, Y, Z. Can we work together to mitigate that stress in some way?" Managers worth their salt will have been trained or at least had discussions with HR folks to address these concerns. A blocker that is all stress is no different in its need to be cleared than a blocker that is technical in nature. Your manager should work with you to clear blockers. If you have had official, negative performance evaluations, then your manager should be working with you on a performance management plan that will enable you to succeed, not punish you for having the brain that you do.

Either way, that conversation is not a sign of weakness; it's a sign of maturity.

  • 4
    Thank you for this answer. I really feel like you get me and just reading this made me feel like a million bucks! I would hug you if it didn't weird you out! ;) – maple_shaft Apr 18 '12 at 0:41
  • @maple_shaft No worries. :) I am truly glad it helped. – jcmeloni Apr 18 '12 at 1:00
  • Good answer, but you are a bit off in your third point about confidence. People who are bad at technical things generally believe that they are good. self doubt, however, is usually an indicator of someone who is actually good... – daaxix Mar 10 '14 at 5:29
11

It sounds like you may have an anxiety disorder. You should consult with your doctor and perhaps a psychologist/psychiatrist about dealing with this. It is unfortunately more and more common. This is not something you did wrong or something you are at fault for. But once you recognize it you are responsible for addressing it.

Fortunately there are medicines that allow people with anxiety disorders to function at some approximation of normality. There are also ways of dealing with them in a non-medical manner. But all of these are best addressed by medical professionals, so I am going to leave that part of the answer to them.

As for dealing with anxiety in the workplace, yes it can affect the perception of you in the eyes of others. Those who do not understand what you are dealing with and do not recognize the symptoms are likely to resist working with you as you may be difficult to be rational with.

I feel like this hinders me severely in my career. My coworkers and boss have taken notice and this stresses me out even more because now I am afraid they think me weak.

Your coworkers are probably concerned for you. The perception is probably not so much that you are weak as that you can be irrational or erratic. This can be disconcerting to others who have to deal with you. Part of the workplace is the social aspect. In most positions your career is advanced not just by your ability to perform tasks but by your ability to work with a team. If you refuse to address your anxiety it likely will impact your ability to progress in your career.

Am I too weak to be a good manager someday? Perhaps I need to come to terms with my own shortcomings as it seems my other peers are much more easy going with chaos going on around them?

I have known quite a few people who also have anxiety disorders that though therapy and medicine have led quite productive lives. You recognize that you have a problem and that is an important part of any treatment. Now you must decide how you want to deal with that problem.

  • 1
    Never considered the irrational and erratic part... sort of like how when you go to the dog park, all the dogs tend to avoid or pick on the hyper-anxious or fearful dogs. I exude disgusting weakness. Yikes. – maple_shaft Apr 17 '12 at 14:53
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    @Karlson I don't trust shrinks or pills. I have seen both ruin lives, would much rather find a natural or wholesome solution, but I digress, I want to avoid conversations about how to mitigate the stress. That would be offtopic. Let's keep the focus on The Workplace. – maple_shaft Apr 17 '12 at 15:09
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    @maple_shaft My comment was in jest and you seem to take it too seriously. "Don't take life too seriously. You'll never get out of it alive" -- Elbert Hubbard(?) – Karlson Apr 17 '12 at 15:31
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    @Chad Paranoia ... I do tend to think the worst of people. I wasn't always this way. When I was a child I paid the price for being too trusting. Maybe I do have some serious unresolved issues? My point is that I just want to try all the other options before I turn to pills. – maple_shaft Apr 17 '12 at 15:39
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    @maple_shaft - That would be off topic, and why I did not add my comment to the answer. I simply urge you, on a personal level, to consider if your aversion to try pills is linked to the same anxiety you are trying to deal with. Your anxiety is most likely affecting both your personal and professional life. How you deal with it is your choice and off topic. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 17 '12 at 15:45
8

I second Chad in the sentiment that your co-workers are likely concerned about you rather than at all disgusted by you. I have a couple of disorders recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act and it has always, always been the case that when I'm freaking out about my performance or attitude or whatever, my co-workers and boss were worried about my health and not my productivity or ability to do my job. So this is my advice:

  • Go to a psychiatrist not for treatment, but for diagnosis. If (if!) you actually have an anxiety disorder, you are afforded some protections under the ADA. Unfortunately, you can't get them without an official diagnosis. If your health insurance doesn't cover such things, look to your local universities with psych programs to get a diagnostic appointment on the (relatively) cheap.
  • Search through some anxiety forums for book recommendations; there are many that deal specifically with stress in the workplace (I haven't read any, so I can't recommend them personally). Believe it or not, LiveJournal is actually a really good place for mental health communities.
  • Not everyone will agree with me on this, but have an honest discussion with your boss. You don't necessarily need to "out" yourself to all of your coworkers, but good managers will want to help you succeed. Assuming you have a good manager, just having this talk will probably ease a lot of your anxiety, because you won't be so concerned about negative impressions.

Having stress and anxiety does not make you weak--on the contrary, acknowledging them and looking for solutions makes you stronger. As long as you're willing to address the problem, there is absolutely no reason you can't advance in your career. It's also worth noting that if, as you say, much of your anxiety has to do with decisions made by higher-ups, being the one making those decisions might in itself be a great relief for you.

  • 1
    +1 for having an honest discussion with the boss & acknowledgement being powerful. – jcmeloni Apr 18 '12 at 12:44
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As others have said, psychological ("shrinks") or psychiatric ("shrinks with pills") treatment can help lessen the severity of your symptoms and make it possible for you to work more productively and with fewer symptoms.
It is also an issue you should bring up with HR and your immediate supervisor if you feel comfortable doing so: "I occasionally have panic attacks, if this happens insert best thing to do here"

Also note that at least in the United States a recognized psychiatric condition (Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, etc.) can be grounds for "reasonable accommodations" under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Other jurisdictions may view psychiatric conditions as medical issues/disabilities and have similar protections.


Regarding being "too weak" to be a good manager, I don't think psychiatric conditions are a sign of "weakness" - That's a pretty ancient mindset and I think it's generally recognized that they are a medical condition that can be treated effectively.

I would note however that management positions quite often add stress (you're now responsible for the deadlines if they're missed, you may have to deal with team conflicts, or telling other departments to get bent) and if your personality is not one that can handle that, particularly if it triggers your anxiety, management may not be a role you want to take on.
That is also something you can re-evaluate on an ongoing basis: If in a year you feel you can handle the extra work, responsibility and stress by all means pursue it, but always remember that your health (physical and mental) is far more important than career advancement.

  • 1
    you're now responsible for the deadlines if they're missed I am already held to such standards as it is. I just see where the software industry (the world) will be in 5-10 years and I worry about becoming irrelevant and penniless. Managers are rarely irrelevant and if they are, then they make enough money to afford being irrelevant for a while. – maple_shaft Apr 17 '12 at 17:19
5

It is nothing personal, it is just business.

This is a phrase you'll hear in every day life in the corporate world. Everyone has different abilities to deal with stress - what is considered chaotic and stressful in some companies will be considered normal in others. It all depends on what the company environment is. The sort of stressful levels for people at some consulting companies (say, "white shoe" consulting companies like KPMG or McKinsey) will be too much for many people. Add to that the "up or out" mentality and some people would be reduced to tears in months. People who thrive in those environments "die of boredom" in less stressful environments.

I tend to get very stressed out about how things play out around me in the workplace. A lot of the stress and anxiety comes from high level decisions and changes made by management and executives that are not necessarily detrimental to me but definitely change the workplace environment and expectations causing me to be consumed with inconsolable worry and anxiety.

Based on this remark, I think it is driven by a feeling that you have no control, or things are out of control. This is similar to why people feel scared when flying and don't feel scared when driving; even though flying is safer, the lack of control makes passengers feel unsafe compared to when they are driving a car.

Like the others, I'm going to recommend that you visit a therapist in order to determine what levels of stress are acceptable to yourself, and what levels are not. Learn where your boundaries are and if your current company is on the wrong side of those boundaries, one of you has to go: you, or the company.

I've worked with people who have anxiety disorders. The most severe one was diagnosed with a really bad case of Aspergers. With medication and a few small changes to the environment (like letting him have an office with a closeable door, instead of setting him adrift in the sea of cubicles), he was able to function.

  • Wow... you really opened my eyes up. I get extremely anxious when I fly and prefer to drive and not be driven places. The bulk of my anxiety must be that I have a need for control. This may be why I want to get into management as well. Thank you for that, I never considered this before. – maple_shaft Apr 18 '12 at 0:45
3

Anxiety attacks occur when you think about uncomfortable situations / things, you realize that you're freaking out, and then you freak out about it even further, in other words, you are freaking out about the fact that you're freaked out.

Try:

  • Just accept the fact that you're worried. Admit that you're facing a bad situation, and stop thinking further about how much you're worried about it. The less you think, the less you freak out.
  • Change your physical state. I find that sometimes mental states are easier to be switched out of if you're doing something physical different. Taking deep breaths is a good example, getting up to have a walk or start talking to other people helps too. This is temporary, but sometimes a temporary relieve is all you need.
  • Find out why. Sometimes your body is burnt out but your mind is not, therefore this could be a sign that you physically need a break. The opposite could be true, you're body is fit and able, but you have bitter feelings against your workplace / co-workers, and you are not willing to admit it. Once you figure out which case it is, try to address it by taking vacation or talk to your boss / co-workers.
  • Change your environment. You're stuck, you don't know why all this stress is getting to you, or you know why and you have tried to solve the issues (by taking vacation / talking to boss) and you still don't see much improvement, simply find a different job / different workplace. A whole new set of work / co-workers / culture might just be what you need to get different perspective and learn more about yourself. You might find that your new company has different values that are now working better for you, management styles are more aligned with yours, etc.
  • Put more focus on your hobbies. If you have something outside of work that you enjoy and are happy with, it would be a lot easier to switch your attention and forget about stress from work.
  • Seek support from others. Even if you just find ONE person with whom you can talk about this with, it will help. Find someone who is not judgmental and is not afraid to speak the truth. The act of sharing alone will help you calm down.
  • Improve yourself. It could be that you're just naturally this way (you might have a parent or a sibling who is that way and you were taught to react this way). Accept the fact that you were born / raised this way. Then try to address it by constantly reminding yourself to think more positively and worry less. You can't change yourself unless you're willing to try. Aside from the mental part, try getting out more often / do more physical activities, as physical improvements will also help.
0

Once you start learning more about anxiety disorders and helpful things that apply to getting it under control, like - natural solutions, self-directed therapy, how the mind body work together, general spiritual facts, nutrition, sleep, childhood experiences - you will probably be a better manager than 90% of the managers you work for.

Going through it will be a challenge and not fun at times - but there is a reward and that relative to your peers you will have expanded much more.

0

I had experienced anxiety desorders with panic attacs and have overcomed it, so here are my tips:

  • Take a normal amount of sleep (at least seven hours per night).

  • No coffee, no cigarettes, no tee (or at least try to take lesser amounts of coffee, smoke, etc).

  • Test your sugar (if your pancreas works well). This will exclude biological reasons.

  • Keep on track of your trigger=>reaction processes: what had been a reason for your first experience of axiety? What/who are the triggers? Do you experience ADA after certain situations, thoughts, or meetig some people?

Answering these questions for yourself will help you to understand the reasons and causes for your AD.

Normally, AD does not influence productivity if your work is to complete intellectual tasks.

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