I’m 31 and I’ve been working in my first corporate job, as a Data Scientist for the past 2.5 years, prior to that I was doing my PhD, and doing some consulting work, about 10 hours a week. As I was also quite depressed and lonely at this time, (I think this is common for PhD students) I thought it would be good for me to work on teams, and have more interaction during the day, but I’m not sure if it’s working out for me. I’ve been suffering a lot of symptoms which I think are related to repressed anxiety; for the first few years a lot of terrible back pain and sciatica, more recently unbearable itching attacks over my whole body. I used to be in pain all day, now mostly I have back pain in the afternoon and in large meetings, and the itching attacks on the way home after work.

I think this is related to anxiety about being accused of incompetence or “slacking off” (although this has never happened and I’m not sure where it comes from). On days when I work from home (I work from home once a week), I can usually mange my anxiety by doing a few very focussed hours work in the morning, doing something else for the next few hours (housework, cooking or shopping) then maybe another hour in the afternoon. This is how I eventually finished my PhD, although it took a long time to come around to this way of working; I was initially spending too much time working and becoming crippled with anxiety.

At work however, I think waiting around in the afternoon for 5pm when I can’t do useful work and trying to look busy is causing me a lot of repressed anxiety which is exploding in my panic attacks. We have an open plan office so I get stressed that people can see my screen if I’m not doing something that looks like “work”. And if I go lie in the park or on the couch, someone will see me and think I’m being lazy. I’ve tried things like going for walks, taking a lunch break and meditating at work, but nothing’s worked yet. Also if I’ve missed my initial “fresh brain window” and I haven’t gotten any useful work done for the day, I’m a lot more stressed. Unfortunately we have daily standups at 10am which I hate (again I feel paranoid about being judged) and which usually stop me from getting back into things after.

It’s not affecting my work: I get good performance reviews and feedback from my collegues and I think that my professional development has been good. I think I do a good job of repressing/hiding it. I’ve been told that I seem like a calm and focussed person. I know intellectually that no one is expecting me to be switched on 100% of the time, but this doesn’t seem to help me subconsciously/emotionally. I’ve had the advice to “be more proactive in finding something useful to do” but my brain’s usually fried and I’m not able to. I think I’m just an intense person, I burn out quickly and I don’t naturally just “coast”. Also I’m not very motivated to climb the corporate ladder, this would be hard at my work anyway since we have a pretty flat corporate structure, so there’s not much room to move.

I’m also pretty uninspired by my job and unclear about my career goals. I don’t particularly want to move into management just for the sake of it, and I’m not really inspired by the purpose my work (or of any corporations that I can think of). I think maybe my personality isn’t suited for “business” and I’d be happier working in in research, although this work is hard to find these days. (My Myers-Briggs type is INFP if you believe in these things).

I wish that I could go home at lunch time, and that there was no expectation of “working” for 40 hours. I think I would get just as much done, and I’d even be happy to work a bit on the weekends since I’d be less burned out. But I don't think I can talk to my manager about this, I've never heard of a corporate workplace where it's acceptable to go home early if you're doing enough work.

My current ideas are:

  • Change to an academic job where there is less cultural expectation of “8-hour-day”
  • Work from home more, maybe 2-3 days a week.
  • Work 100% remote.
  • Take on more management responsibilities at work so that I’m more challenged/engaged during the day with routine matters, also so that I have more meetings so I look busier.
  • Take anxiety medication so that I can zone out and coast through the day (seems like a sad option)
  • Get a medical diagnosis of anxiety and use it to switch to part-time. I don’t really want to do this since I would be getting less money and doing just as much work just for the “luxury” of not having to sit in the office all day, which I think is unfair. Also I feel like it will mark me as disabled/disordered whereas I just think it’s part of my personality that has it’s pluses and minuses. And I’m worried about it harming my career or my chances for adopting or fostering kids in the future.
  • Just stick it out and hope that I grow out of it.

Has anyone had a similar experience? I would dearly love to hear from someone who’s been through a similar experience. Is my experience common?

  • 4
    Get a medical diagnosis of anxiety - So you have a self diagnosis? Is this correct? Perhaps get this confirmed by a doctor. Also just take one day at a time – Ed Heal Nov 18 '16 at 23:06
  • I think you may have low self esteem and depression. Please go to a doctor. – Ed Heal Nov 18 '16 at 23:13
  • VTC as this isn't the kind of thing we can cover on a Q&A site. This kind of post belongs on a forum, though I would recommend seeing a mental health professional instead. While some level of anxiety or fretting is normal for everyone, what you're describing isn't healthy. Not getting more than a few hours work in daily is not normal, no matter how "focussed" you are in the morning. – Lilienthal Nov 18 '16 at 23:19
  • 2
    None of the ideas you suggest are even remotely feasible and the fact that you don't recognise that is worrisome. I encourage you to talk to someone who can figure out whether you're simply struggling with a dead-end job or there's something else going on. – Lilienthal Nov 18 '16 at 23:19
  • 2
    The right anxiety medication will not make you "zone out and coast through the day", it's something that helps many people be functional and healthy again! If you do visit a professional, please don't let stigma about medication keep you from finding the right solution. – user812786 Nov 19 '16 at 4:32

What you are describing tells me that perhaps professional help from a Psychiatrist may be most beneficial in your case. It is a shame that there is stigma attached to seeking mental health but maybe one day that will change and the world will be a better place and being mentally in need of help will be no different than being physically in need of help.

You mentioned management - that is the LAST thing you ever want to think about. It's super insanely stressful just for someone without anxiety issues! I had to manage a group of people and I nearly went insane.

Changing to an academic job is WORSE. It's actually more than an 8-hour job. Trust me on this one.

Working from home is what most Americans would like to do, but it won't get rid of your anxiety. You will find other things to worry and obsess about until your anxiety is under control with behavior modification and/or medications. Same with working remote 100% - your brain will only find other things to worry about.

Take on more management responsibilities? Totally not recommended. For someone who is struggling with day to day work, management is a ten-fold headache. Multiply your anxiety x 150 and you'll get the sum of your headaches.

Getting a medical dx of anxiety is not such a bad idea. You may find that being on certain medications is a Godsend and you may actually feel normal. Just don't share any of your medical or mental health treatments at work...you WILL be judged, no matter what anyone says. Keep it quiet.

Just sticking it out and "growing out of it" is not an option. Anxiety is not something that attacks only young people or people fresh out of school or in the workforce; and if you have panic attacks, you need to get this under control with professional help before it balloons into full-blown depression, suicidal ideations or psychosis. It only takes a few triggers to throw someone with anxiety and panic attacks into the deep end.

My suggestion is to discreetly get some mental health help, maybe some behavior modification and/or medication and go from there. As Ed Heal said, take one day at a time. Good luck!

| improve this answer | |

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .