5 easy steps to overcome the dread of going to work
Dread is a terrible feeling. I remember getting in trouble growing up my mother would say “just wait until your father gets home and we tell him what you did.” We would wait all afternoon (usually this involved my sister as well), unaware of the beautiful sunny day, unable to shake the feeling that something terrible was just around the corner. It was apprehensive anticipation. Of course this dread was compounded by shame of whatever got us in trouble in the first place but I remember the physical and emotional feeling so well, especially when something is going on at work that seems to color the whole experience of the day, and the days leading up to it.
(As a side note, my father coming home never resulted in anything too catastrophic, usually loss of dessert or not being allowed outside after dinner. Our rampant imaginations for the afternoon were really the worst of the punishment.)
So what to do when we have to deal with this feeling as an adult?
Step 1: Why do you dread work?
If you can identify the cause, this may give you a focus to work toward change. Sometimes though, the situation isn’t in your power to change. You may not have enough staff or the acuity of all of your patients is high. Maybe, like me, you are working an NP short and transitioning to a new EMR. We are in the midst of a big transition and let’s face it, who doesn’t want work to be easier. Here’s the problem, there may not be a lot of ways to make it smoother or better right now. Wishing it was different just adds another layer of stress.
Work is hard sometimes and we don’t always have a ton of support.
Step 2: Don’t tell yourself you have no options and you have to go to work.
You don’t rely on your job for stability or to support your lifestyle. YOU RELY ON YOU. It doesn’t matter if you have been at your job for 2 days, 2 years or 2 decades. You are there because you choose to be and because of what you want/get from it. I go to work on Monday because at the end of the day, I want this job. I want the things it gives me, not only the material things but the opportunity to use my skills and talents.
I go to work because it gives me what I want for my life.
Step 3: Deal with the physical feeling.
The objection to taking responsibility in overcoming dread may lie in the discomfort of the physical sensations that accompany it. You may be saying “Yes but I physically feel the dread. I can’t think away the buzzing feeling in my chest or the midnight awakenings.”
Enter pursed-lip breathing: the easy hack to get the parasympathetic nervous system to take over and relax you already. Sure we all know that the parasympathetic nervous system can be activated to calm us down; drop the heart rate, decrease the respiratory rate, and mitigate anxiety. While yoga, meditation, and time in nature can all prompt activation of this system, dread has a way of showing up when there isn’t an hour to spare in a quiet therapeutic space.
Try the hack of pursed lip breathing: easy, quick, and can be done anywhere (and it does wonders for that annoying fluttery feeling in your chest). For those who may need a 2 second reminder, this is the practice of breathing in deeply through the nose and then exhaling a long, slow, controlled exhale through pursed lips. Even just a few breaths can relieve the physical sensations of dread.
Done and done.
Of course if you have the time, yoga and meditation wouldn’t hurt, and I totally support time in nature.
Step 4: Give up the idea that other people should do for us what we are struggling to do for ourselves.
Have you ever found yourself saying, “I just need more help” or “if they could do their job better, then I could do mine better.” It’s really fascinating that we expect our coworkers to not struggle when we are struggling. Remember, there are no perfect coworkers, no perfect days, no perfect systems or jobs. Accept this with compassion for yourself and your peers.
Step 4a: Acceptance isn’t a way out of being part of the solution.
Accepting that the situation isn’t perfect, that there are huge parts that we don’t control, and lack of support may lead to the temptation to throw in the towel which would be completely counterproductive.
Asking “what can I learn here?” can be a powerful catalyst from helplessness to growth.
Instead of looking at all the things that aren’t working, this one question can shift the focus toward even small solutions that can lead to improvements. Being proactive in small ways can reinforce a sense of control and purpose.
Step 5: Don’t be at mentally at work when you are physically in the pool.
Stop thinking about it already! Put the brakes on the rumination train. When you find the thought pop in or the tightness in the chest start, take a few deep, pursed-lip breaths and remind yourself that you want this job, that you go because it is your choice. As you breathe, return your focus to the things that are important for today.
Don’t let the hardness of work on Monday affect the present moment of Friday.
Sure, looking for another job is always an option but remember,
the grass is always greener where you water it.
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