Work has me Crippled with Anxiety. Is it Time to Quit?
I saw a quote on Instagram recently from Charles Bukowski’s book, Factotum, which piqued my interest;
Like me, I’m sure there are millions that would find themselves nodding along in agreement. It should be noted that the main character, Chinaski, was a self-confessed alcoholic bum with no ambition. The below quote is that which precedes the above one;
“It was true that I didn’t have much ambition, but there ought to be a place for people without ambition, I mean a better place than the one usually reserved.
That’s an aside; I have no doubt there isn’t a soul reading this lacking in ambition. It did, however, bring my attention to the epidemic which sees many fall victim to anxiety and depression due to work pressures. Therein lies the narrative that one should be grateful for their job (regardless if it costs them their health and happiness), giving rise to guilt on top of a condition so devastating it can cause a man to take his life.
According to the WHO, the number of people suffering from depression and/or anxiety has increased by nearly 50% between 1990 and 2013.
That statistic is insane. And not exactly one we should expect those suffering day in, day out to be grateful for. But why do we appear to be accepting this as a new reality? I hear many people say, “oh that’s just the way the world is.” As if we’re supposed to be impervious to world hunger, climate change, and war fuelled by hate, greed, and ego.
Let’s take it back a few steps and focus solely on anxiety and depression which stems from the workplace, to deconstruct and modernize what Bukowski wrote 42 years ago because, well, times have changed. For one, technology. Secondly, whiskey was far more affordable back then.
Yes, practicing gratitude is incredibly powerful because it opens up a world taken for granted, and helps to overcome the brain’s hard-wired negativity bias (as discussed by Dr. Rick Hansen during his TEDx talk on Hardwiring Happiness).
Gratitude aside. For most people, the bulk of their waking hours is spent commuting, working, and thinking about work. For a growing portion of society, this existence is represented by a job that makes them miserable with the expectation that they should be grateful for it. I could dive into the semantics, but it’s irrelevant. Especially if you’re working for an ungrateful boss who’s all in on modern day slavery.
So why do so many accept this fate? Especially when the cost is their health?
Nobody has managed to say something so profound in as little words as The Dalai Lama when asked what surprised him most about humanity;
“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.
I’ve lost count of the number of highly educated and talented individuals with “envious” jobs making great money, who hate everything about what they do — day in, day out! The pressure to perform at such a high level has crippled them to the point where anxiety has taken over ALL aspects of their life: a life they’ve been told they should aspire to live!
When I ask them how long they’ve been living like this, the answer is never a few months — it’s years. It’s incredibly sad to see just how much punishment one is prepared to take to conform. All that stress for somebody else’s benefit. So I ask them, ‘why don’t you quit?’ To which they usually respond, “I’m too scared!” Such is the enormity of the fear injected by society. Ain’t that a bitch!
I can certainly relate — changing anything attached to so much stress that has been left to manifest for years is daunting because to some degree, within it lies some comfort — I can hear Alanis Morisette singing “isn’t it ironic,” as I type. And she’s right. Because our fear of failure is polarizing, the comfort lies in not having to try, which eradicates any potential for failure while being held hostage in one’s mind — a double edged prick stick for so many lacking belief in their undeniable potential.
Unfortunately, it’s not (yet) possible to pull a magic wand out your ass, wave it while saying, “abracadabra,” and all of sudden — BOOM — WHOOP-DE-DOO — life is sweet again! I can’t wait till J.K. Rowling figures out how to bring her Wizardry fiction to life either, but until then, the only person that can make change happen (if you can relate) is you.
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The longer it’s left to manifest, the worse it gets. Fortunately, there are options. Here’s three of them:
1. Address the issue with your boss to see if you can come to a resolution that ensures you don’t dread every day ahead. Sure, this will be scary, but if you go in there with some suggestions and solutions, you might just find yourself leaving with a big fat smile on your face. I know lots of people that have done this, and it has completely transformed their working lives, because, contrary to popular belief, many employers actually care. If you managed to end up with a bad one, fear not because you can always move on to option two.
2. Quit. Just do it, but be strategic about it. There’s a narrative in the world right now being sold all over social media telling you to do what you love. Ideologies are lovely, but this one just might be setting your expectations too high. This is not to say you can’t drastically improve the quality of your life — it’s merely a reminder that your options span beyond something you love 24/7 or bust! Your options are endless.
Setting up your own gig will bring with it many challenges. It’s marketed as simple, but in reality, it’s not. It requires a healthy dose of madness, passion, and obsession to name a few. But if that’s something you desire - go for it!
A slightly less stressful option would be to get a job doing something similar, or slightly different to your current role using the many skills you’ve acquired over the years for a company that actually appreciates you.
Execute on either, and in all likelihood your happiness index will shoot up as depression and anxiety levels fall way off!
3. Your third option is horrific. And terrifyingly, it’s the most popular. Unfortunately, if you’ve been suffering from debilitating anxiety for many years — your mind has been fine tuned to f*ck you, and you know this because the third option is to remain depressed while hoping for a miracle! I’m not saying you’ve ticked a box opting for depression, but without sugar coating it, that’s pretty much what’s happening on an unconscious level. And hopefully — by drawing your awareness to it — you’ll choose to live the life you deserve by choosing options one or two.
If I were you, and this has been your reality for years — I’d shoot with option two. And I’d get to work on formulating a plan to execute on it immediately. Not tomorrow. Today. Rope a loved one in to hold you accountable, so you don’t fall back into your old ways. It’s time for your resurrection. The second you definitively decide to take your life back, you will immediately begin to feel liberated and empowered by your decision.
An important point to note:
The decision needs to be for you, and nobody else. It’s your life, so you choose — nobody else should be granted such authority when it comes to your health. While it’s conceivable you’re taking others as well as yourself into consideration with options one & two; it’s inconceivable to think you’re only taking yourself into consideration if you opt to continue down your current path.
Sure, you might come up against some resistance and opposition, but what are they opposing? Your health, your happiness? It’s not like they understand — the only people on this planet that really understand are those that have lived it, so try not to take it personally. Regardless, do you really want to grant them that right?
This is your mental health. Not the board game RISK, or a game of Jenga. Mental Health deteriorates when ignored. The first step in the process to better health lies in a decision, and depending on the severity of your condition, it might just be the last because that one decision can make everything better. Sometimes the grass is greener — if it’s currently reminiscent of a silage pit then why not find out? One decision has the potential to drastically change your life for the better. It can cause a ripple effect of positivity throughout every facet of your life. And that’s a pretty exciting prospect if you ask me.
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To your health,