Workplace Anxiety: Losing Sleep?

Workplace Anxiety: Losing Sleep? Sunday Night Anxiety, Monday Morning Anxiety, Anxiety Upon Waking

By Susan Meindl

Are there regular times in the week when you feel distressed and preoccupied by anxious feelings about work, school or other significant responsibilities?

  •     One client describes difficulty falling asleep on Sunday night, another woke every morning filled with a feeling of dread and anxiety. His mind spun with relentless fantasies about making poor decisions at work or about being fired from his job. He wished fervently to stay at home. He often found in fact that it was very difficult to drag himself out of bed.
  •     Another woman found herself feeling exhausted every morning, even though she had had a good night’s sleep. Her tension was so great that she sometimes even vomited before going to work. Her doctor could find no illness or organic reason to explain her fatigue or nausea.

For both these individuals, after they had been at work for an hour or so, the feelings subsided and they were able to perform normally.

What is going on here?

Underneath their anxiety and fear there was a great deal of powerful rage.

In therapeutic conversation it became clear that for varying reasons they all hated their workplaces.

•    For one it was a bullying boss who reminded her of her violent and capricious father.

•    For another client it was a hierarchical structure that made him constantly feel put down and inferior despite his skill and experience.

•    For a third it was the relentless and inhuman pace of the work that made success almost impossible despite sincere efforts and ability.

Rage is dangerous…..or unacceptable

For all these clients, there had been experiences in early life that had taught them in no uncertain terms that expressions of anger were unacceptable and would lead to being rejected by important others… or that anger was downright dangerous because it would provoke the reciprocal rage of powerful others, often parents or siblings, who could not be defended against.

To feel anger was to risk acting angry and that was felt to be too dangerous. As a result, even the inner recognition of anger had to be suppressed.

Shaking with rage… or with fear?

Anger has a strong physical component. It is part of our fight and flight system. When we are angry our bodies are flooded with chemicals that increase our metabolism and prepare us for action, either to attack, defend or escape.

We can feel these chemicals at work in our body. They make our heart race, our breathing quicken and create many more subtle manifestations of preparedness including changes in our digestive system such as voiding the bowls.

Our bodies may shake with anger or tremble in fear.

If you have ever driven through a stop sign and felt the flash of adrenaline when you realize that you have just done something significantly dangerous, you will perhaps recognize the immediacy of the sensation.

There are many similarities between the physical manifestations of anger and those of fear.

When anger is felt to be too dangerous an emotion, it is easy to translate the physical feelings as fear instead.

Both anxiety and depression can develop when an individual has learned to be afraid to express their anger.

Anger is an interpersonal emotion that has been evolved to help us indicate to others when they are distressing us or crossing an interpersonal boundary.

Used appropriately, quickly and in short bursts, anger helps us help others to respect us and helps us all to stay in good relationship.

•    Anxiety and depression keep us hobbled and passive in bad situations that we do not feel empowered to change.

•    Unconsciously we may use them to keep ourselves “safe” as if were still small and powerless children in a world that we cannot control.

Anger is an empowering emotion.

For the three individuals above, significant relief of their symptoms came from the understanding that they were actually angry about how their workplace affected them.

•    As they looked at their situation in therapy, they began to realize that they often reacted like their old frightened child self in the face of what felt like overwhelming power.

•    The fact that workplaces resemble parents as providers of livelihood played into their response.

Recognition that what they felt was anger and not anxiety helped them to shift from feelings of helplessness and a view of themselves as small, powerless, inadequate and vulnerable to a position where they took back or developed their adult ability to protest effectively and appropriately… or to leave an unacceptable situation.

If you suspect that your anxiety or depression may mask necessary and appropriate anger you might consider speaking to a therapist or counselor Discussing your feelings and examining your situation in a safe and protected space may be the first step to freeing and empowering yourself.

Susan Meindl, MA, is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Montreal Canada. She has a special interest in Jungian ideas and practices a Jungian approach to psychodynamic psychotherapy

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Lower photo: actor Christian Bale reportedly earned the nickname “Tandy” because he was always throwing tantrums. There have been a number of other actors who’ve shown an angry, dark and violent side in both their acting and real life, including Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro and Daniel Day Lewis.

From my post Creative potential – Anger and creativity.

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