Comfort: how I’ve been withdrawing as a response to work stress

I work for a company that is either right at or already past a precipice that I have unfortunately lived through before. We as employees don’t know whether we are fighting to keep it afloat, or if it will still be around in the next few years. The future is scary and uncertain. As part of that process, over the past two years our ability to function as “empowered” employees has been increasingly suppressed. This means that from a practical standpoint, my colleagues and I often feel like we are trapped in a vice while simultaneously drowning in unreasonable expectations.*

The pressure waxes and wanes on an irregular schedule. When the stress gets particularly bad, I find that I tend to crawl into a certain place within myself. This retreat takes the form of a hybrid of emotional and practical behaviors akin to “battening down the hatches.”

If I look at this from a detached perspective, I find it interesting. It differs, slightly, from how I dealt with stress as an adult up through the middle of last year. Prior to that point, I had often responded to stress or anxiety by drinking heavily. Last year, I was doing a lot of that, and I reached a point during the summer where I was disgusted enough with myself that I quit drinking alcohol, cold turkey. As the months of sobriety added up, I reasoned that I would be better able to handle stress because I would always have a clearer, sharper mind than I’d had when I was drinking every night.

Of course, as the stress level ratcheted itself ever higher over the course of this year, dealing with it in a non-destructive way became more and more challenging. Rather than (re)turning to the bottle and possibly getting myself into trouble, however, I instead started what turned out to be a project that has evolved and grown throughout the year.

The stress I have with respect to my job comes from several places. Ultimately, my greatest stressor is a fear that I will lose my job for reasons ranging from corporate bankruptcy to local closure to personal failure. As such, I started a “preparation for loss of job” project.

The project has several components that I have fleshed out over the months since I started it. I laid the groundwork in March via notes I made in my phone, which I then expanded upon in both Google Sheets and a college-ruled notebook. I went back to it in July, and again on several occasions during each of the past three months, continually expanding the details. I created a budget, which has been whittled down and refined quite a bit since its incarnation, along with a plan for stretching my emergency fund; a plan for eating on a very low budget (with food price lists, meal costs and schedules, rudimentary shopping schedules, etc.); plans for how I would use my time to recover and rebuild myself; and so on. I won’t bore you with the details, but I’ve put more into it than I ever imagined I would at this stage of my life.

Thinking back on those first notes, what my detached self finds interesting about all of this is that I’ve almost exclusively worked on it while experiencing a heightened amount of anxiety. When I’m having a day like I had last Friday, where I spent my entire morning absolutely dreading going to work, I tend to draw comfort from the act of retreating into my “preparing” mental space. It’s not a positive place, per se: in times like these, I am almost always alone, anxious and withdrawn, focused on moving around pieces to potentially stretch dollars. It’s an activity driven by a reaction to fear, manifesting itself as a somewhat proactive project.

At any rate, though, time passes. Progress on the project is made. And when I get to the point where I have to get ready for work, I’m able to know that my plan is better than it was yesterday. I shower, drink a big cup of coffee, put on my public face, and try to have a great day.

*Side note: For the record, I have a great boss who fully supports us. I still feel terrible about my job most of the time.

Thanks for reading this post by Russ (@DischordantRuss) at Dischordant Forms. Comments are welcome!

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2 Comments on “Comfort: how I’ve been withdrawing as a response to work stress”

  1. walt walker says:

    Interesting. My company is approaching a similar precipice, I think. I probably ought to do something like what you’re doing. However, I’m not stressed about it. In fact, a part of me would feel liberated if it were to happen.

    Good to see you back!

    • Russ says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Walt, and my apologies for taking 3+ weeks to respond.

      I agree on the “liberating” idea to a certain extent. I’ve actually been fighting the impulse to think along those lines, because I’ve already been in a position where I found it difficult to secure a new job earlier in this decade. During that time, I enjoyed the feeling of liberation for a while, but soon had to deal with depression and the consequences of having no income or savings, which I do not wish to revisit. My alternative has been to do my best at my job, and to plan for the worst “just in case.” Hopefully, I’ll be able to have some say in the path of my career over the next few years.

      Thanks for reading and replying to this post, Walt. Please know that I always appreciate it! And thank you for your patience.


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