At the start of the New Year, I noticed more than a few people hint in social media posts that they were less than keen on getting back to work.

Whilst some are chomping at the bit to get back into their routines and back to work, some are not. One account was speaking of their anxiety about going back to the office and confronting the daily pressures of running their own business.

Work anxiety is a thing, and I’m here to say I get it. I’ve been there. And I am there.

Intense pressure

Our sector is a high-pressure one. We deal with the general public, who are more demanding year after year. Our supply chain has had years of disruption due to COVID and the subsequent bounce-back which almost toppled the sector over.

We have lived through an incredibly intense period, and I don’t believe we have truly had a chance to take stock mentally of what we have all had to work through. We have not had the time to decompress or really comprehend the intense pressure we all went through as the UK opened back up after COVID. The truth of it was, despite the increased revenues, the stress was not worth it.

Let me as you this, through the screen: have you dreaded going to work over the last few years? Be honest with yourself. I have, and no one would blame you if you did too. Fixating problems out of your control. Creating lists of tasks that only get longer and never shorter. Eating poorly. Drinking far too much. Finding other things to do rather than focusing on the most immediate issue to fix. Sounding familiar? I’ve been there. I get it.

It’s anxiety and it’s poor mental health. I’ve been through it and I’m still managing it. I get those days when you’re mentally paralysed by it all. Fixed on your screen but unable to do anything productive despite your willpower and intention. Anxiety is just that. It stops you like a brick wall and can wipe you out for days. I’m coming out of the other side of a couple of days like that, and it does feel like your head clears when it does.

From my experience, it can be triggered by even the smallest detail. It could be an email from a supplier letting you know you’re not going to get what you ordered on time. It could be hearing from a string of clients that you have not got the business. It could be trying to solve a dispute. From there, it can spiral into something bigger, you fixate on it, and then you go around in circles in your head overthinking and sending yourself inwards.

It’s an awful thing to suffer from, and I believe there is more of it in the industry post-COVID and after the mammoth consumer bounce-back. I believe it can be found at all levels of our sector, whether it’s MDs and CEOs, fitters, fabricators, drivers and sales reps.

How I cope

Speaking from experience, there are things you can do yourself which can help put your mind in a better place. January can be a tough month. The weather is dull, the festivities of Christmas are over and the booze we all drink over that period can leave us chemically imbalanced and become more prone to bouts of depression and anxiety.

So first things first, it’s time to sort the diet out. Your body, both physical and mental, is an engine. What you put in it matters. Cut down on the booze and eat better. Beer is my weakness and I have kept away from it for a few weeks now. Trust me, it helps. I have also tried to eat healthier as the old shirts and suit jackets are getting a tad snug. Eating better will give you more energy and have you feeling more alert in the space of even a few days.

Try to cut down on social media. My personal feelings towards social media in general have soured over the last few years. Pretty much all platforms are vacuous, soul-sucking and mentally harmful. All are designed to create envy and jealousy. Especially platforms like Instagram where all you tend to see is perfection, which we know in the real world simply does not exist. In all honesty, if I did not have to use them for work I would not use them at all. But we are where we are and these things are now engrained in daily life. Cutting back on their use though can help clear your mind. I have been trying to do it myself. Trying to stop the endless scrolling, being taken in by what others are posting. It’s not a healthy thing to do.  If you’re in marketing you will have to use it for work, so you won’t be able to avoid it completely. But if you are going to use it, try and block either the content or people that you feel can either annoy or aggravate you. If you have to use it, at least try and make it a nicer place for you to be.

Spend time doing something else. As I wrote about last week, work is not life. We work to live as the saying goes. Learn to put the phone down, turn emails off, close the laptop and get out there and do something else. Go for walks, get on your bike, eat out, and organise something with your kids. I have been trying to spend more time on an evening and weekends with my own kids. They’re a perfect distraction from the pressures of daily life. I would much rather watch Encanto with my son four times a day than scroll endlessly through my emails!

Focus on a single task at a time. That to-do list might be long. Trust me, mine is never clear. But rather than attempt to tackle four things at a time, focus solely on one job at a time. It could be trying to complete a quote for a homeowner, or writing a PR piece, or even just responding to an email. Doing one thing at a time helps you build a rhythm and you actually end up getting more done.

Following on from that, try and remove distractions around you. Put phones away in your desk, and close tabs on your laptop you’re not using. Keep your workspace clean and tidy. I even put on headphones to drown out the noise around me if I feel I can’t focus. I choose some music and then get on with the job at hand. It does help keep the mind clear.

Finally, this is one I am trying to do more of but find the hardest: stop giving a shit about what other people think. That sounds blunt, and it’s meant to. Sometimes our anxiety and worry stem from focusing on what others think of us and what we’re doing. The only person that matters is you, and if you find yourself constantly trying to please other people, then perhaps ask yourself why, and whether that is something you really need to be doing. Putting others at the expense of yourself all of the time is incredibly unhealthy and can cause massive amounts of stress, and leads to you not looking after yourself as much as you should. Over the last 18 months, I have tried to become less attached to trying to please others and remind myself that I work for myself and my family. This is easier said than done, and most people like to make others happy, but a large part of that involves being concerned with what others think of us. Social media has not made this any better, indeed, it’s made it far worse. Try and learn to detach and put yourself first more often. Leave work at work and reserve some time for you at home.

The points I make above are derived from my own experiences, and hopefully something others can relate to if they have found themselves in a similar place. However, if you feel like you need professional help and support, the good people at the construction industry charity The Lighthouse Club are on hand to provide support:

There are other great bodies and charities out there to lean on should you need help from time to time, such as Mind and Andy’s Man Club.

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