How stress at work affected my anxiety levels and my life

First of all I want to tell you that I loved my job, I always did; well the job that I got paid to do anyway. However that is not the only job I did. Over the past five years my job role had expanded to include roles and reports that other people in my office were getting paid to do, almost to the point that I was single handedly creating all the marketing materials and the reports for all the accounts we held, as well as being a PA to the managing director Jane*. The reason I got to do the honours? Because I was too polite to say no, I didn’t want to be labelled as someone who is not flexible to help out her colleagues and directors when it’s needed. I was working for a SME so we were quite a close group of people working together. I didn’t want a reputation for being difficult.

How stress affected my anxiety levels and my lifeWhen Jane asked me to write up the report she was expecting from a colleague, I didn’t think anything of it. I was having a slow day, I had caught up with all my jobs for the day, and she told me it shouldn’t take more than an hour to put this report together – she really needed it and my colleague was off sick for a couple of days. Two hours later and I still wasn’t done, after trolling through my colleagues folders and notes for the project, I was having trouble putting together a marketing strategy for an account that I had no involvement in. I did it, but it took far longer than I expected; Jane didn’t ask me how long it took and I didn’t tell her – I didn’t want it to seem that I struggled doing it.

This was the start of many tasks, on top of what I was actually being paid to do. It became normal for Jane to ask me to do jobs that she should’ve been doing. Staying late every day became normal for me, then when that wasn’t enough to complete what I needed to do, I started coming in early, I was working 12 hours a day from 7am-7pm and being paid for 7.5hours, because I was on a wage rather than being paid by the hour, it was more difficult (or so I thought) to quantify my hours. I did ask for a raise, but I was told that because the business was struggling she couldn’t afford to pay me, but as soon as we picked up again, I will definitely get the raise I deserved. That was enough for me, I believed her.

And then 12 hours a day wasn’t enough so I started coming in Saturday mornings for a couple of hours, and then I was taking my laptop home to work over the weekend.

I was living on my own, so there was no-one there to tell me that I was working too much or that I was being taken advantage of. I didn’t see it at first, it felt good to be seen as so good at your job that you are handling marketing strategies for the entire client base for the company. Not only was I handling the client base, but I was handling Jane’s diary, booking her trips for her, planning her exhibitions. In fact, I was doing her job for her. All I saw was how far I’ve come in my career, and all I heard were the empty promises of being made partner.

When my actual accounts started suffering because of all of the added workload, that’s when Jane’s attitude changed too. I was asked to CC her in all my emails, I wasn’t allowed to make any decisions regarding my accounts, all of which I had set up and serviced by myself. To my list of reports, I was asked to give an hour to hour itinerary of what I had done during the day. None of my other colleagues were asked to do this, and the more they saw me take over Jane’s job role, the more they shunned me. They thought I had been promoted, and I didn’t even bother telling them about it. In the space of two years, I had become isolated, over worked, so stressed that I couldn’t sleep; all I did was work, eat and sleep. I had no energy to go the gym anymore, I was snapping at my family when I did see them which wasn’t very often, and I was working through my holidays.

How stress at work affected my anxiety levels and my lifeThere was no help at work, Jane avoided the issue like the plague, and I was beginning to feel used and angry. I resented having to do anything other than what I was being paid to do, but I had nowhere to vent that anger and resentment, so I imploded. My confidence dropped, I felt worthless, when I started to cry in cubicle at work, because I didn’t know what to do or where to start, I had that many things I needed doing, I decided I needed to tell someone. I had a meeting with Jane and told her how I felt. I explained that I wanted to go back to doing the job I was paid to do, and she can hire someone to do all the extra bits that I was doing for her. She totally agreed that I shouldn’t be working so many hours, that she never meant for me to get so stressed and so over worked, and that she will sort it out. I felt better about myself, I felt more in control than I had done in 2 years. But as the promises of being paid more and being made partner were false (it turned out, that as it was family run business they couldn’t make anyone outside of the family a director), so were her promises of relieving my workload.

In the weeks that followed, my stress and anxiety level rocketed. Jane did everything in her power to get me to stay behind, skype calls after 5pm, meetings that she scheduled in at 3pm and didn’t turn up for till 4.40, phone calls over the weekend, emails and text messages that she ‘needed’ a reply to in the evenings. By this time I had invested 10 years into this job, I didn’t know how to do anything else. The thought of walking away from it caused more anxiety than the extra workload.

One day I just snapped, I couldn’t take the pressure anymore. She had grudgingly accepted that I was leaving at 5 on the dot, but still expected me to do the workload I had doing in 12 hours now I had to do it in 7.5 hours. The atmosphere at work was awful, I couldn’t speak to anyone about it, because they all had this image of me handling everything so well, and I didn’t want to ruin that image. So I just left on Thursday afternoon, rang in sick the following day and went to Wales, for the weekend. I came back to work on Wednesday, and handed in my resignation. I had, had enough. The job really wasn’t worth getting ill over, even after I told her how anxious I was feeling, how stressed I was, how it was increasingly becoming difficult to hit a target that she had doubled in one year, she blamed me. I was told I was being melodramatic, the opportunity I was given was a chance that not many people get. I handed back the keys to the company car I had been given a few years earlier, to keep me ‘quite’ and said that I would rather someone else have that chance, I didn’t want it.

How stress at work affected my anxiety levels and my lifeAlthough I left that job, I took with me feelings of anxiety, fear of the future, so much anger and resentment that I could hardly contain it. Looking back on it now, I can see that I allowed it to happen, my insecurity and lack of confidence in my abilities allowed Jane to take advantage, all she did was show me appreciation and approval – I realise now that, that was something I has lacked growing up. That job had given me a purpose, something I didn’t even know I was looking for. I filled a void with work, I held loneliness at bay by working 65hr weeks. Walking away from that job was a huge loss that I grieved for a while – I still miss it. But it taught me about boundaries, it taught me that approval comes from within but more than anything it taught me that how I feel is so much more important than how people see me, or what their opinion of me is. My worth is not linked to how useful I am, or how much of a ‘good’ worker I am, I am worth more than that.

*Name has been changed.


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