Work anxiety mid-career, will it torpedo me or will I prevail?

Hi everyone - I came across this forum when I saw one of Ed Finkler’s presentations. I work in tech (though not software development) and I have GAD (diagnosed decades ago), I have had periods of major depression as well. Some of the things he said were very well known to me:

  • Having extreme emotions (anxiety) that does not match the severity of a situation.
  • Constructing bad outcomes and hyper focusing on them.
  • Feeling like people around you were getting through life with less “effort.”

I’ve worked a tech job for all of my formal career - it’s going on 17 years or something close. Work in particular has always been an anxiety catalyst though I have anxiety in general outside of work too (including social anxiety). I came up with the brilliant idea of pushing myself for growth and took a job that (after training/grace period) will have me in front of customers doing technical advisories, demos, and presentations (I work in post-sales engineering) much more so than ever before in my career, where before I would have meetings/presentations much less frequently.

Trying to focus and keep up with information overwhelm is made difficult by anxiety that derives threats from everywhere. I know I can be slower than my peer group to really come anywhere close to mastery over something (however I also sweat details and have empathy for others that is less common in peers… maybe some of those “super powers” Ed talks about).

I have a reasonable boss and I’ve made it into a good company and so in a perverse way I feel even more pressure because of this. I’ve moved on from other companies/jobs that sucked and now that I’m in a good place it’s a really heavy dose of “survival” anxiety - as in, if I don’t make it here, what the heck am I going to do for work? Because hey, why not, my work anxiety also tends to weave into existential anxiety. Even though my job pays me well enough to live and have benefits, I feel that being stuck at a desk with high anxiety is killing me slowly, so it’s a perverse feedback loop that I’m sure many of you will understand. I definitely feel better on weekends when I can get away from a keyboard and engage in manual tasks, projects, using tools and gross motor skills. I can see and feel things being “accomplished” this way, unlike any of the often intangible digital world of knowledge work.

I was glad to get off of meds last year and take a break (meds have typically not done anything notable for me), but now I’m back on it since the ramp-up anxiety is so bad… working toward my first customer interactions.

I’m forcing myself to move forward and figure either I’m going to “survive” this or just fall on my face, but I have to continually ignore the impulse to quit and run away from it. I have never liked working, really. I don’t even know if my tech career is well suited to me. But I had tremendous anxiety in other settings as well, including retail jobs when I was still school aged. Having to face customers and not know what they’re going to ask, and having to “be the expert” has rarely felt comfortable. In the meantime maybe my lottery numbers will hit. I honestly cannot get a sense of whether I’m going to make it in this job or not, it doesn’t feel good - I can only try and see.

I empathize with all of you going through mental health challenges. I hope in my journey I can find the right combination of meds, therapy, techniques that will take more of the edges off of this ridiculous anxiety. Mindfulness meditation helps somewhat.

It’s nice this forum is here, too bad there isn’t more activity. The niche of mental health & tech is a good one, I am sure there are a lot of us with shared experiences.

The greatest way of relieve anxiety is don´t giving a damn about the future , focus on today and let the life flow because there is no other way of living . Try to make a plan to follow and stick to it . If your give your best and even with that the plan failed you won’t be ashamed or sad about it .

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Definitely something to that (care less about the future, live a day at a time). I try to do daily guided meditation and think in these terms. I’ve been agonizing for weeks about my first big client presentations which are starting very soon. Every morning I as soon as my eyes blink open I am awash in anxiety and practice deep breathing and and repeat phrases or mantras like “I am safe, there is nothing dangerous happening.” Meds haven’t done much. I get in some walking when I can and I go outside and do things on weekends, where I usually feel better because I’m not behind a desk and I can go work on projects and spend family time. I’m trying not to “fight” myself and my anxiety, as that makes it worse. I am trying to accept it and move forward. Still, it is difficult. Most days are very tiring from being on edge. Relaxation is very hard. Not feeling a sense of doom constantly is very hard.

@mpstoic - Good for you for recognizing what tasks light you up and which ones cause a flare-up of anxiety. It’s a hard balance to find between fighting and accepting - and it takes a lot of energy. I’m sorry to hear meds haven’t done much, sometimes they’re able to take a bit of the edge off so that the rest of the stuff (meditation, etc) can seep into the cracks.

I’d also like to acknowledge that there’s a lot going on in the world right now to cause feeling a sense of doom. It’s not an out-of-place mood IMO. There’s a lot structurally that will hopefully shift but in the meantime…sometimes the day to day grind is just too much.

Best of luck with your presentations. When I have to present something I try to position myself as someone who is helping others read a map rather than ‘The Expert’. I get less stressed and it’s more collaborative.