It’s likely that most of us have experienced that sense of dread of going to work at some point in our lives. Given the results of numerous surveys stating high percentages of American workers who feel anxiety before work and experience the Sunday night blues in particular, it’s a major cause for concern. But what does it mean to “dread” going to work? Some resentment as the looming work week approaches and the weekend comes to an end is normal. But when the pre-work anxiety is harming your well-being, you need to address it.
Analyze the situation and break it down to make the problem more manageable. Is it just work, or is stress from other areas affecting your feelings about work? Anxiety when returning to work after time off is normal, especially following an extended break, such as maternity leave. If you’re in a new job, allow yourself time to adjust. If you’ve started dreading going to work in a role you were previously handling comfortably, what has changed, either at work or in yourself? Common reasons for work stress include feeling overburdened or underutilized, hostile colleagues or managers and a poor work-life balance.
Once you have identified the most likely reasons for dreading going to work, you can try to address each one. Work with your employers to let the job bring the best out of you. If you’re a valued employee, your employer may be more willing than you think to make accommodations or adjustments to your role. If your source of stress comes from the demands of your job, request extra training or resources to help you fulfill your duties. If you’re under-challenged at work, try requesting extra responsibilities and go to your boss with specific suggestions for tasks you’d like to take on. If it’s the commute rather than the job itself, it’s worth asking if some remote work is a possibility. Talk to colleagues, too, and see if they’re experiencing some of the same stressors. Just knowing you’re not alone is usually some comfort, and they may have valuable suggestions for dealing with the work or with difficult co-workers.
Leave work at work. You need time to recuperate. Don’t accept work calls, resist the temptation to check emails and if you’re not being paid for it, don’t try to get a head start on that daunting project. It’s difficult when we’re under pressure, but rest is essential to allow us to function at our best. If you struggle with this, find ways to distract yourself in the evenings and weekends. Sometimes, it helps to talk things out with someone outside of your workplace, but try not to let work rants take over your downtime. It’s also important to use your vacation time. Studies show those of us who never take a real vacation (i.e. a week or more) put our health at greater risk.
Even in the worst job situations, there’s usually something that counts as a plus, even though we sometimes have to hunt for it. Is there at least one colleague you get on with? Are you getting valuable experience at the company? Perhaps you enjoy the actual work once you’re there; it’s not uncommon for dread of going to work to be linked to generalized anxiety, with no identifiable cause. Why do you go to work? If it’s just for the paycheck, focus on that and what you’ll do with it. This isn’t easy and takes real effort. However, if you can find a positive to focus on, it can help you get through the tough times until things improve or you find another job. Remember to feel proud of what you achieve.
Make sure work is not overly dominant in your life. Make time for yourself, and use it to do enjoyable activities or spend time with family and friends. Creating that time and reserving it no matter what makes you feel you’re taking care of yourself and work doesn’t own you. It gives you something to look forward to. If you can do it without sacrificing your required sleep hours, get up early or go to bed a little later in order to create extra time in your day away from other responsibilities. Exercise is a great stress-reliever, and spending time with people who are important to you is another healthy way to deal with work-related anxiety.
If your dread of going to work lasts for a while, you'll probably consider quitting sooner or later. Although you may fantasize about escaping your job, dealing with this decision for real can cause further anxiety as you face feeling trapped in your current job or risking the uncertainties of resigning. So, how do you know when the time has come to move on?
How can we avoid developing these feelings of dread in the first place? Sometimes we have to take jobs we don’t like temporarily; focus from the beginning on what you’re getting out of it (maybe some useful experience or contacts or at least a paycheck). If you do decide to find an alternative position, make sure you don’t make a desperate rush into a situation that’s no better, just different. It’s very easy to do this when you feel the need to escape your current job, but the last thing you need is to end up in the same circumstance somewhere else. Allow yourself the time to find the right position. Although it won’t guarantee you’ll never again have that tinge of regret that the weekend is over, at least you shouldn’t have to dread going to work every day.
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