When You Don’t Manage Work Stressors, You Pay The Price
Once upon a time on a regular day I ran some errands at the shopping mall. I got a much-needed day off, the first one since I started at a new job.
At the cash register in the drug store, I started to feel dizzy. Out of nowhere, my heart began to race. My vision turned into a dark haze, the peripheries pitch black, as if I was submerged in a deep river, sinking, trying to swim up towards the surface while a heavy force was pushing me down.
“This is not going well”, I thought.
I had to hold onto something or I’d collapse. I grabbed forward and clenched the cash register with all my might to stay upright, trying to regain control of my breathing so as to not pass out.
The cashier clearly saw my anguish. Probably looking like I was tripping, I told her “I see black”, widely opening my eyes, trying to blink away this dark patch that was closing in on me. She turned to her work phone and immediately called for support.
Still holding onto the cash register, I could feel myself about to faint if I didn’t sit down at this instance. If I’d faint right there, I would be out for who knows how long. Friendly strangers would probably call an ambulance. That was something I knew I didn’t need or want. I also didn’t want to hold up the queue.
To my right I could see the sides of an escalator. “If I make it there, I can lean against it”. I dragged myself over and dropped my weight against the sides.
As I sat there with my legs spread out like one of those big teddy bears, I started to cry. I felt embarrassed. I could see the people in the queue mentally scratching their heads, wondering on earth what drugs I was on or what illness I’d have.
At least the blank, tingling feeling subsided. The black tunnel-vision like view grew fainter and I regained full awareness within minutes.
A middle-aged lady came over to see if I was all right. She was kind and tried to reassure me. Recovering from what just had happened, I told her I was stressed out and “my job was shit”. She replied with an understanding nod. She asked if I had illnesses and whether I’d need an ambulance. I shaked my head. She then escorted me to the restrooms and had me pour cold water over my wrists.
I blame no one but myself for this situation. It was caused by:
- Me not handling work-related stress well
- Not protecting and acting on my boundaries at the workplace
- Stress piled up from working too much and not taking adequate breaks while at work nor afterwards
Who defines what working “too much” is? Who defines how much stress I can handle? I always play tough girl, but here my body was giving me a clear signal that I wasn’t properly taking care of her. I got punished with a warning.
This experience startled me. I realised I needed to tone it down a notch.
The next day I sat down with my manager and told them that I was not going to be doing extreme overtime anymore. And:
- I started taking breaks when I needed them, despite when “everyone else” already had theirs.
- I stopped nodding “yes” to every question before I even heard what it would require
- I let go of the weight I was voluntarily carrying to sustain the company.
In short, I changed my approach to work and started taking better care of myself. Had I not made any changes, who knows how the next warning sign would have presented itself. I didn’t have a near-pass-out experience like that ever since.