Ask yourself this, “Do I fear calling in sick or taking vacation time? Do I worry that my tasks will pile up and fall behind while I’m gone? Or that others will try to do them and mess them up? Or that my boss will get impatient or look down on me for being absent?”
If you answered yes to the first question and to any of the following three, then you may suffer from work separation anxiety. Granted, this isn’t a clinical disorder, but it isn’t an ideal spot to be in. Furthermore, work stress will likely build up until you try to seek relief in unhealthy ways, such as substance use.
In the U.S, only about 11 percent of the roughly 25 million people who battle drug and alcohol addictions will enter a treatment program this year. Yes, some of this is due to inadequate insurance coverage. But, some people eschew seeking addiction treatment for fear of taking time away from their job.
What Is Work Separation Anxiety?
Separation Anxiety: The fear or distress that can happen to both children and adults when they think about separating from home or from the people they’ve become attached to.
The Mayo Clinic asserts that separation anxiety, when it comes to relationships, normally occurs in infants and toddlers 3 years and younger.
“Less often, separation anxiety disorder can also occur in teenagers and adults, causing significant problems leaving home or going to work. But treatment can help,” The Mayo Clinic asserts.
When it comes to work, separation anxiety involves worrying over being away from the workplace for a prolonged time. And, in many respects, it’s understandable. To many of us, our work is our lifeblood – way beyond simply a means of paying our bills.
Our professions define many of our identities, too. After all, how many times do you meet a new person and they ask, “What do you do for work?” within the first couple of minutes?
It can be hard to separate yourself from the notion that where you work and what you do there does not comprise your entire existence. This is especially true if you’re used to working late, taking your work home with you and always being on standby in case “something urgent” arises.
Signs and Potential Symptoms of Work Separation Anxiety
If you look at the symptoms The Mayo Clinic lists for regular separation anxiety, you can tweak the list a bit in order to presume the symptoms of work separation anxiety:
- Recurrent and excessive distress about anticipating or being away from the workplace or out of touch with colleagues
- Constant, excessive worry about losing the job, the company going under, or colleagues not being able to do your tasks the way you would do them
- Reluctance or refusal to take extended time away from work
- Worried that something bad happened with the company while you’re disconnected from communication – such as no phone nearby, no service or dead battery on your phone, or no internet connection for your laptop
- Repeated nightmares about losing your job or the company suffering a setback
- Frequent headaches, stomachaches, indigestion, hot flashes or other symptoms when away from the workplace
Separation anxiety often has a close relationship with:
- Anxiety disorders – such as generalized anxiety, panic disorders, panic attacks and phobias
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
According to Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., counselor and professor at Northern Illinois University, workplace separation anxiety is characterized by “the type of person who cannot enjoy a moment away from the office for fear of what might happen in your absence or what tasks you’re not completing when you’re actually supposed to be focused on leisure, not work.”
Work Stress Leading to Substance Abuse
The stress of feeling always plugged into work can cause some people to unwind with a substance like alcohol or marijuana at the end of a long day. But in other cases, people begin taking drugs to overcome the lack of sleep or because they think it will boost their performance on the job. A stimulant is usually the drug of choice in these situations, with possibilities including cocaine, Adderall and methamphetamine.
The real concern with somebody battling workplace separation anxiety and substance abuse is that they are caught in a vicious cycle. The substance use may help them always be on the go, but it’s adding more stress and anxiety to the equation. This is bound to coming to a breaking point, eventually.
Substance Abuse Leading to Loss of Job
Another tragedy is that this job that the work this individual can’t pull oneself away from is being jeopardized by the continued substance abuse. Job loss could occur if the individual:
- Says something inappropriate or offensive to a colleague
- Lashes out at a coworker
- Injures oneself or a colleague
- Gets caught using on the job
- Is hospitalized due to drug use at home and misses time from work
All of these erratic behaviors are more likely when an individual is actively addicted to drugs or alcohol. It’s worth saying again: Substance abuse directly jeopardizes their job standing. The longer the addiction rages on, it’s almost not a question if the person will lose their job or be demoted, but when.
Why Are Some People Afraid of Taking Time Away from Work for Rehab?
This is a valid question. Even though everyone who experiences work separation anxiety is not a drug addict, you almost have to be an addict to understand why other addicts don’t want to take the time away from work to rehabilitate.
When you’re actively addicted to a substance, paranoia is a common symptom or characteristic. Many addicts are constantly looking over their shoulder, so to speak. Addiction also rewires the brain to have thinking patterns that seem erratic or irrational to non-addicts.
A small sample of the myriad reasons people struggling with addiction may hesitate to take time off work for rehab include:
- They fear losing their job or a demotion. (There are actually FMLA laws in place to preserve your job as you seek substance abuse treatment.)
- They fear it would be letting down the rest of the company.
- It would be seen as an admission of guilt. They can’t imagine interactions with colleagues and bosses ever being the same after going to and returning from rehab.
- It would seemingly stifle all progress they had made toward the next promotion.
- They are overwhelmed by the thought of falling behind on their work.
- They don’t trust their colleagues to pick up the slack or to do the same quality of work in their absence.
- Some work cultures implicitly look down on people who take vacation time or too much time off work, even if paid time off is one of the employee benefits.
Many of these are valid concerns, but actually getting into a rehab program will help alleviate many of these anxieties.
Working Through Work Separation Anxiety in Rehab
Professional addiction treatment programs can not only help you work toward long-term sobriety, but the counseling provided can help you overcome struggles like work separation anxiety. Counselors can help you understand what a healthy workload looks like once you return to your job.
And, perhaps, the counseling will help you realize that you either need a change of scenery or a new role at work, especially if your current role is stifling your larger goals in life. No matter what, the previous status quo is no longer acceptable.
If you have a son, brother or husband who’s struggling with substance use and can’t seem to pull himself away from work, there’s a level of stubbornness to break through to get him to go to rehab. A professional intervention is likely your best option in this scenario. Reflections Recovery Center stages professional interventions for men 18 years and older.