You’re an Anxious Person and Want to Quit Your Job. Here’s What to Do.


Craig Sawchuk, co-chair
 for clinical practice at the Mayo Clinic, suggests that uncertainty is a major trigger for anxiety. This rings true for many people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), including me. In 2016, I experienced intense anxiety when I gave notice at my job, and the unwelcome chorus of anxious thoughts repeating in my head only made it worse. 

In 2021, the number of people quitting their jobs surged to the highest rate since the 1970s, according to the Department of Labor. For many anxious people, the idea of quitting their job and entering an uncertain future could be overwhelming. The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) lists multiple disorders related to anxiety, including GAD, phobias, and panic disorders. Although anxiety can be a negative experience, it can also be constructive. In any case, it's important to consider the potential worries associated with quitting a job, such as providing for one's family and securing health insurance.

David Rosmarin, an associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and the founder of the Center for Anxiety stated that when people are stuck in a job, even one they do not like, the routine and repetition may act as a form of comfort. This is because they know what to expect and the structure is familiar. However, when they leave the job, they are faced with uncertainty and this can lead to anxiety. Even though it can feel like a bad sign, Dr. Rosmarin said that anxiety can in fact be an indication that someone is on the right path, as his book "Thriving with Anxiety" will publish later in the year.

If someone is stuck in a situation and considering quitting but feeling unsure, Dr. Villatte believes that this is a uniquely human capability, but it can become a problem if it develops into a worrying pattern wherein the person can either act impulsively or become completely stuck. This worrying can have physical effects on the body, such as preventing food from being digested. To combat this, Dr. Sawchuk suggested doing the opposite of what anxiety is telling you to do, and Dr. Schneier recommended differentiating between beneficial problem-solving and unhelpful worry.

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that while anxiety can be distressing, it is not permanent and it is not uncommon. Deciding, either way, to stay or go may break the worrying loop and if it turns out that the decision was a mistake, it can always be changed.

It is important to be prepared, realistic, and kind to yourself if you are facing joblessness. According to Dr. Schneier, preparation is key and it is helpful to create structure and routine, as well as have an accountability partner. Setting small goals that you have control over is also important, such as spending a certain amount of time each day preparing your resume. Additionally, Dr. Schneier recommends exercise, meditation, and relaxation, and considers therapy and medication for more serious cases of anxiety. Most of all, it is essential to not catastrophize or judge yourself during this time. We are not alone in feeling anxious due to the pandemic, and although the situation may be difficult, there can be silver linings. For example, the pandemic has shown us that we can adapt quickly to chaotic times, and the use of video calls and flexible schedules has been beneficial for those prone to anxiety. When quitting a job in 2022, it is helpful to have some prior experience with the situation and to find the positives of the situation such as having the opportunity to set your own schedule and take naps.

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