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Red Flag: Work Dread

In my studies, participants frequently discussed increasing feelings of anxiety and/or increases in symptoms of physical ailments as they began preparing for work (say, on Sunday night) or as they got closer to the workplace during their commutes. I call this work dread, and it is one of the early physical indicators of abuse or neglect. 

As you browse the participant commentary below, keep in mind how trauma responds in the body – even before we are cognitively aware of what is happening (or even if we try to downplay what is happening). Bessel van der Kolk reminds us that “the memory of trauma is encoded in the viscera, in heartbreaking and gut-wrenching emotions, in autoimmune disorders and skeletal/muscular problems…” and that “[t]he more people try to push away and ignore internal warning signs, the more likely they are to take over and leave them bewildered, confused, and ashamed.” If you are experiencing work dread, don’t ignore the signs.

“…There was times I was, you know, had a knot in my stomach when I was driving to work. There were – I started dreading Sunday nights ‘cause it’s like, what’s Monday going to bring? What’s the day going to bring? Is she Happy [Person]? Is she Bitchy [Person]? …and I really noticed it, too, when, in the summer we work really weird hours, so I started realizing, like, the weeks that I knew she was going to be off for a whole week, I had like no stress. I would come to work, have a great time with my co-workers, I wasn’t worried about Sunday night, you know, and that’s when I started realizing the impact it was having on me physically.”Low morale in Academic Librarians study participant (public services), circa 2016

“You know, overall, the impact was I dreaded coming to work, you know… I would kind of like, physically feel it. [Laughs] I would get that knot in my stomach, you know?  It was just one of those things, and I was gripey – more apt to complain about having to go to work, not looking forward to going to work. And I would have anxiety, and I would feel like I had to do stuff, you know. I always had to be on task or I had to always be checking my email. Because after a while of being told that I had to be on email every moment of every day and unable to escape the situation, I just started giving into that, you know?” – Low morale in Academic Librarians study participant (cataloger), circa 2016

“I would go home and feel like ‘oh, do I really want to go back to work the next day.’ [Laughs]. ‘Cause I was, I’m usually someone who enjoys work so that was kind of a new feeling, like ‘uh, I don’t know what tomorrow’s going to be like,’ and sometimes – this is maybe too extreme, but just kind of like, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow and what’s the newest frustrating thing we’re going to encounter,’ [Laughs]”Low morale in Academic Librarians study participant (instruction), circa 2016

“…it was an issue of low morale because, you know, where I used to enjoy coming to work, I would dread it. I mean, once I got there, I was ok, but, you know, you always knew there was going to be something, and you know, there always was.”Low morale in BIPOC Academic librarians study participant (manager), circa 2018

Works Cited

van der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score. New York: Penguin Books.

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