The Let-Down Effect after a Midlife Career Change

How can you have withdrawals from a job you didn’t like?

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How can you have withdrawals from a job you didn't like?Muscle pain, ravenous appetite, upset stomach, skin-crawling, panic attacks, disorientation…I know those symptoms! I experienced them when I went on a health kick and tried to quit caffeine (Coca-Cola) and casein (dairy). What’s different this time is that I didn’t quit the bad habit – it quit me, and there’s no going back. What am I talking about?

Adrenaline Withdrawal

High levels of job stress can actually overwork your adrenal and pituitary glands, throwing your stress hormones out of balance. Whether planned or unplanned, a career change that decreases or eliminates that stress can actually cause withdrawals from too much adrenaline and cortisol. These withdrawals may be similar to those experienced with mild drug withdrawal.

For some people, job stress comes from having too much to do in a short amount of time, and the adrenaline rush that comes from just barely meeting tight deadlines.  For others, the traffic during the rush hour commute might be panic-inducing.  Difficult interpersonal relationships in the workplace might be the cause of the overproduction of cortisol or the nature of the work itself might be what makes the job very stressful.

The Let-Down Effect

Whatever may have caused the chronic anxiety, once that is gone, you will need to find a way to debrief and unwind in a healthy way.

In my case, this did not happen in the first few days after I left my job of 17 years. I think my body initially thought I was on a vacation. It was nearly two weeks later when the permanence of my new situation “got real,” and I suddenly found myself tempted to climb the walls. I wanted outside, and then I didn’t know what to do with myself once I got out there.  I was restless but exhausted. I felt like I was in a fog, but my mind was racing. Headaches, nausea, unexplained muscle pain, heart palpitations, respiratory attacks, multiple panic attacks at night, my skin felt like it was crawling…there was no denying it. I was in withdrawal.

Diffusing Symptoms

Experts often refer to this as the “let down effect,” and dealing with it effectively is a different process for different people.  So what to do? Here are some common suggestions.

  • Diffuse the physical reaction by stimulating endorphins and immune system through short bursts of physical exercise (dancing, brisk walking or stair climbing) or timed mental challenges (like games).
  • Soothe the anxiety by practicing relaxation through meditation, yoga, deep breathing or massage.
  • De-tox, physically and mentally. Stick to a healthy diet, and eliminate any unnecessary stress.
  • Give yourself time to make the adjustment, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

I’m starting my fourth week now since my last day at my old job and things are getting better. I’m exercising regularly and settling into a healthier routine. I’m challenging myself each day to meet a series of small goals as I’m learning my new work-at-home job. I’m not quite out of the woods yet, but I think I can see daylight.

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