The Anxiety of Calling in Sick to Work


For most people, calling in sick to work isn’t a common occurrence. Though, for those of us with mental illness or even disabilities, needing to take time off work can happen more often than we’d like. Please be aware that this is not a choice either. 

I often know the night before that I won’t make it in to work the next morning. It’s not that I’ve already decided I’m not going in – it’s not that at all – but it’s because over time, I’ve become attuned to recognizing when my body is reaching a point of just needing to rest.

The most common causes for me calling in sick to work is having a bad night’s sleep or not sleeping at all, which exacerbates my chronic fatigue, muscle pain and body weakness, but also brain fog. The effects are mental as well as physical. Other reasons include muscle aches and pains being so bad alone or an autoimmune disease flare-up, which means I am in constant pain all day and wouldn’t manage to physically last the day at work, even sat at a desk, but would also mentally find it extremely difficult to concentrate enough to get anything done. I’d also worry I was missing things or making mistakes due to the effects on my brain function. The level of accuracy in my work – if I managed to get any work done at all – would be affected.

So when I call my workplace to let them know I won’t be coming in today, believe me when I say I hate it. I hate the fear of judgment they may make that I am off more often than everyone else. I fear the sense of failure I inevitably battle with after making that call and the guilt for taking a day to rest. I hate basically feeling as I’ve “given in” and am “weak.” I hate the control my health conditions have over me.

There’s also the anxiety that comes with it. Once I’ve informed my manager that I won’t be in today, I feel a huge sense of relief, but it takes a lot for me to get there. There’s usually a bargaining phase when I realize I’m not well enough to leave the house or possibly even my bed today, but I don’t want to make the call I’m so anxious about. “I could work today, maybe I’ll be OK once I leave the house, maybe I’m just overthinking this,” I tell myself as I try to think of reasons to still force myself to leave the house and go to work, despite feeling like death. Because I hate that confrontation a phone call brings.

I would much prefer to send an email and in the past I have done so. However, not all workplaces or managers accept this form of communication for calling in sick and they can insist that you physically call in and inform them of your absence over the phone. For someone with anxiety disorder, a mental health condition that makes you overthink everything, over-worry and over-obsess, a phone call can be petrifying. Add in to that that you’re basically letting someone down, that you’re telling them you can’t come in to do the job you’re being paid to do, are expected to do and needed to do to support the rest of your team in the workplace, and it’s the ideal anxiety cocktail.

As I sit on the edge of the bed and imagine what might happen after I make that phone call, a thousand scenarios play out. My boss could ask me for more detail so I bumble through my symptoms and ramble on and then they don’t believe me. What if people talk about me behind my back after I’ve hung up, mocking me or insinuating that I’m lying? What if they moan that I’m not pulling my weight? What if I go in to work tomorrow and get taken aside, basically told off for not doing my work and patronizingly scolded? Over something I can’t help, too. What if what if what if.

Most of this is highly unlikely, but what if. And that’s the nature of anxiety; it’s not rational. The very definition of anxiety is irrational, obsessive worrying.

So I’m sat on the edge of the bed, feeling very unwell from my physical health conditions, but now I’m anxious on top, palms clammy, heart pounding and feeling faint. The world is opening up and preparing to swallow me whole.

All I have to do is make one quick call, give a simple explanation and that’s it. They can’t discipline me for my health conditions, mental or physical, that would be discrimination – but it doesn’t matter to anxiety. This beast has run away with my thoughts.

So, do I make the phone call, excuse myself from work for the day and rest up, anxiously waiting to go back in tomorrow (hopefully, if I’m well enough) or do I push the anxiety down in to the pit of my stomach and drag myself in to work for a hard day of trying to work despite not being fit to? Do I conquer the anxiety for the sake of my physical health conditions or do I let the beast win today?

Follow Rachel’s Journey on The Invisible Hypothyroidism

Getty Image by AntonioGuillem


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