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Poor Mental Health Can Afflict Anyone

Almost like being fired at some stage of you career is a ‘right of passage,’ experiencing excessive stress is also something most of us face. We need to collectively support those at this stage. Why?     

Because it could easily be you. However calm your life journey is, if placed under sustained and excessive stress, ‘you’ may well at some stage experience adverse mental health and in the worst cases, breakdown.

One mid-level creative strategist I spoke with recently, who works for a large advertising agency, described both a lack of organizational preparedness for her hiring or management support once she’d been hired. The irony is that this is someone that is extremely capable. As she explained, after starting her job she quickly became trusted to take on extra work and responsibility, initially welcoming it but then after it happened a number of times, engulfing her initial job description but with no additional support, she felt increasingly helpless. She had tried to communicate but no one appeared to be listening. The effect was someone with no prior ‘mental’ health issues, becoming anxious, seriously starting to doubt themselves, struggling to get their work done each day. This is far from uncommon.

Positive mental health is defined as ‘Coping with normal stresses and having psychological well-being.’ Fair enough, but what are normal stresses? And, what is psychological well-being? A simple answer might be that whatever your challenges, if you feel in control, even though under pressure, you are functioning effectively and your behavior is rational.

A 2018 Forbes Survey reported that 48% of interviewees experienced mental health problems. While another survey highlighting the effects of sustained mental stress, found that 29% of employees had shouted at their cohorts because of stress! (Tinypulse, 2016).

The American Institute of Stress cited the main causes of stress in the workplace listed: 46% workload, 28% people issues, 20% work/life balance and 6% lack of job security. Other factors certainly causing extreme frustration included: Low wages, lack of personal development and having no say/not being listened to and worse, being mistreated.

I should state, I am ‘not’ a mental health expert but what lead me to write this article is regular conversations with extremely stressed individuals, either desperate to make their current situations better if not to completely escape them. I have also experienced what I am writing about remembering as a young man, having after months of intense pressure at work walking out of my office, teary eyed. I’m still embarrassed as I think about this! But, people shouldn’t be!

On what appears to be ever increasing pressure on businesses and employees, what seems immediately evident is this: As an employee, if you’ve given management and/or HR repeated opportunity to understand your situation and nothing has changed, why put up with this? If those with the authority and ability to change things haven’t, even when understanding your situation, then either they can’t or don’t want to do anything differently and you must draw your own conclusions. Why would you remain an employee in an agency where you are treated this way?

The corporate answer to mental health is, ‘it’s complex’ and to be fair, it is. There are often many factors in play. Then again if you want to set individuals up to be the best they can be for themselves and the agency, it isn’t complex at all! It’s a matter of priorities and most important, effective communication and resource deployment. This is down to management.

Critically, whatever the cause of high stress levels, if not checked the positive psychology of individuals becomes vulnerable to feelings of failure in absolute or relative terms.

How to stay ahead of the Curve – Positive Mental Heath – Some Steps We Can All Take

At Work

1.    ‘Never’ feel trapped. However much the money is needed, or you fear not getting another job, or fear the recriminations from leaving the job or how bad leaving might look on your resume, ‘if the stress level in your work situation is out of control’ and having spoken to others (boss/HR/mentor/peers) things are not changing, then understand, there are other jobs! Your psychology is number one priority. Be prepared to walk.

2.    Talk – Stay ahead of the stress – Many of those I talk with, simply want to be heard. More important, aim to communicate with those that have the wherewithal to redress the causes of your stress. Let your boss know what’s happening/how you’re feeling – Many of us don’t do this either because this communicates weakness and perhaps a sense of failure, or because you don’t think anything will change – The realty is, nothing can change if those with the authority don’t know what you’re going through.

3.    Let someone else know – If you can’t communicate with you boss, then find a mentor, someone you can trust, that can atleast listen.

4.    Understand your areas of vulnerability – For instance you’re stressed by certain work situations or feel relatively weaker in a skill area. Talking this through is a key step to developing coping mechanisms and reducing stress.

5.    Are you being fair with yourself – So much of the causes of stress relate to our own standards and expectations, our perceived feelings that we are either simply failing or more insidious, we are failing relative to are peers.’ The best antidote to this is to understand that it’s extremely difficult to have a ‘fair’ like-for-like comparison with your peers. So, the best course is to avoid the comparisons. I know, easier said than done.

6.    Set yourself up to succeed – Much of the cause of work-related stress is related to helplessness. So, break your work down and set yourself discrete goals that can be achieved. It’s not the whole job, but feeling you are progressing on some level is key.

7.    Goal Setting – If the goals are causing the angst, let those that need to know why they will be difficult to achieve.

Away From Work

1.    Non-work mentor – Talking with someone that is not vested in your workplace, that can listen to you without an agenda. If nothing else, this an opportunity to be actively heard.

2.    Exploratory meetings – There’s nothing worse than feeling trapped and undervalued. Having exploratory meetings with other potential employers will often reveal both that you’re not trapped in your current role and that your expertise and experience is valued in the marketplace. If nothing else you will feel more confident at work knowing you could work elsewhere.

3.    De-Stress – If you’re working crazy hours often you can’t find time, but whether burning up emotional energy on the treadmill or releasing safety valves via tai chi, the safety valve needs to be released!

4.    The power of the ‘all absorbing’ – Pursue an interest/s that completely absorbs your mind so freeing it from thinking about work. Having a ‘real break’ is a key ingredient in the positive mental health of those that seem to be able to compartmentalize different areas of their lives. As a priority, find what allows you to switch off.

What woud you suggest as the one key thing to do in managing or mitigating the effects of stress?

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