A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being on a panel at work called “Overcome stress and beat burnout” along with 3 other colleagues who are passionate about this topic. We spoke a lot about what you as an individual can do to look after yourself and there were a lot of great tips. We spoke about boundaries, expectations of yourself, and having honest conversations with your colleagues. But someone also asked “what can the employer do for us?”, and I’ve been thinking about this ever since.
I’m currently on holiday enjoying the beautiful European summer, and it wouldn’t be a proper holiday unless I was using the time to reflect on life and the past 6-7 months of this year. Whilst we were chatting, a friend of mine pointed out to me that I’ve been stressed at work now for pretty much the better part of the year which I realized was true. Following that, I also realized that although I’ve been stressed it’s not affecting me the same as it used to and suddenly it dawned on me: my relationship to stress and my mental health has changed completely.
I can remember dealing with mental health issues whilst I was studying at University as I suffered chronic anxiety, and didn’t know how to manage or cope with it. Some days it was a success If I got out of bed and that’s all I did that day. I knew I couldn’t carry on living like this and that’s when I realised I needed help, which I discussed with my family and sought professional help from a psychologist privately.
Disclaimer: this may read like a story, but it is a real life account by someone. Please note that this story may be difficult to read if you are a mum, if you are pregnant, or if you want to be a mum in the future.
Please do not read if you are afraid this will negatively impact your mental health – and take the necessary precautions.
The original of this post was written in French and you can find it here.
Who are you, and what made you want to share your story?
My name is Aurélie, I am the mother of three children, and I work in childcare. After the birth of my first son, I experienced the worst time of my life. I wanted to share my experience because while baby blues and postpartum depression are somewhat well known, they are still relatively taboo in our society.
On the other hand, postpartum psychosis is barely talked about at all if not completely unknown for most people. And yet, a number of young mothers go through this experience or through depression, while their friends and family aren’t able to understand or identify what’s happening to them.
Who are you, and why did you decide to share your story?
I am a woman in my mid-thirties and I work in the humanitarian sector. During a recent long-term field assignment, I experienced what I later discovered to be burnout. At the time I had little knowledge about this mental health issue, so for a long time I simply ignored the signals my mind and my body were sending me.
By sharing my experience, I’d like to shed light on burnout, its symptoms and its consequences. In my sector there is still a lot of stigma around it, so I think that reading about others’ stories may be of help to those going through (or suspecting they are going through) the same experience.
While I’ve often talked about the negative circumstances you can encounter in the workplace and how these contribute to mental health problems, it’s also important to talk about the positive experiences to counterbalance that. After all it’s not all doom and gloom and there are plenty of experiences to show there is hope when it comes to finding a workplace that is good for your mental health.
Previously I talked about the idea that mental health is bad for your career, in fact busting the myth wide open. But along with this commonplace myth come a load of other issues. Enter: secrecy around mental health at work.
While the topic is gaining momentum, we’re still not in a place where people openly volunteer information about their mental health in the workplace. Thanks to COVID19 I’ve seen the media and employers paying far more attention to mental health, which means companies are looking for ways to address the issue and bring mental wellbeing to the forefront of their agenda. I couldn’t be more excited!
One of the main challenges with mental health and people feeling comfortable speaking up is that there is still a lot of stigma around it. We’ve definitely made progress but we’re not yet in a place where you can openly say to your employer “I suffer from depression” without being afraid of getting fired.
So today I want to address this common myth that mental health is bad for your career and break it down. Why do we believe this, what are the fears and most importantly, how do we overcome it?
This topic is close to my heart as I’ve been unemployed, and have experience with the ups and downs that come with it. Now due to coronavirus things are different: many people have lost their jobs unexpectedly, perhaps overnight or without much warning. This creates difficult conditions in which to be searching for a new job, not to mention the mental health struggles that come with it.
It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post on the topic of mental health at work. Understandably a lot of other things have happened the past few months, but this remains my core area of interest and where I want to break down barriers. I decided it was time I got back to it, and was listening to Esther Perel’s podcast “How’s work” when this topic came to mind.
If you’ve followed me over the past few years, by now you might have followed bits and pieces of my mental health journey too. It all started with my blog post “living with anxiety“, and since then I’ve gone on to share more via YouTube. Below is a summary:
Today I want to share another chapter of my mental health journey. This one happened towards the beginning so it was still early days and I didn’t know how to deal with this type of situation. Not to mention that nothing like this had ever happened to me before so of course, novel territory on all accounts.
Back in November 2019 I attended the Women in Tech Regatta and was inspired by several of the talks I attended. One of them was around “Integrating career and parenthood” and as I was sitting there, I felt that it touched upon some of the tensions we face in the workplace when battling with our mental health regardless of whether we are parents or not.
This got me thinking of the work-life balance again, and how we can create work environments that are favourable to managing the different roles we have in life.
There’s a lot of information out there about burnout, but have you ever stopped to think about what it really means? What is the message being sent to you from your mind and body when you burn out?
We can talk a lot about the circumstances that lead to burnout and in fact it’s easy to blame others, particularly employers. They overwork us, they don’t see us for who we are, etc. etc. But let’s take a step back and ask ourselves what the burnout was trying to tell us. This is something we don’t talk about so often, and yet it’s crucial if we want to be better able to understand and prevent burnout.
Or should I say, the last time I burnt out. I really hope it was the last but you never know, these things creep up on you… Nevertheless, I’d like to share the story with you and I took to video again to do so.
Once again, it was the the usual “end of year breakdown”. Sad that’s actually a thing, but it was. And I’m sure many of you can relate, in most industries Q4 is pretty intense.