Mental health awareness week 2023 also happens to fall over my birthday and whilst life hasn’t turned out quite as I planned, as I enter my last year in my 40s, I am eternally grateful to be right where I am – where I am meant to be.
When I became a parent I had lots of wishes and hopes for my children obviously but the one that stands out and still applies is that I want them to be strong, kind men who are comfortable in themselves and are resilient to life’s challenges.
I know work is not family but you do spend a lot of time together so as a team we have to work to support each other – managers and colleagues.
The theme of mental health awareness week this year is anxiety – understanding it, recognising it and dealing with it.
Anxiety is a very normal feeling, we all get it – it’s natural, it’s the feeling you have before going somewhere new, meeting someone new, handing in a project or essay or having a difficult conversation. Then throw in a wee pandemic, lockdown and a cost of living crisis and is it any wonder that 1 in 5 people report that they feel anxious most of the time. It has been described to me as the feeling cavemen got when they met a dinosaur – the old fight or flight but I am delighted to report that dinosaurs are few and far between in 2023. The main point is that anxiety normally goes away or eases once you feel more comfortable, the threat has passed or you have done something to alleviate it, if you find it affecting you more and more often or to a greater extent then it might be a bigger issue.
Sweaty hands, sick stomach, unable to think clearly, heart racing, can’t settle – these are all physical feelings of anxiety – but they can have a significant and detrimental impact to you if you are regularly struggling. If you are avoiding making a call, want to hide away, not socialise or make decisions those may be clues that anxiety is having an impact.
In a work situation you can imagine that could be a problem – it might even prevent you from working effectively which in turn could cause the anxiety to worsen as you worry about your performance or fear for your job.
So how do we as managers, HR, team members help?
Get to know people if you can, understand them and offer support – they may not take it but keep offering it – not in a pushy way but hopefully some day they will realise that they aren’t alone.
The Irish are great at having the craic I remember my father meeting someone on the road and talking for 2 hrs then coming home to tell mum that he was desperate busy. Now those 2 hrs would have covered everything but he never would have said how he was feeling. An older generation thing, a man thing or an Irish thing I’m, not sure. But we do need to try to foster an open atmosphere in work, it takes a lot of courage for someone to say they are struggling so that needs to be met with empathy and understanding plus any practical steps that can help. Not everyone wants practical help sometimes it’s just to explain that they are having a rough time and they might need some space to get sorted.
Make sure your managers understand their roles, help them recognise when someone is struggling preferably before it turns into an issue, help them know what options are open to the employee – some time off, reduced hrs, flexible working, counselling or just a supportive ear.
Practical steps in work can include leaflets or details of helpful organisations such as Mind, counselling if the company offers it, access to water and maybe healthy snacks, fresh air if possible and a culture of encouraging people to take their break – go outside and most importantly finish on time – no medals for being the last one in work every day.
Outside of work same pointers apply – sleep, healthy eating, exercise, try not to rely on drugs/alcohol, avoid screens if you can especially social media pages that make you feel worse. Look for support if it is relationship or money worries that are increasing anxiety and consider speaking to your GP or trying alternative therapies for help.
Overall the message has to be that it is ok not to be ok and talking to someone or asking for help is never a weakness but a sign of strength. Let’s talk about Mental Health all year not just 1 week out of 52.
Do contact us if you need any advice for your team and if you as a business owner need someone to listen we can do that too.