In England, so common are mental health problems such as anxiety and depression that 1 in 6 people will experience symptoms every single week. Despite the sheer number of people who experience these issues on a daily basis, many sufferers feel an overwhelming sense of isolation; feelings of anxiety, dread and darkness begin to affect the ability to perform even the most mundane of tasks that others find so easy.
One person who has experienced this is our Midland’s Team Member, Nour; diagnosed with a severe dissociative and anxiety disorder a few years ago, she felt that she would never be able to work more than once a week for meeting new people caused her severe anxiety. However, after joining Arc, Nour found that the more shifts she completed, the more confidence she gained and the easier it got. She now works not one but two jobs and more importantly, actually enjoys working.
Anybody who has suffered with anxiety will understand what an incredible achievement it is to overcome such a huge barrier. We can all use Nour’s inspirational story to help us overcome some of our personal barriers that we may have.
By Ashleigh Coleman, Senior Marketing and Communications Manager at Arc
The workplace, no matter what that looks like, can be a pressured and stressful environment that can cause worry in the most calmest minds; so, for someone who suffers with a mental health issue, a trip to work can feel like an extremely overwhelming experience.
However, like many health issues, little things can make a huge difference, so we’re going to take a look at some suggestions at how we can manage our anxiety within the workplace. Of course, I should point out that I’m not a doctor or a psychologist and if you looked at my science GCSE grade, you’ll see why! I have, however, suffered with anxiety and depression for many years, and after receiving help from Cognitive Behavioural Therapists, Doctors and researching a lot online, I believe I can bring something to the table to help you.
It can be difficult to open up to others and reveal your vulnerabilities when you don’t fully understand them yourself, the mind is a minefield and navigating it can be quite the challenge. However, they say a problem shared is a problem halved, informing your employer about your mental health issues may be a daunting task but it allows breathing room for when you do have your off days; in the way those who suffer with headaches may need some time in a dark room, those who suffer with anxiety may need more time with their manager to talk about their worries.
Thankfully, mental health issues are now taken just as seriously as physical health problems and in the Equality Act 2010, some were acknowledged as a potential disability; employers cannot discriminate against a person with a mental health issue and they must make reasonable adjustments to offer support.
Structure and routine help to calm an anxious mind by giving it a sense of grounding and stability, sentiments which do not come easily to sufferers. A structured routine also helps the mind to focus on the present, quietening troubled thoughts and breaking the vicious cycle of negative thinking.
Let’s be honest, mornings before work certainly don’t seem like they’re ours to enjoy, who enjoys waking up to an alarming sound every single morning? However, if we set our alarm a little earlier than needed, we can utilise mornings in a way that allows us to start our day in a positive way…
According to the Buddhist Centre, meditation is “a means of transforming the mind. Buddhist meditation practices are techniques that encourage and develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calm seeing of the true nature of things.”
There have been many studies on the benefits of meditation on mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. It is thought that the process of meditating can help us to acknowledge our anxious thoughts, understand how they came about and more importantly, learn how to detach ourselves from them. The aim is to increase calmness and clarity within our minds; it’s a simple practice to learn with guided meditations available online or throughs apps such as Headspace and Calm.
By meditating of a morning, we can set our intentions for the day and clear our minds from unnecessary worries, providing the mental space needed to cope with the day-to-day stresses that arise from work without it overwhelming our minds.
In the words of the great Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” When we exercise, our brain releases “feel-good” chemicals including serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins, that reduce our stress levels and boost our mood, helping to combat some of the main symptoms of anxiety.
Many anti-anxiety medications such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) are made to boost these chemicals within the brain.
The NHS advises that adults should aim to do “at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week”. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a study concluded that those who get regular, vigorous exercise were 25 percent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years.
A great way to end a bad day is by taking something that we refer to as a “worry walk”, a walk that allows you to devote time to think about your worries, including:
The catch is that unlike a regular walk, with a worry walk, you must promise yourself that the second you arrive back at your front door, you stop thinking about those negative thoughts. If you’re wondering how one earth you stop yourself from thinking negative thoughts and if it was that easy, you clearly wouldn’t suffer from anxiety, right?!
It’s not an easy task and it’s not a cure, it’s a tool used within Cognitive Behavioural Therapy that takes real concentration and persistence but once you get into the swing of things, it can lead to a much healthier, managed mind.
The longer you leave things that worry you without addressing them, the worse the anxiety gets. Let’s look at ways that you can address the things that worry you in the workplace.
Incredibly, 85% of UK professionals suffer from Imposter Syndrome, a psychological phenomenon in which people feel like they’re a fraud and that they’re not as good at their job as others believe. It is thought that this feeling has gained prevalence due to societal expectations of perfectionism.
Maya Angelou made history as the first African American woman to have a nonfiction bestseller with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. So influential was Angelou’s work, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barak Obama in 2011 and yet, she suffered from Imposter Syndrome. Speaking of her experience, she said “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”
The phenomenon commonly affects high-achievers who set high standards for their professional life and endeavour to excel at every task. One of the main ways to manage the feelings associated with Imposter Syndrome is by accepting that perfectionism simply cannot be achieved all the time, even with the greatest effort to do so. You can always ask your manager for more regular one-to-ones, allowing you to track your progress, gain an understanding of how well you’re doing at work and acknowledge the areas where you may need some extra help and support.
Alongside this, alter the way that you address your thoughts when your mind is telling you that you’re not good enough, what would you say if your friend thought this about themselves? We are often much harsher on ourselves than we are with others and taking ourselves out of the situation allows us to gain a more sense of whether our expectations are realistic or too high.
First things first, we all make mistakes, every single one of us. We simply wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. For an anxious mind, however, we know that doesn’t help with the feelings of worry and guilt; so here is our top tip: use a decatastrophizing worksheet. It’s a tool used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and helps to assess a situation with a realistic perspective before the anxiety takes hold, allowing you to feel a sense of control. Questions include:
Once you’ve completed your worksheet, ask to speak to your manager in private, explain the situation and your anxieties; your manager will be well equipped with solutions if they are needed at all. Sometimes you just need space to vent, air your worries and someone to sit and listen.
In every job, at every level, there is always going to be one task that you enjoy a whole lot less than others and sometimes it’s not going to be possible to get yourself out of that situation. In this case, use it as a learning curve and accept that it’s not going to be your favourite experience but it is going to help you in the long run.
It’s the unfortunate truth that you can only truly overcome your anxiety by doing what makes you anxious, just like Nour! However, that doesn’t mean you need to throw yourself in the deep end for gladiator battle of sink or swim, we can make little but meaningful steps towards our goal and accept that it will be an uncomfortable process.
Think of the task at work that makes you the most anxious, how long does it take to complete? I’ve always found that putting a time limit on a worry alleviates the pressure and helps you feel more in control. Let’s say you have to present for five minutes at work, in six minutes, it’s all going to be over. If you can lend yourself five minutes to travel outside of our comfort zone, then that’s all you need to overcome a barrier.
Exactly like in Nour’s experience, you will gradually become desensitised to the situations that once induced anxious feelings and begin to overcome barriers that have stopped you from reaching your own goals.