New Year … New You
Well, here we are in 2020 and I wonder where the last year disappeared to! I started 2019 with a whole new list of priorities for my personal and professional life and with hopes that I might realise some of the dreams on my "bucket list". I knew where I was going and I was fairly certain about how I was going to get there. However, best laid plans and all that!
I wonder whether your year turned out how you had planned it: whether you achieved your professional goals and whether you realised some of your personal dreams. If so, I applaud you, if not, I sympathise, especially as not all of my dreams came true and some of my professional goals were not fully realised either.
I was listening to someone speak the other day about that "flat" feeling we can experience after the hype of Christmas. I was surprised when this happened to me this year (actually, last year now), particularly as I had been feeling full of hope for the new year ahead. Suddenly, I wasn't so sure of myself anymore; I wasn't sure about my capacity to achieve my goals professionally and this certainly stopped me in my tracks.
But, as is my wont, I was able to take a step back from my plight and reflect around what was creating this real sense of dis-ease. This almost "limbo" like state between Christmas and New year was the ideal time to re-assess my very existence and not just my priorities. To help me in this task was the wonderful Charlie Mackesy (www.charliemackesy.com and on Instagram). I was very fortunate to receive his book: "The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse" as a gift and I recommend his wisdom to you if you don't know of him. "What do you think success is?" asked the boy "To love" said the mole. I wonder what these words say to you as you think about what success means in your life?
As an Existential therapist, I would have to agree with the boy. It starts with me and my capacity to love myself. In life, we can be beaten down by our perceived lack of success, whether at work, in our relationships and in how we work out our personal situation: the home we live in, the car we drive, how much money we have in our purse or our wallet. We measure ourselves against those around us and it is very easy to see failure if we perceive that someone is achieving more than us. As human beings it is easy to lose sight of what is actually important. Do I give more attention to achieving material wealth or professional achievement than I do to my mental health and sense of wellbeing? In a material world it seems that this is so often the case and then what?
Far from being selfish, to love myself means having that innate confidence to face the world with a sense of certainty that I'm ok and what I have to contribute to the world around me is ok too. I appreciate that this is not always easy to grasp, especially if we have grown up with a sense that we can never be good enough, or if we live in a world where our contribution is not valued. If this is the case for you and you are struggling to overcome these barriers, then I would encourage you to consider some support around this.
Of course, to love can be one of the most difficult things we can ever do, particularly if it is something that we have never experienced or if we have lost it along the way, for whatever reason. It seems to me that to love is a risky business because it puts us in a state of vulnerability. Love is about honesty and openness; it is about being brave; it about taking risks in all areas of our life. It is about knowing self, it is about knowing others and it is about self-respect and mutual respect. It is about communicating our needs, our wants, what we can offer others and what we can draw from others.
It seems to me that I can only understand myself through relationship with others and so my journey to success begins here, right now, in this New Year.
Photo by Pixabay
Depression can be extremely debilitating, especially when we feel at rock-bottom and, when we reach that point, daily life can be pretty bleak. Gone is the ability to get out of bed, attend to our personal hygiene, eat breakfast, take the children to school, go to work, or whatever it is that gives us a sense of purpose. Our existence tends to be a reactive one; we shut down and withdraw from activity that keeps us feeling good about life.
It's true to say that depression often has a remitting and relapsing course. It may have no obvious cause, or it can be related to physical problems or various life events. Most people with depression will get better without treatment, although getting better may take several months or even longer. Living with symptoms in the meantime can have a heavy impact on the whole of our lives: relationships can suffer, our working life may be put at risk, together with our ability to pay the rent or the mortgage. I paint a bleak picture, I know, but such is the trauma that depression creates.
If we find ourselves in this situation, it can be very difficult to admit that we have a problem; our ego may well send us into denial, after all, who wants to be seen as weak? Of course, the first step to getting better is to acknowledge that we are ill and that we do need support to get well again. This acknowledgement is actually a sign of strength; it takes great strength to be honest about our vulnerability.
It is also helpful to talk to the GP; medication may well be suggested, especially if the depression is moderate to severe. This can be supplemented with counselling and it is thought that a combination of medication and counselling can be more effective than either treatment on its own. Given time, it is hoped that we will be fully functioning again and able to go about our daily lives in a more balanced way.
But it seems to me that the optimal time to manage our response to depression is when we are well. Counselling can actually be more helpful at this stage, simply because we have the headspace to be able to reflect around those issues that depress us. We have the opportunity to equip ourselves with strategies for managing our response to depression more effectively, becoming more proactive in the process.
I have found that one of the simplest and most effective tools we can use to prevent ourselves from slipping into the abyss is a mood diary. Producing our own journal can be both therapeutic and creative. But, more than anything, it is a practical tool that can alert us to changes in our mood and give us the opportunity to address any issues, before they spiral out of control.
Daily writing is recommended, particularly as it helps us keep the momentum going and it creates a daily habit. It can be helpful to write at the end of the day, which gives us the opportunity to reflect on what has been good about the day, what has been less helpful, whether we could have done things differently and whether there are lessons to be learned from it. Scaling our mood from 1-10 can also help us to think about what action we may need to take to prevent us from slipping down the scale. This could be something as simple as spending time with others, going for a walk, or simply relaxing in the bath with a nice candle and our favourite music.
Having said all of that, depression has a habit of coming back to bite us when we least expect it. Staying well is no easy task; it requires discipline and determination. Writing can be part of that discipline and persisting with it can ensure that we don't take our eye off the ball, as far as monitoring our mood is concerned. So, good luck with your "pen and paper" and I wish you a healthy future!
1. It feels like we are now living in an “always on” world. What can we all do to help manage our work life balance?
In seeking to establish a balanced home and working life, two key words spring to mind and they are expectations and priorities. On a professional level the Contract, Job Description and Person Specification are good starting points. A comprehensive Induction Process that defines mutual expectations and boundaries within the role is an essential part of the process. Issues like working hours and priorities should be clearly understood and regular Appraisals are a good indicator of whether key objectives are being met in this area. But life is not all about work and our personal lives are equally important. Those two key words are just as important as we navigate our way through expectations and priorities in our relationships. I’m always keen to encourage people to consider prioritising time for themselves, their partner and their family. We all have 24 hours in a day, and it is important to ensure that we use them wisely.
2. What’s your best tip for time management at work?
At the beginning of the working week it is so important to assess priorities for the week ahead. If you run a diary, plan it carefully and don’t forget to review it on a daily basis, things change, and this also applies to our priorities. If you don’t run a diary, maybe now is the time to start. If you don’t require a diary, think about ways in which the completion of tasks is being monitored and evaluated. And… in the middle of it all… don’t forget to take time to breathe. In other words, take a break!
3. If you are leading teams, how can you help staff understand how to be able to manage their time effectively?
Children live what they learn; this is something I often find myself saying to parents of young children when they are desperately trying to do the right thing as parents. This saying translates equally well into the workplace: The best piece of advice I would offer a Team Leader is to model behaviour that you hope team members will want to emulate. On a practical level, a regular one to one meeting with staff members is a good way of discerning whether any issues are arising and may well allow for a conversation around how they might be best addressed.
4. Stress is a frequently used word. How can you identify if a colleague is stressed at work and what is your advice on how to support them.
Identifying whether a colleague is stressed is not always easy, particularly if the individual does not acknowledge it, which is often the case. Common symptoms might include irritability, mood swings, anxiety, low energy and problems with concentration. Behavioural difficulties might include hostility or simply withdrawing from interacting with others. There may be physical symptoms too, including headaches, aches and pains and symptoms of panic, including breathing difficulties, chest pains and a sense of terror. They may fail to attend work, either because of repeated minor infections or because they might be struggling to function well emotionally. Performance may have dropped, and mistakes might be more common. Sensitivity is key in addressing the issues, especially if the colleague feels ashamed and struggling to acknowledge the difficulties. Colleagues would do well to check in with the individual, offering gentle support, emotionally and practically; expressing concern for their wellbeing without attempting to take control. Managers might want to complete a Stress Risk Assessment and this can be found at www.hse.gov.uk/stress/standards This allows for the opportunity to put in place a supportive plan, which can be reviewed periodically. If the organisation has access to an Employee Assistance Programme, make the individual aware of this, particularly as some short-term counselling may well address and resolve the issues.
5. What’s your favourite motivational quote and why?
That’s a difficult question, when I have so many of them! The one that is my absolute favourite though goes like this: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step”. (Lao Tzu) Life can be difficult and we can be overwhelmed by issues that crop up in all areas of our daily life. Taking a positive step back from those difficulties and breaking them down into manageable pieces is so important. We can’t control what happens in the future, but we can take control of what is happening today. Addressing issues we face today may well inform what happens in the future.
JR Corporate Health blogs cover topics such as management support, supervision, psychological support, critical incident support and wellbeing in the workplace.