In honor of Mental Health Month, the LFC team wanted to tackle the important discussion of mental health and how it affects performance and socialization in the workplace. Here are some stories from a few of our team members. Want to join in on the discussion? Share your story below in the comment section.
I’ve always been perplexed by the idea of Monday-Friday 9:00-5:00 jobs, as outlandish as that sounds. I’m someone who works better with a schedule, and would rather have a designated spot to be working than hopping around from coffee shop to coffee shop hunting down the best wifi. But there’s something about the expectation that people can be “on” from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Monday - Friday all the time that just doesn’t sit right with me.
“You’re too sensitive to work here.” Words I thought maybe I would hear if I worked as a veterinarian assistant, but not so much as a marketing associate.
Yes, I know I’m sensitive. I cry a lot easier than other people during movies. I get a pit feeling in my stomach when someone says, “I need to talk to you.” I would rather watch paint dry than have someone be disappointed with me. However, I never realized that my sensitivity, which stems from mental health issues that I’ve dealt with since my glory years in high school, would be something thrown back in my face in a professional atmosphere.
Sensitivity can definitely get in the way of work, and there definitely needs to be a level of professionalism maintained at all times in a work environment that sensitivity can sometimes diminish. However, it’s a lack of understanding of mental health issues that can oftentimes lead to high stress high trigger situations in the workplace for people struggling.
My hypersensitivity doesn’t only annoy you. It annoys me too. I can almost guarantee that it annoys me MORE than it annoys you. It stems from my generalized anxiety disorder - in layman’s terms, anxiety that likes to pop up whenever it feels like it, like that annoying relative we all have.
So what does that mean for me? It means one day I can sit in on a meeting and be confident in all of my contributions. I can share new ideas and stand proudly behind them.
However, there may be some other moments where I don’t exude the same level of security in what I’m doing. And that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of the work I’m doing and that I don’t believe in it. I do. I just also feel the overwhelming sense of everyone thinking what I’m doing is wrong or dumb sometimes too. Which sometimes might be the case. But it’s also sometimes irrational.
So yes, my mental health doesn’t follow the same logic as the rest of my brain does sometimes. I can’t just walk into an office and check my anxiety at the door. Trust me, I wish I could. I wish I could chuck it off a bridge to be quite honest. But I hope by talking about it we open up a conversation for others, who may not understand the struggles and pains of battles with mental health.
When it comes to mental health, the most important thing I've ever been told is that "you are not alone." It has taken a long time for me to understand this, and I still haven't fully ingrained it into my everyday thinking, but it has helped me to think differently about social and professional situations.
There is the far too common misconception that "mental health" is a topic for the unstable, the “crazy", or the over-emotional, but really, it just comes down to one thing - health.
I am no stranger to therapy. I started going as a teenager out of my own desire to have a third party individual that I could talk to without any judgement, any fear, or any consequences. Although I did have an emo phase, unfortunately, some of these feelings weren’t just a phase so I continued to see a therapist on and off throughout that latter part of my University.
The thing is, I wasn't even going to therapy because I thought something was specifically "wrong", it just made me feel better. And I kept going because I wanted to keep learning about myself in order to grow, to understand, to embrace, and to adapt.
The problem with how mental health is perceived is that it is easier for others to understand and address health concerns when there is a medical term you can attach to it. Even with a mental health diagnosis, it is still much more difficult to talk to an employer or insurance company when they think they understand the symptoms and think they know what it feels like. You can have a word attached to it or not, but whatever anyone is feeling should never be belittled or dismissed.
Therapists have called what I have “Social Anxiety Disorder” ("SAD"... I know, how ironic) but to me, it didn’t even feel like a diagnosis or a label. It was, however, something I could point to and say "this is a part of me, but this is not all of me."
What I wasn’t prepared for was the difficult transition from my University to my first real, full-time job. I found that some of my anxieties were heightened and started to interfere with my everyday life. What I thought was a "small part" of me started to take over.
One of the hardest parts of this transition that increased my anxiety was that I couldn’t just sit in the back of the classroom and get my work done like I had done before. I was a pivotal part of a team, hired for a specific role with a lot of new responsibilities that the team was relying on.
What I wasn't, however, was an executive with years of experience and all the answers. I was an entry level employee that was there to learn and absorb the knowledge and experience of those around me. I put so much pressure on myself which ended in over analysis, frustration, and agitation.
There were days at the office (and still are) that are harder than others, in fact, it took me almost a full year to adapt to such a change in lifestyle. There was a period where I found myself on the verge of crying far too often, unable to answer simple questions that I know I knew the answer to, not wanting to answer the phone, feeling my heart in my throat before every meeting, constantly calling my mom, and feeling the need to sleep more than ever. See? You aren't alone.
Now that I have been working for a few years and been on the other side of hiring an entry level employee, I know that there is no expectation for him or her to know everything. I would rather have a coworker or employee say “I don’t know” or ask a question instead of trying to bare all the weight themselves.
Just knowing this isn’t a cure to anxiety (as anxiety tends to win out over logical thinking) but it was a small step in understanding that at every stage of life, experience will give you the tools to move forward.
Over time, I have found other small steps that have helped manage, and even and embrace my anxiety. Things that have helped me:
Changing diet: This isn't one of those "just smile more and you'll feel better" things - what you eat can have an impact on how you think and alter chemical balance of your body and mind. A bagel every morning might just make you think more slowly and need a nap every afternoon. Seeing a dietician can help you understand your body a little better but something high in protein and low in carbs will give you the best foundation for the day.
Changing how you communicate with coworkers: If you know that you may need more time to process information, tell coworkers that you will send a follow up email after a meeting or question they have for you. This will allow you to give more thoughtful answers at your own pace and not feel stressed or overwhelmed.
Not sitting in the same place every day: Sitting in the same place can feel stale and frustrating so moving around will refresh your mind. It will also allow you to interact with more people in the company that you may not otherwise get to see or talk to on a regular basis.
Pushing boundaries: This will be different for everyone but anything from saying yes to being a presenter in a meeting to just saying hi to a coworker in the hallway. Small goals can have big rewards, but feeling integrated into the company will help you grow as an individual and with the team.
Being vulnerable: Continuing to ask questions and ask for help (in the office or with a mental health professional) will encourage growth and understanding for both yourself and with your coworkers.
Just with our bodies, our minds need to be nurtured and has it's own rules for health that is an individual experience for each and every person. While everybody is different when it comes to mental health, the workplace can be a supportive environment that want’s to see you succeed. Anxiety is still a part of me, but it isn't all of me.
Hopefully this will help someone who may be experiencing the same thing and hopefully you don’t feel alone.
All images created by Kayla Feeney. To view her work, click here.