Understanding Mental Health, Stress and The Workplace

Understanding Mental Health
and The Workplace

The truth is, the term “mental health” entices mixed reactions. With it being relatively new territory, the uncomfortable winces or seat shifting behaviours around the topic, often comes down to a lack of understanding or a fear around the subject. The real barrier against mental health awareness is understanding that it is not some taboo subject or something that only affects a handful of us. Talking about mental health is talking about minding our health. Inline with exercise for keeping fit, or minding our heart health, our mental health is simply another aspect of our wellbeing that we need to care for.

From personal experience and chatting with friends and colleagues, mental health is simply part of our everyday life, whether we realise it or not. It can affect us in many ways from low moods, poor health or burnout to inability to concentrate. Many aspects of our lives can challenge our mental health including our working lifestyles. Having experienced, first hand, some years ago, the real challenges that come with mental health illness due to lifestyle and work overload, I began to search for answers. It is my belief that understanding why we become ill, and how we can mind ourselves to manage it, that makes a real impact for positive change. As someone, like so many others, that likes to be in control and always progressing in life, mental health illness can throw you off course. However, understanding it and taking positive actionable steps for improvement, gives you back the reigns of control on your mind and mental health.

Thankfully, speaking about mental health is becoming more commonplace

Younger generations are setting a new tone around mental health allowing for more people affected by it, to open up and talk.  However, this is a relatively new development and unfortunately, our “it’ll be grand” Irish mentality is still very much at the forefront. In years gone by, people suffering from anxiety, depression or other mental health illness were often misdiagnosed and passed off as “suffering with their nerves” and other such in-depth diagnosis of blinding profound insight.

At least we’ve come a long way since the 1800s where some treatment methods were “alternative” to say the least. I don’t think being strapped to a chair and spun 60 times a minute to provoke “a natural interest in the affairs of life” would be taken lightly today.1

However, we are still quite some distance from a place where we can chat about mental health at morning coffee or over desk dividers, with colleagues, like we do about our sprained wrist or flu symptoms.

If someone is physically injured we take the matter seriously, as the physical manifestation of the injury or illness makes it “real”. Yet, when someone is suffering from mental health, our lack of understanding can lead to dismissal of the issue or perceive someone as being “grand” when in fact they are only saving face on the surface while suffering in silence.

The reality around mental health

Thousands of people of all age groups are affected by mental health issues daily. In fact, on average, one in five people in Ireland, today, are affected by mental health illness. Matching this, globally, around 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have mental disorders or problems.

Research carried out by Journal.ie earlier this year, demonstrated the need to create an environment for open and encouraged conversation around the topic. They found that almost half of people in Ireland, under the age of 35, would hide their mental health difficulties from friends and family.2

Our lack of education around the topic means that even when we, ourselves, or someone we know is affected by a mental health issue, it can take considerable time to diagnose it or even realise what it is we are experiencing. Lack of resources can make it hard to aid the situation once diagnosed.

Understanding Mental Health, Stress and The Workplace 4

Our modern working lifestyle has a lot to answer for

With so many people working remotely and on the go, email on mobile and laptops becoming our hip attachments, we are a generation of “always on”. This evolution of change, both mentally and societally has meant that people are working on their careers and living to work rather than working to live. Work and life, for most, are no longer two separate entities and work-life balance is now, more a case of, work-life blend, where one consistency merges into the other.

This approach can be fantastic for progression, achievement and general career momentum. With realising, that, if we are going to spend a substantial portion of our lives working, we may as well make it a conscious and active part of our lives. However, the downside of this is the stress it can cause on our mental health.

 “The average business professional has 30 to 100 projects on their plate. Modern workers are interrupted seven times an hour and distracted up to 2.1 hours a day…more than 40% of adults say they lie awake at night plagued by the stressful events of the day.” – Forbes

The consistent stress of modern day life and lack of education, around managing it, is creating a mental health dilemma. Many onlookers snipe and dismiss this, talking of how generations of years ago must have been tougher or less affected by this, made of “tougher stuff”. Our lifestyle is now more challenging than ever. As human beings, we are trying to do well in our careers, have a great social life, achieve in our hobbies, be a great parent/ person, contribute to society…the list goes on.
The pressure to be the modern conqueror of “all things life”, creates great anxiety alone. Add on top, the way in which we work with the “always on” work mode mentality, and you have your answer to why, when it comes to our mental health issues.

Understanding Mental Health, Stress and The Workplace 2

The logic behind workplace anxiety

So, we know many people suffer from mental health, particularly in their working lives, but why? What is the link? Here comes the (pared back) science bit…

Our brains and physiology have not developed at the same rate as our business brains. Back in those old “caveman times”, when a four-legged predator was at our cave door, the need for the fight and flight response, to save our lives, was a highly effective piece of programming.

However, today, unfortunately, our body does not understand the difference between the stress of pressure and work over a very real and life-threatening dangerous predator. The brain perceives stress as a real impending danger and so responds with a “fight or flight mode” reaction.

The fight or flight mode is preparing our body to run from said danger and is our survival system at work. Signals are sent to the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline gives us the energy to our limbs to run, hence the feeling of an adrenaline rush, while heightening our sense such as sight and hearing. Blood is pumped intently to the arms and legs, powering us up for take-off.
Meanwhile, cortisol curbs non- vital functions, suppressing the digestive, reproductive and immune system functions, it’s an all hands-on-deck preparation for the exit strategy.

Consistent stress is bad for your physical health

A certain amount of stress and adrenaline is healthy to keep us pumped, pushing through challenges and conquering career goals. However, frequent reaction and manifestation of fight and flight in the body can result in physical, as well as, psychological illness. Consistent release of cortisol and the need for psychical recovery can lead to a depleted immune system, digestive issues and heart complications such as stroke. It can also have a significant impact on the brain, through wear and tear, meaning that cognitive function is impacted and a personal capability to perform at work is hindered. In order to prevent this, we must understand mental health and mind our minds.

It’s not the enemy, it’s a friendly kick in the a**

While it is easy to feel that mental health illness, such as anxiety attacks are a burden to us, a hindrance, a cruel devil that arrives by our side to ruin our lives, it is, in fact, our body’s way of minding itself. When we push our bodies too much, too often, without caring for our systems, our body is letting us know that we need to “check ourselves”, the tank is running empty. Ever hear the saying, you can’t pour from an empty cup? Well, our body is trying to say that, but with chemicals. Anxiety and depression, in our professional lives, can often be down to our body reacting to the neglect of our own mental wellbeing. Everyone needs to care for themselves and replenish their system in order to function well as an “adulting” professional and human being.

Understanding Mental Health, Stress and The Workplace

What can you do about it

It is vital to look after ourselves and recognise stress, address it, deal with it and prevent it. Small adjustments in behaviour and daily habits can completely change the situation for better. We are all extremely busy, that’s how we ended up here in the first place right? It is understandable that finding time to block off and mind your mind seems like some “airy fairy” idea, however, it’s a genuinely important part of every week of your life, to block off time to care for yourself. For most of us, stress and busy schedules are simply part of the lives we lead. Recognising the need to care for your wellbeing as part of your day and week, just like everything else, is vital! Overall, it comes down to minding your body and mind. People make the mistake of separating the two, dismissing care of the mind as something unnecessary when the reality is, if you overburn your poor brain, you damage its performance and it won’t be able to do its job.

If it can’t do its job, you certainly can’t do yours, leading to forgetfulness, mistakes and poor cognitive function. Wear and tear on your mind affects your health psychically as well as mentally. So be sensible, put your wellbeing higher up the priority list. Don’t ignore the importance of happiness and time for self-care, we didn’t question doing things that made us happy as kids, why should we apologise for it as adults. Yes, we all want to be achievement machines and conquer life, but, sometimes, feet up and Netflix is the right choice to help you do that!

Iconic Offices Blog_Authors_Amy Forde

Amy Forde, Head Of Marketing at Iconic Offices

Vintage Amy, as we know her, is the head of our marketing department of killers.
When she’s not geekily upskilling on all things marketing, this lover of vintage can be found digging through weekend markets for “gems” or engrossed in a period drama, having clothing envy. Then the food, oh how we all love our food here…her Instagram is quite the odd mashup. 

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