It’s hard to talk about mental health at the moment without mentioning the virus, but I’ll try to at least keep it in the background.
I’m going to talk about anxiety and change, and there’s some personal stuff here so please be gentle…
Anxiety is a natural reaction to certain situations. Nervous about your driving test? Of course you are and quite right too. I still get nervous about public speaking after 20 years – why? Because it matters, because it is important not to mess it up and the pressure is on to do a good job. This is all perfectly natural. What is less so are anxiety attacks and anxiety disorders. These are extreme examples of when we experience a variety of symptoms associated with panic at the wrong times, the unhelpful times…
I started to experience anxiety attacks when driving a couple of years ago. Not all the time, thank goodness, but in particular on larger roads or at higher speeds. My hands start to sweat, I get a buzzing in my ears, the heartbeat goes into overdrive and I feel almost as if the car has taken off or I’m on a roller coaster. This is no fun, believe me and I do nowhere near as much driving as I used to. When I really can’t avoid the motorway I will dread it for days, then sit behind something slow in lane 1, shouting out “COME ON – YOU’RE OK!!!!!!!” to myself. I have to keep driving though, as I don’t want to “give in” to this, or shut down a part of my life.
When I finally (and it took a while I admit) went to see my GP, she was very kind, she really listened, and didn’t seem to mind me blubbering all over her office (not something I was planning on doing). We talked about work related stress and she prescribed taking 6 months off work – oh how we laughed! But I did have a holiday and it probably helped. But that was 2 years ago and now it’s back with a vengeance, and I expect I’m not alone. I feel as if we are blindly transitioning from chaos into some kind of uncharted new normal. Trying to make good decisions and then feverishly watching the news to see if they need to be unmade.
I understand that the role of businessowner is a stressful one, that this goes with the territory, and I have to take the lions share of this on the chin. I also know that I am lucky to have some truly excellent colleagues whose positivity and support I value more than turnover and profits right now.
But where does this leave our legal duties to our staff as we try to introduce them to whatever version of normal we are hoping to establish, as we try, tentatively to get back to work?
The HSE’s management standards for preventing Workplace Stress are: Role, Relationships, Support, Demands, Control and …..CHANGE. So we need to look at how we re-introduce people back into their work and look at what changes may have occurred. We may need to be kind, to acknowledge there is an undercurrent of fear that is ubiquitous and the situation at work may add to this.
Will the job be different? Does it involve new duties? Are we asking people to hold meetings online? Do they get to practice? Are they working from home now, and if so, how is that going? If they come into the office, does it look different, has their desk moved? Is there tape all over the floor? If, like me, you’ve been involved in a lot of furniture moving and floor marking recently, it’s easy to forget what a shocking sight it might be for those who have not been involved with the process. All this when they may fear redundancy, or have family who are ill, carers or have lost their jobs.
Our job is to make the new normal as good as it can be, but to remember that it isn’t the same as the old normal – not even close.
Zöe Drew CMIOSH