It has been a little while since Mental Health Awareness week, and I have spent a lot of time reflecting on what Mental Health Awareness means to me, and how it impacts my performance, engagement and well being at work. At the end of the week, I was reading through some incredible stories of honesty, openness and resilience. People opening up about their experiences and feelings – I was in awe.
But then I stopped, paused for a second and asked myself the question “…and, how are you?”
I was a little shocked by what I heard back; I was tired, more than a bit anxious and feeling completely burnt out. It had been a ‘noisy’ few weeks at work and home, and my approach had been to completely bury myself in work, smash through the series of tasks and client delivery, and just hope to get to the end of it. When home, my release was to put some miles in on my push bike, settle in with a glass of wine or two and stare at the television until the next day…then repeat. This tactic just wasn’t working any longer and sitting behind my desk I noticed the building stress, tight shoulders and tense breathing. I was also becoming distant; to colleagues (‘oh, hello stranger’), to my kids (‘go play by yourselves’) and my wife (‘I’m just too tired to talk about it right now’). It was the ‘and repeat’ bit that really got to me, and just felt that this cannot go on. That was it, this was the watershed, enough!
I needed to become conscious again; conscious and honest about my actual feelings. ‘Fine’, ‘OK’ or ‘not bad’ would no longer cut it. I started to closely monitor my feelings and was surprised how much negative stuff I was experiencing. I noticed at work there was a clear pattern of high stress, insecurity, anxiety whereas at home I felt burnt out, guilty, lethargic and ashamed. I did feel positive emotions throughout this time too, but the frequency and depth of these seemed a lot less. It was at this point, after two weeks that I began to feel liberated.
There is no such thing as a bad emotion!
Let me be absolutely clear; there is no such thing as a bad emotion! Even negative emotions are valuable and provide us with vital feedback about how things are and how you’re coping. My previous tactic of ignoring or brushing off negative emotions eventually took its toll. Now, by being fully open to my emotions, coupled with an attitude of self-compassion, it allowed me to recognise it, analyse it and then make a choice in the moment about what I could do about it. If I do feel physically or mentally drained at the end of a training course or client delivery, I can now acknowledge it, recognise that this is quite normal for me and then put some practises in place to manage my energy levels. Previously, I’d try to ignore it then wonder why I’d return to the office a ghost or snap at the kids upon walking through the front door. As I said, it was liberating. It was good to feel bad; but it was what I chose to do next that was most important!
I’m a little embarrassed to say, the tool that I used to help pay attention to my emotions is something that we at JCA have used with clients for years. I just hadn’t consciously and consistently applied it to myself. The ‘Feelings Wheel’ is a simple wheel of positive and negative emotions that we can experience. Furthermore, the wheel also examines emotions as high or low arousal, so you can have high arousal negative emotions such as irritation and anxiety and low arousal positive emotions such as appreciation, thoughtfulness and trusted.
Over time, after focusing on my emotions, I began to see a slow but definite shift in patterns. I was spending a bit more time with renewal and energise emotions, stress emotions were still there, but there was a marked reduction in burn out, tiredness and guilt. I was enjoying my work, I was more engaged in conversations and group work, I had more energy for playing with the kids again, and I was back having civil conversations with my wife over dinner, telling her about my day.
Right now I feel pretty tired after a long week of early starts and late finishes, but that’s OK. It’s OK as I recognise it, it’s understandable to feel that way under the circumstances but I have my music playing, I have a nice dinner planned for tonight and a busy family weekend to look forward to. I feel present. I feel alive. I feel.