Tuesday, 15 May 2018

GUEST POST by Lucy* Writing about Stress for Mental Health Awareness Week

A few years ago, I encountered a situation in a job where a manager put relentless pressure on me (and reflecting back, I would say she was bullying me), with an aim to get rid of me due to my entry level position being "permanent" and a more senior member of staff in the team being on a temporary contract which some funding that we had been almost certain to get didn't materialise, so her contract couldn't be extended. I only became aware of this situation when I left because they didn't re-advertise for my job. I chose to quit this job and am so pleased that I did, as my mental health had suffered significantly. I left with extremely low self esteem, self-esteem which would never have improved but for a fantastic manager in my job that followed. 

And just over a year ago, before I bought a flat, I felt like a stranger in my own houseshare. I felt under pressure constantly from my flat "mates"' absolutely unacceptable behaviour towards me. It reached a point when I was no longer able to stay there so crashed at various friends' houses/my parents. Thankfully this was just for two weeks while I was waiting to exchange and then complete - these were the longest two weeks I've ever felt. Again my mental health suffered.

These two examples were where I feel like I had an excuse for being "stressed" where I've felt that the tunnel went on forever. However now, I'm probably in the best place I've ever been in my life. I have my own home and I have a dream job, so why do I feel so rubbish? I feel angry and agitated all the time and really emotional - I've had various tearful breakdowns during this period. Yet despite this, I continued to persevere, often working long hours without even thinking about the impact on myself. I feel like this is an extreme overreaction to a few recent work issues. I've felt like I'm wearing a horcrux (Harry Potter) or the ring (Lord of the Rings) where I feel on edge and my chest feels tight. I feel like I'm travelling through a tunnel again, but again the end isn't in sight. But I'm being ridiculous, this can't be stress.

But I'm wrong.  Stress can crop up anywhere. Just because everything else is going great, it doesn't make you immune to stress. The feelings of anger, increased anxiety, low self esteem, low mood are classic symptoms of stress. Stress is also a basic survival instinct, if we weren't able to react to threatening situations, as a result the human race wouldn't have survived. Stress today is slightly less reacting to a bear in the wood, but reacting to situations difficult to tolerate. I think stress is an overused word in the English vocabulary and as a result can mean that people feel they won't be taken seriously if they say they are stressed. But it's nothing to be ashamed of and it's okay to ask for help. By admitting to yourself that you are stressed you are more able to challenge the triggers by taking positive steps to look after yourself. This might be asking for longer with a deadline, taking time off (yes mental illness is a legitimate reason to phone in sick), asking to work slightly shorter hours and so on (I appreciate these are examples of stress in the workplace but similar adjustments can apply in other situations).

So I encourage you, if you are feeling like things are getting too much, to take a step back and allow some time to recover.

*Lucy is a pseudonym