Stress is the theme for this years Mental Health Week and there are announcements across media including a Mental Health Minute across commercial radio and the BBC performed by royals, Lady Gaga and Judy Dench.
Huge amounts of time and money have been spent on trying to get us to take stress seriously, from luxe adverts to hard legislation.
But we won’t.
We won’t because if we could we would but some of us are in a situation where if we were to we’d start to fall behind on the mortgage, rent or other essential payments.
We won’t because we don’t have the necessary backing from managers who in turn are unsupported. The internet is absolutely heaving with research around how management can make the workplace less stressful and techniques that individuals can use to manage personal stress, and as a nation we are dropping like flies. That's because workplace stress is seen as a badge of honour and these techniques are like using a water pistol to put out a fire.
We won’t because being overworked has become a virtue. A significant number of us work over 45 hours a week and Londoners work, on average, three weeks more than people who live outside of London and we’re proud of it.
On average men work longer hours than women and women do countless hours more housework, childcare and emotional labour. If you’re not constantly on the go, and your children are not in several after-school clubs as well as doing homework then WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
I’m proposing two things:
Increasing numbers of us have moved from stress to burnout. The difference? One can make you ill. The other can devastate you. Working conditions in the 1840’s to 60’s were horrific with 12 hour days and 7 day weeks, 5 year olds working and people sharing beds on a shift system but people got on with it because they had to. Happily, we have much better choices. We just don’t take them.
Like ‘mental health’ ‘Wellbeing’ is overused to the point of meaninglessness, reduced to chocolate, bubble bath and gin for women, exercise and material acquisition for men. You might get a five minute buzz from these things but they’re not going to save you. Your boss is not going to save you. The law is not going to save you from your boss unless you are very, very rich in which case you can afford to walk away from your job. Our political landscape is heading swiftly backwards in time and we are encouraged to vote to harm ourselves.
Here are 3 meaningful opportunities to avoid burnout and limit stress:
1. Join a Union.
Get over any derisive feelings you may have about flat caps and whippets, ask yourself who benefits from you having those derisive feelings, and join an organisation that will represent you if you are treated badly by your employer. Whether your employer recognises a Union or not is irrelevant.
If you are an employer, ask for Union input. Get over any fearful feelings you may have about three day weeks and militant wreckers and discover how Unions can make your life better and your business more robust. Look to Germany where Unions and employers work together routinely, respectfully and productively. High staff turnover and unsafe working practices cost businesses avoidable losses.
2. Discern how status is making you anxious.
It’s not unusual to not be able to tell who is very high status because their self esteem is such that they don’t care a great deal about what they look like or what car they drive. It’s genuine nonchalance not overcompensation for feeling unable to advance; their self-worth isn’t affected by their hairstyle or suit, by being seen to be having a wonderful life on social media or going out with the boys every single evening.
If both of you have to work in order to cover childcare costs or to pay for two cars consider how much being employed is worth financially and in terms of status to you as individuals. Could you both work part time? Or is it important to your social standing to be seen to be employed?
3. Explore how you think about other people.
There’s an element to many peoples’ personality where we are willing to suffer as long as we can cause people who are weaker than ourselves to suffer; it’s called 'Punching Down’ or ‘The Crab Bucket.’ We will embrace the identity of Hard Working Tax Payer because we hate scroungers on benefits. We would rather do without something that is in our grasp than help someone else get something. This grudging approach to life has its roots in fear and feeds on hate - and fear causes the release of adrenaline. Yes, immigrants exist. Yes Islamic terrorism is real. Yes, people on benefits cost £109.8 billion. And immigrants contribute more to the economy than they take, terrorism in the UK has never been lower (while rates of domestic violence are greater) and old age pensions account for nearly half of welfare spending, benefits for working people take up almost the other half and Jobseekers Allowance is up 1% of the total.
If you know these facts and still feel angry or grudging about immigrants, Muslims or people on benefits you will suffer from a kind of confusion called cognitive dissonance which is a type of stress. You can choose to make large areas of your areas less stressful just by thinking carefully, logically and with an open mind which is precisely what counselling is. Learning to think in this way, to consider complexity, to deal with nuance, to recognise that you don't know what you don't know is much harder than it sounds which is why we need people to help us. And it’s absolutely worth it.
NB My levels of stress went through the roof when the comparisons graph image totally refused to be embedded in the text. After half an hour I gave up. This doesn't mean I'm a quitter and have failed and should keep going until it goes right. It means the software is playing up and it's out of my control until someone else repairs it. It means that I believe you're an adult and can cope with imperfection. And it means that my life is worth more than obsessing with something that won't work. So is yours.
All Abandonment Abuse Ancestors Anger Anxiety Ash Wednesday Attitude Banking Bereavement Birthday Bravery Breivik Bystander Effect Camila Batmanghelidjh Carnival Cbt Challenger Charlotte Bevan Childbirth Childhood Children Christmas Coaching Compassion Contemplation Control Counselling Culture Dalai Lama Death Death Cafe Democracy Denial Depression Domestic Violence Dying Eap Earth Day Empathy Employment Eric Klinenberg Ethics Exams Existential Failure Family Annihilation Founders Syndrome Francis Report Gay Cure Genocide George Lyward Goldman Sachs Good Death Greg Smith Grief Grieving Grooming Groupthink Happiness Hate Hungary Illness Interconnectedness Jason Mihalko Jubilee Kids Company Kitty Genovese Life Light Living Loneliness Love Mandatory Reporting Meaning Men Mental Health Mid Staffs Mindfulness Money Mothers New Year Nigella Lawson Optimism Organisational Collapse Oxford Abuse Panama Papers Panic Panic Attacks Parenthood Petruska Clarkson Pleasure Politics Positivity Post Natal Depression Power Priorities Priority Productivity Psychotherapy Ptsd Red Tent Reflection Rena Resilience Riots Rites Of Passage Ritual Robin Williams Sad Sales Savile Scared Seasonal Affective Disorder Self Care Self Preservation Self-preservation Shock Sin Singletons Sport Spring Status St David St Georges Day Stress Suarez Suicide Support Talking Terry Pratchett Time Transition Trauma True Self Truth Understanding Unemployment Valentines Day Viktor Frankl Violence Whistleblowing Who Am I Winter Blues Women Work