Stress & Mental Health
Modern workplace ‘mental health’ issues have moved beyond just being stressed. The Covid situation has basically brought to the forefront the emotional challenges people have been experiencing with Work and Life long before Covid arrived.
Underlying all this stress are inbuilt self preservation systems that are designed to ensure we survive both mentally and physically. I am sure you have by now heard of the "Fight or Flight and Freeze" Syndrome.
This primal and evolutionary process is designed to mobilise and energise the body to “Fight” or “Runaway” and survive in the face of a threat. It can also cause a person to freeze through fear (think of going on stage and presenting to 500 people), many would 'freeze' as they cope with the thought of having to do something like that.
In regards to the Fight or Flight aspects, we need energy to do that, and that requires our largest muscles - Thighs, Shoulder and Arms - to be mobilised and so adrenalin assists by increasing the heart rate and the body systems redirect more blood flow to them. This happens instantly – it’s the way we are designed. It also happens by thinking about something that is perceived as a threat and this occurs a lot at work. Remember; your body will always respond to what you think, so your Body is 'Your Mind in Action'.
The Sabre-Toothed Tiger
Those physical predators from a bygone era, have mostly been replaced by the bully, the work-loads, insufficient time, coercive ‘Motivation’, fear of loss (money, house, respect, relationship…), humiliation, loneliness, embarrassment, overwhelm and of course failure.
Any time a ‘stressful’ situation presents itself at work or when working at home, we can’t just run away and hide until the stressor has gone elsewhere, because it is work related and there are work related consequences due to whatever is causing the stress.
Being directly associated with and affected by a work stressor, we have to face it and we can’t physically use our muscles which are now primed to fight or run. Consequently, it now has become personal - it's your body reacting.
We have to think through the problem - it's not a Life or Death Choice:
Now most of us know that some stress is ok, it can be stimulating and spur people into action, as long as it is not prolonged and/or ongoing. In those cases it then becomes destructive and creates dysfunction in the physical body including the brain which is the ‘centre’ of thinking capability.
Thinking is non-physical, but clarity of thought requires the physical body to be functioning in a certain way (calmer, balanced, at ease or even positively excited) which it isn’t when stressed, because it’s primed for survival.
When the body is primed to fight or run (two main options), the bio-chemical changes can inhibit thinking because fear & survival are the focus - not analysis of the situation. By the way that part (analysis) comes from experiencing similar events and having survived them.
We are designed to try and understand threats so we can avoid them. Thinking, naturally goes into greater detail when negative situations (threats) occur due to sensorial arousal – we take in more information about what’s happening or what has happened – It’s why in most cases a person will go on and on in great detail, in efforts to help you understand what is or has happened.
So ongoing pressure and stress, often fills people’s minds with more negative outcomes (and we can be very creative in that area) and so thinking becomes a stumbling block and a bit of a cycle: stress – consequences – worry – more stress – consequences – worry … etc. Their negative and fear-based feelings drive the natural tendency to avoid as they worry more and focus on the consequences as opposed to resolving the problem.
Power and Control:
In the working environments, experiencing fear is made worse if a person feels or believe they have no power, authority or ability to remove the threat and solve the problem themselves. This is often a major contributing factor to the intensity of the emotions.
As each day of work presents itself, if there are repetitive 'threats', inner conflict will manifest.
When this happens health begins to be compromised as the body’s organs adjust to function under the stressful situations.
Ill health can also become a functional avoidance strategy and a secondary gain.
Therefore organisations require a combined effort between management and employees in understanding what the workforce is experiencing; not so much what employees may be complaining about, although that is important, but about what interferes with the performing of duties, which in turn limits personal development.
Working together on this paves the way for focused assistance or interventions in helping to strengthen the workforces emotional wellbeing and building a robust workforce.
There will always be too much work to do in a day, deadlines to meet, resource problems and people’s behavioural issues to contend with - it's called life.