RCC, Posted on Dec 03, 2021
BOTH SIDES: NOW
“It’s life’s illusions I recall….I really don’t know life, at all…..”
In the previous blog I asked, “How are you?” and we explored the benefit of self-awareness and how one of the ways that can be enhanced is by talking to a mental health professional.
So…now, another question: “Who are you?” Now that may seem too existential but it’s worth pondering. Because……how we define ourselves determines how we show up; for ourselves, for our work, for our loved ones. You may use a series of adjectives to answer that question –“ I’m kind”, I’m hard-working”, “I’m trustworthy”, etc…. or you may define yourself by the roles you play or the things you enjoy: “I’m a brother”, “I’m a runner”, “I’m a tech support guru”. And, depending on your personality, you may add some self-critical descriptors in there too.
It’s not uncommon for many individuals to answer that question first and foremost with the title they have through their work – I’m a psychologist, I’m a lawyer, I’m a software designer, I’m an engineer…. etc. In fact, occupation is only one of many self-identifying factors that define our uniqueness. Therefore we mustn’t hide our uniqueness behind a job title. And for those individuals with high-pressure jobs, they can become “eventually unhappy with their careers, despite working hard their whole lives to get to their current position”, according to Janna Koretz, Psy.D (Harvard Business Review, December 2019). So there needs to be more to you than just what you do.
The good thing about your work-defined identity is that it gives you a sense of security, purpose, and personal strength. It means you matter in the context of that work community, and “gives you a critical anchor and a harbour to fall back on in times of breakdown” (Devashish Chakravarty in The Economic Times, August 2021). Chakravarty goes on to say that it’s important to “use your work identity only as a temporary harbour and not a permanent lifeboat which is ineffective to get past your long-term challenges”.
The proverbial quest for work-life balance is jumping out at us here. We know we “need” to work hard in order to stay ‘in the game”, and pay our bills - we know we can’t shirk our duties, play hookey, goof off, thumb our noses at corporate, or just plain quit…..but sometimes the effort to show up becomes too much or too hard and we find ourselves veering towards burnout.
here are certainly times when all of us have to “put on our work face” and just get on with the day in spite of what may be going on around us. Fair enough. But failure to somehow process that unexpressed part of yourself can lead to physiological symptoms caused by built up stress
And, granted, there are certainly times when all of us have to “put on our work face” and just get on with the day in spite of what may be going on around us. Fair enough. But failure to somehow process that unexpressed part of yourself can lead to physiological symptoms caused by built up stress. In fact, most workplace burnout doesn’t just occur because one feels over-taxed and undervalued – a lot of it comes from holding in pent-up thoughts and feelings and “soothing” them with socially acceptable practices like alcohol consumption, retail “therapy”, binge eating, binge watching or just avoiding.
Acceptance of our humanness with all our foibles, idiosyncrasies, hopes, dreams, and emotions – is paramount to being and becoming our best self. Again, to cite psychologist Janna Koretz who has created an organization called Azimuth Psychological to help those with work stress, “the issues of high achievement, intense competitiveness, and a culture of overwork has caught many in a perfect storm of burnout and these issues interact in such complex ways with people’s identity, personally, and emotions that it often requires therapy to address them successfully” (Harvard Business Review, December 2019).
Acceptance of our humanness with all our foibles, idiosyncrasies, hopes, dreams, and emotions – is paramount to being and becoming our best self.
Making time to talk to a psychologist or a registered clinical counsellor, even if just for a few sessions, can play a critical role in managing work and life stress, improving your ability to avoid burnout, getting in touch with your values, and processing those difficult emotions.
In a world which recognizes the value of good mental health and therefore good work-life balance, our workplaces would have wellness workshops, allow for mental-health days, would provide access to affordable counselling, and would create an environment where it feels safe to express yourself. And many workplaces are moving in that direction, thanks to organizations like Jalapeno Employee Engagement and others.
You may be interested to participate in the “Work Stress Questionnaire” by Kristina Holmgren (2008) which you can find online. Also, in addition to seeking out help from a counsellor, I highly recommend the book: Burnout: The Secret of Unlocking the Stress Cycle, by Emily and Amy Nagaski.