As Leesa lay in bed that night, she began to reflect on the day that had just occurred. Only 12 hours ago she was blissfully unaware of what was planned that day at work.
“As you know we have been asked to cut operating costs. We’ve had to make some very difficult decisions, so unfortunately your role is being made redundant…”
She plays back the scene in her mind…sitting in the room, across from her manager, she notices her manager’s hand fidgeting with the piece of paper and looking anxious. Swallowing down the feeling of shock, the side of her lips turn slightly down in quiet contemplation. She let the word sink in. Redundant.
Leesa focuses back on the present, she is in her bed and feels safe, knowing her husband and family have always been there for her and is loved. As she looks up at the pressed metal ceiling above her, she listens to the strained noise of her husband’s breathing next to her as he drifts off to sleep. She counts her blessings and closes her eyes, reminding herself that everything will be ok.
Sleep does not come easy and she starts to reflect on her career and the choices she has made – the good the bad and the downright stupid. There had been many arduous and demanding moments. – she did choose to work in HR after all. She knew that she loved working with people, even the difficult and most diverse leaders, she was sponge and never tired of learning new things. She was proud of the challenges she had faced and the lessons she had learned. However, she knew that biggest challenge of all was containing the deep emotional and psychological pain from her past and trying not letting this affect her work or her perceived notion of career success. She was proud that she had overcome and what she had become.
She feels a wave of low self-worth and rejection wash over her, only she couldn’t connect to the over-arching source of the feeling. It is only a job, after all…
As her eyes flutter, battling the world of sleep, she reflects with finality of her day…Redundant, the word echoes in her mind…but I am OK, things could be worse, she thinks to herself, as she finally drifts off to sleep.
It feels like only a split moment that she wakes up from her sleep with a headache that feels like a giant thunderclap. She looks at the clock…3am. She can feel the pressure penetrating around her head…as soon as she feels it, she knows what is coming. She quickly wakes her husband, checks her blood pressure on the home monitor and they rush themselves to St Vincent’s hospital. She’d been there before. Another bad hypertensive episode. As the morphine starts to take effect, she feels ashamed and embarrassed. She wants to know why this keeps happening!
As she lies there in the emergency bay, waiting for the drugs to work and bring her blood pressure down slowly, she starts to mentally join the dots between some of her chronic health issues, her childhood trauma and the relentless workplace stress that she had experienced over the years.
Suddenly, as if the last 20 years had finally spoken to her with absolute clarity. Every time her workplace had pushed her to the edge of burnout she had trained herself to remain calm and mentally resilient but her body was actually taking the blow in some way or another. She had never connected the two previously as it just didn’t seem to line up from a timing point of view. She realised that the delayed physical alarm bells were urging her to seek medical attention and seek help. She had all but ignored them on many occasions, but now she was in a position to finally deal with it and close the loop. She was scared but felt empowered. She knew what to do.
You’ll read in many books and hear from many people about what “mental health” is and how to look out for it…and what happens for many of us, when we think about mental health, we think about the mental signs, the psychological symptoms – the things inside our mind. The reality is is that most of us don’t realise the physical sensations or physiological changes that these mental habits have on our bodies, and how our bodies are working hard everyday to alert us through its own language of aches and pains, with the desperate attempt to tell us to slow down and pay attention.
If you speak to someone who has experienced mental health issues before, I would be surprised if not all of them will tell you straight away that that mental health often isn’t only mental.
Our bodies are intuitive, more than we give them credit for. They have inbuilt alarm systems, telling us when things aren’t going great. Our bodies subconsciously and consciously adapt and create incremental changes to the level of our stress response over time; and without the knowledge or skills to observe or reduce these levels, we can start to experience our stress response going into overdrive without even knowing it.
The accumulation of stress, even seemingly ‘insignificant’ stressful events, begin to create biological changes in our minds and bodies that manifest in more than just a moment of frustration or outburst of anger.
It might take years, if not decades, for us as individuals to finally pay attention to the language of our bodies. Developing a deep knowledge and a sense of self agency over the years is a tough lesson, but a necessary one for many of sitting in stressed out workplaces, feeling the aches and pains, but not listening to their message.
Listening to our bodies and developing a deeper sense of self compassion are just the basics. Finding the courage to seek support and work with trained medical professionals could be the greatest gift you give yourself.
After all, if you don’t listen to your body, nobody else will for you.
Want to work with me?
Camille Wilson is the founder of Grow Together Now. Camille works with companies to change the way we see mental health in the workplace by providing keynote speaking, facilitation, and consulting services.
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