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Mental Health - Coping with stress, anxiety and OCD in the workplace

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

Mental health costs employers up to £42 billion per year according to a government report ‘thriving at work’. Even with these extraordinary figures, many of us still don’t really know or understand mental health especially in the workplace or educational establishments.

I am seen by many as a confident and outgoing individual however in 2010 which in my second year of university I was diagnosed with OCD and anxiety which very few people know or would expect. I am hoping to share my story to increase awareness of mental health alongside explaining how I cope with a stressful job, a young family as well as training for a marathon.

In 2010 whilst studying at university I attended a gym session with a group of friends when I suddenly felt lightheaded and faint alongside experience heart palpitations and uncontrollable shaking. Within seconds I could feel my mind talking to me, telling me this was the end and you don’t know how to get out of the gym or how to drive home. As you can imagine this was extremely worrying and scary for someone who has never felt this way before.

Upon returning home the world didn’t seem real, a bit like a mirage and sensations seem to have left me which added to the anxiety and panic that was sweeping through my body. This was the story for the next few weeks. The intrusive thoughts that entered my mind became stronger and even ventured into the realm of - 'would I purposely push someone in front of moving cars, would I randomly tip a baby out of a buggy?' they were thoughts that I have never felt before and obviously didn’t pursue!

These thoughts made me feel incredibly vulnerable, out of control and scared that I would do something that I didn’t mean to do, as a result, I only felt comfortable in my own room with only close friends or family for comfort. This behaviour was extremely out of character for me, someone who was regularly playing sports, attending events, or was found propping up bars around Coventry and luckily my family supported me in getting help through the priory where they diagnosed my OCD and anxiety.

This was the moment things turned as I then began to understand that the sensations, emotions and thoughts I was experiencing were ‘normal’ and that with some support I would overcome them. Following weeks of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and attending sessions with psychologists I began to find my feet and the biggest support of all was getting back into sport - playing football and getting back in the gym.

Even to this day, I get intrusive thoughts, disturbing visions, voices in my head and frustrations that I have to control but I have learned through a number of years to control these emotions. Working as a recruiter you are exposed to a number of stressful situations such as not hitting targets, not being successful, constantly asking 'am I good enough at this?', all of these emotions are normal, however, when these thoughts escalate into more physical sensations such as palpitations, shaking, sweating, etc it's important to speak to a friend, family member or colleague as I find putting the ‘mountain back into the molehill’ really helps and the situation is never as bad as you think!

How to cope and what could you do?

As above the main area I focus on now, in all walks of life is to ‘put the mountain back in the molehill’ and realise that everything can be overcome and it emotions are feelings that are controlled by our behaviours and actions. To assist the above I always try to exercise or partake in sports as often as I can and working with a flexible employer who allows me to go running at lunch is a fantastic benefit and truly one I would advise more organisations looking into. Exercise allows for endorphin release which naturally makes us feel good (usually when we’re finished!) however I also find I can ‘drift’ into my own world where it’s impossible for me to think about running, breathing, my environment and also the stress that I am trying to get away from therefore clearing the mind.

Planning the day is also essential in order to control emotion, however, with OCD it can be a challenge to move away from the plan so please do allow flexibility. Having a plan allows me to review my day just before finishing and even when the results haven’t arrived I can see that I have done everything that I can possibly control In order to ensure tomorrow’s result is different. A plan also allows me to manage the stress levels by prioritising duties. I personally number my ‘to do’ items ensuring the most important are attended to first which again reduces the stress and feeling of being out of control.

Working within a business with a flexible attitude also gives me the chance to leave my desk when needed as well as actually take a full lunch hour! Many candidates that I speak to mention to me that they don’t get lunch or never take a lunch break, I cannot stress how refreshing and beneficial it is to have a full hour away from your desk. Most lunch breaks I will spend time going for a walk, the gym, or a quick run but anything to get out and clear your mind will help with a greater focus in the afternoon.

Keeping a diary (even if mentally) I find allows me to monitor situations in which I feel nervous. For example, if I have a presentation to management which I am getting anxious about I write down what the event is, what I am nervous about, how am I feeling physically and emotionally and what can I do to cope. Post-event I re-address writing down what happened, how I felt and usually I find that I was worried and anxious about a hypothetical situation that never arose!

Finally talking is an enormous coping strategy is talking. I am surrounded by a fantastic team, management team, HR, and work for an employer who understands the challenges I face. By talking to the team and wider business understand what I do to cope and know how they can support. Without informing the business of how I feel and what they can do to help, nothing can change and the challenge becomes a little harder.

I still experience symptoms, thoughts and emotions even now but with the coping methods above I have been able to develop and progress in my career, have a young family, recently completed the London marathon alongside attacking situations which previously I would have questioned. The moral of the story is to keep your head high, talk to colleagues, family members and your management team but also try to get involved in some form of activity no matter how intense to help relieve stress and allow refocus!

Working at Macildowie allows me to support not only candidates seeking new employment who struggle with the same symptoms or experience anxiety going into interviews, but also working with clients to relay candidate feedback and true 'courageous communication' to help them reduce the number of staff affected by work-related stress.

If you're struggling with anything related to mental health or employment, please get in touch or take a look at some of our other blogs and see if they can help you.

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