We live – and work – in a time of rapid technological change and face ever-increasing demands on our time and attention. The resulting increases in stress load can pose challenges for our mental health, and general sense of wellbeing. This can be a particular issue in the plumbing and construction industries for workers across the board, as well as contractors and the owner operators who juggle time on the tools with all the other demands faced by small business owners.
In an industry and a culture that encourages a soldier on mentality, people can be reluctant to seek help when they are struggling. Here, Amanda Ogilvie from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry interviews Incolink counsellor Michal deWilloughby about developing a strategy to help you manage your mental health, and how to know when to seek support or professional assistance.
Mental health is a spectrum, not an all-or-nothing state
Mental health is a spectrum. Depending on the events in our lives, sometimes we move along that spectrum more in one direction or another.
There are a number of small changes that people can make to help protect and nurture their own mental health. Setting realistic goals is critical. Perfection doesn’t exist, so set goals you can reach. Another issue is alcohol and drugs; people can turn to these when they are feeling under stress, but they are not a good way to self-soothe, in fact using them, can end up doing more damage.
Seeking help is not weakness
There is a tendency for some people to think they should be able to manage without help and our culture unfortunately supports that belief. It gives messages like ‘soldier on’ and ‘suck it up princess’ which makes us just get on with it. It suggests we should ignore signs that we are struggling psychologically, maintain that ‘stiff upper lip’ and carry on.
It’s part of being seen as the ‘great Aussie battler’; these are messages we often hear, so people feel like if they even admit they are struggling, they are failing to emulate that image, and are letting themselves and other people down. When people are saying these things to other people, they are turning it inwards as well.
We know that men in particular, partly as a result of this kind of social conditioning, can be reluctant to seek support. However, it’s not just men who may find it difficult to ask for help; I’ve known plenty of women who have been hesitant to seek assistance for any number of reasons.
If you are feeling vulnerable or fragile, acknowledging it is not a sign of weakness. Knowing when to seek help is a good way to self-care.
Listening to your own authority
If you are struggling with your mental health you can lose your inner voice of wisdom. It can get drowned out by the voice of your inner critic, too. People often put great weight on the opinion of peers, parents, partners, even celebrities and historical figures. They are more willing to trust other peoples’ authority than their own. Good mental health does mean listening to your own authority.
If you listen to your own authority and your own inner wisdom, and something is telling you that something is not feeling OK, then seek some trusted help. We know that people who have a good support network with friends and family, and good friends in the workplace, have good mental health even when they may be doing things a bit tough.
Having another person you can turn to and say, “Mate, I’m struggling, I’m having a really bad day”, and that person can respond with “I’m here, just tell me, whatever you need,” then that’s a great support system. There may be times when you’re not hearing what you need even from those people, and this is the time to seek other support.
A counsellor’s role is to be there to empower clients, which means assisting you to learn how to support yourself. It’s to help the client to clear the rubbish out of the way, so they can see themselves and their inner resources more clearly.
A counsellor can help you equip yourself with the tools and strategies to take good care of your mental health. It’s not about handing yourself over to someone else’s authority.
Stress is a major factor
Stress is a coverall for a lot of pressures, in the workplace and outside of it. Relationship issues are one of the most common causes, and also financial pressures. It can be anything that adds more stress to your life and isn’t helpful.
There are two different types of stress. There is normal everyday stress that you actually need to get through life, but then there is stress that is ongoing and overwhelming. Normal stress gets you up in the morning, it motivates you, and it can be a cautionary response that tells you that something doesn’t feel OK.
Stress itself is not inherently damaging. Everyday stress which is normal, everybody has that, but we are talking about overwhelming stress because of difficult events or trauma. If you’re struggling with stress or worry then going to your GP to get a health check-up is a good place to start. If you can’t get access to a service like an Incolink counsellor, then a GP can help you get a mental health plan together.
Good self-care will support you in your mental health. We teach a lot of that with our counselling.
You need to value yourself and your own needs. Be clear around your own boundaries. If you really want to say no to something, don’t say yes. The fact is, we teach other people how to treat us.
Whatever you can give to yourself is what you can give to other people, so if you treat yourself with respect and compassion, that’s going to have a flow on effect to your family, friends and co-workers or employees.
Looking after your physical health is really important and it’s easily overlooked. You need to get good sleep. You need nourishing food. You need to allocate and take some down time to be social with friends and family. Surround yourself with good people and avoid toxic people wherever you can.
Physical contact is important, so go and get a hug. Guys will sometimes have a bit of a laugh about that one, but it’s effective. And laughter itself is good as well, together they help release stress hormones and allow you to access feel-good hormones and endorphins like oxytocin, which are really good for your mental health. It lowers blood pressure, it’s good for your heart, and it relieves stress.
Other professionals can help you with self-care, from seeing a psychologist, to getting a massage, which can help a great deal. Don’t neglect the physical when you are worried about your mental health. You need to look at yourself holistically, and look at all aspects of your life. Anything that gets out of balance can start to work against you.
Acknowledging it’s part of being human
Accepting that sometimes things aren’t easy is part of understanding what it means to be a human being. It’s normal to feel sad after a death or to worry about finances. But once our capacity to deal with stress is compromised, our mental health can suffer, and this will impact all aspects of our lives.
Self-care needs to be at the top of your list to support your mental health, and if you’re doing that then it can be a support even through tough times.
There are so many things that can lead to us feeling that we are not doing very well, and this may be quite normal considering what else is happening in our life. We need to learn how to support ourselves and others through these times when we are doing it a bit tough.
Stress is a normal part of being alive, but when it overwhelms the tools we have to deal with it, then the best thing.
MORE RESOURCES ARE AVAILABLE THROUGH HEADS UP:
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit the website at lifeline.org.au. If it’s an emergency, call 000.
Amanda Ogilvie is the Senior Content Coordinator for the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s “Biz Better Together” productivity initiative: When employers and employees work together, business is better.
Join the conversation @BizBT www.bizbettertogether.com