Mental health matters.
Time can help in many different ways.
Time to figure out the mental, emotional, social and physical challenges they or a loved one faces.
This doesn’t mean leaving a person to allow their mental health challenges to fester, to be buried in the sand or expected to ‘blow over’.
This might include giving that person time to talk, to vent and to figure things out, either privately or out loud as they piece together what is making up their mental state at any given time.
In some cases, it may require further support and, in others, intervention.
Mental health is not rigid, a person’s feelings will ebb and flow as different situations, challenges and life events present themselves. What might affect someone in a certain way at one particular time might feel different to them the next time they experience a similar scenario.
Without my mental health condition, I couldn’t do what I do...
Having said that, it is not widely celebrated that there are mental health characteristics that can be attributed to people that might assist them to perform, succeed, cope well and deliver in their chosen career or a situation in which they find themselves.
What is meant by that is that a person’s mental health traits could (and should) be used in a positive way.
The intention of this is not to demean any mental health condition, and these findings are based purely on the decades of my direct experience spent as a Personal / Executive Assistant in the corporate world, together with the transition of becoming a business owner and gaining qualifications in both ‘Awareness of Mental Health Problems’ and ‘Understanding Children and Young People’s Mental Health’.
The mental health charity, Mind, references ‘1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England’ (Source: McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, T. S., Bebbington, P. E., & Jenkins, R. (2009). Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: results of a household survey)) and ‘1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week in England’. (Source: McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. (eds.) (2016). Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult psychiatric morbidity survey 2014.)
The statistics show an increasing number of people going about their daily lives with mental health challenges that they would now like to address.
The key is timing.
Any person needs to want to address the mental challenges they face and, when that time is right, they often require access to the type of support they choose to pursue as quickly as possible. Waiting lists and assessments are prohibitive when they make the brave decision to seek the help they feel they need.
Having met and spoken with a large number of employed and self-employed Assistants over the years, through learning from them, working with them and building relationships with them, I have come to learn that we, as Assistants, are susceptible to experiencing a mental health condition, either before or during our career, and it is often that condition that allows us to thrive and do well in what is often an underrated and less appreciated profession.
Whilst mental health is often referred to with negative connotations, it is worth taking a look at a few mental health conditions that can, in fact, be advantageous to an Assistant that wishes to pursue a long-lasting career – and hopefully some questions can be answered to provide some ‘aha moments’.
Why anxiety can be a good thing
Take anxiety as an example.
Anxiety felt in a person can be caused leading from a specific or certain event (bereavement, loss of job, divorce, etc) or it can be a build-up of several life experiences.
What anxiety brings to some people are feelings of restlessness, nervousness or tension and they may sense an element of panic or danger. With that the physical symptoms of anxiety includes: the feeling of shaking, stomach upsets, rashes, faster breathing, increased heartbeat, lack of / increased appetite and a person may have problems in sleeping and constantly feel restless.
Whilst anxiety can be debilitating in extreme cases, it can be recognised in many Assistants. It is when anxiety is caused by prolonged periods of feeling stressed and affects a person’s quality of life detrimentally that it should be addressed before it becomes a mental health disorder.
In fact, most Assistants that I have worked with have received a diagnosis of anxiety or they believe they experience the symptoms of anxiety (and depression).
As Assistants likely plan for the unknown, this is not a surprise.
They want to be one step ahead of anything that may come up and have contingencies at the ready should anything not go according to plan.
The sense of an impending problem allows an Assistant to think laterally, to plan for the unexpected and in good girl guide fashion, be prepared for the unexpected.
One positive factor in feeling anxious is that it protects a person from any danger, the fight-or-flight response kicks in and it allows them to react faster in an emergency.
Any Assistant will no doubt have felt the fight-or-flight response at some point as they found themselves in a situation which they could either sink or swim.
By facing the challenge in hand, they might well have thought of all possible scenarios that could potentially arise and are therefore as prepared as they can be to succeed solving the task in hand. This feeling might motivate and encourage Assistants in which they wish to constantly make a good impression, achieve their goals and be successful in what they intend to do.
Great attention to detail and natural observance with an aptitude for organisation in all things allows an Assistant that has anxiety to perform their role in exactly the way expected of them in order to get things done quickly with little error.
This element of anxiety is also very good in leadership. As leaders have to constantly think about the different scenarios and possible outcomes, having an element of anxiety might be advantageous to them if managed well.
The growth and self-development that comes from this can create the motivational cycle that drives an Assistant forward in often stressful situations.
A person’s relationships with others, from all walks of life and at differing levels of seniority bodes well for an anxious Assistant as they often show consideration to others. With anxiety comes empathy and someone who has experience of this will know that the interaction with others is significant and is often considered closely in every relationship.
Is then, the tiredness that many Assistants report they feel be a symptom of anxiety? The constant planning for the unexpected, strategising for plans that often are never delivered, second guessing as to how another person may react to a given situation or what they wish delivered and doing it all under tight deadlines with quick turnarounds might be a factor that allows Assistants to do their jobs well.
When a person feels they are not in control of something, it can lead to stress and anxiety.
This is commonplace in an Assistant’s world where something (often) doesn’t go according to plan, or plans are changed at the last moment, so they are chasing their tail to rectify or resolve something to ensure it continues to run seamlessly with no hiccups for the person they are organising it for. The fear of losing control is often enough to tip even the most senior of Assistants over the edge in feeling that things beyond their control cannot be regained and ultimately, they will fear the feelings all that brings.
You might be surprised by the number of people that have recently opened up about having anxiety and that number continues to increase. I believe there is a significant number of people swimming against a similar tide.
Everyone is different, as if everyone’s anxiety but knowing you are not alone is reassuring. Knowing how to manage anxiety positively can be life changing and using it to your advantage is a big step.
I have OCD!
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) includes the element of anxiety as a cyclical process of obsessive thoughts leads to compulsive behaviour.
OCD consists of two components (obsessions and compulsions), repetitive thoughts can trigger a person that cannot 'let go' of it (like the popular example of ‘Did they lock the back door before they went out?’) and repetitive actions they complete so they think they feel better but can impair general functioning (this can include doing a certain thing a set number of times like clicking the light switch on and off).
A person that has a predisposition to anxiety may be more likely to have OCD and the personal traits in a person who is methodical, meticulous and has a high standard of perfection has a tendency to have been diagnosed with OCD or feels their symptoms are sufficient enough to describe themselves as having OCD.
OCD is likely to provide someone with great attention to detail with an attentive nature, both important qualities for any Assistant.
They are likely to enjoy orderly, process driven approaches, all of which are qualities that make an excellent Assistant. In being disciplined in doing repetitive tasks in such a way that allows an Assistant to ensure it is done to the best of their ability without compromise can be seen as obsessive or compulsive.
The proficiency that is developed through consistent perseverance in tasks undertaken develops a continuous improvement in anything. Often, high performing athletes attribute OCD traits to their drive in perfecting their craft and skill and enabling them to improve upon their performance in each race or match.
Creativity is something that someone with OCD might have in abundance and therefore an Assistant in a creative arena is likely to contribute significantly to new ideas and problems that others may not have necessarily thought of.
A person that is not willing to plan a project or task with full attention and patience and carry out objectives in a logical or orderly sequence might find that being an Assistant is not for them.
An Assistant with OCD will certainly find their role much more manageable with the discipline they instil in everything they do, often resulting in a successful outcome.
Mental ill-health occurs when a person's state of mind is not functioning satisfactorily which, in turn, affects mood, behaviour and thought process. Mental ill-health can be a cause of something specific (environmental) or it can be genetic / hereditary.
The main consideration to take on board is whether or not the feelings of any mental health condition lasts for longer than a short period, if it prevents a person from living the life they would like to lead. If it does, it is time for them to talk with a professional about it.
Whilst labelling conditions might be unhelpful in the main, it is important for anyone to understand how they think and what makes them feel mentally positive about what they are doing, what makes them tick and what attributes can be used in a positive way (regardless of whether or not they are deemed as negative in most environments) to a person’s advantage.
How are you going to use your mental health traits positively?
Statistics Better mental health support in the workplace can help save UK businesses up to £8 billion per year. (Source: Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health. (2009). Briefing 40: Removing Barriers. The facts about mental health and employment. Retrieved from ohrn.nhs.uk/resource/policy/TheFactsaboutMentalHealth.pdf) 1 in 6.8 people (that’s 14.7%) experience mental health problems in the workplace. (Source: Lelliott, P., Tulloch, S., Boardman, J., Harvey, S., & Henderson, H. (2008). Mental health and work.) Retrieved from gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/212266/hwwb-mental-health-and-work.pdf In England women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders as men. (Source: Martin-Merino, E., Ruigomez, A., Wallander, M., Johansson, S. and GarciaRodriguez, L. (2009). Prevalence, incidence, morbidity and treatment patterns in a cohort of patients diagnosed with anxiety in UK primary care.) Family Practice, 27(1), pp.9-16. 1 in 5 UK workers felt ‘unable’ to manage pressure and stress levels at work (March 2021). Source: YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2099 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 25th – 26th March 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). All figures referenced from our ‘October 2020’ study on Burnout, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2045 adults, of which 556 were working women. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22nd – 23rd September 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK working adults (aged 18+). 46% of UK workers felt ‘more prone to extreme levels of stress’ compared with a year ago (March 2020) (Source: YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2099 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 25th – 26th March 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). All figures referenced from our ‘October 2020’ study on Burnout, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2045 adults, of which 556 were working women. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22nd – 23rd September 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK working adults (aged 18+)). Around a third of adults and young people said their mental health has got much worse since March 2020 (Source: Research conducted by Mind via a survey that included almost 12, 000 people with mental health problems in April 2021 across England and Wales about their experiences over the past year.)
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