Mental Wellness - Let's Talk About It!
To challenge the stigma of mental health in the workplace, I’m sharing my story in hopes that it helps others and makes talking about mental health struggles more normal. Here it goes…
Life has changed since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and we have had to deal with an incredible amount of uncertainty and then learn to manage to live with Covid-19. There is no doubt, it has been a balancing act for all of us for the past two years.
Personally, it’s been a rollercoaster ride of emotions with schools starting back up and then having to shut down again shortly after. Caring for my kids during the day, supervising their online learning, all while trying to do my job, has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I was very fortunate that my husband’s employer allowed him to work flexibly, but we both had similar expectations to perform and manage our workload. This required us to split the responsibility of overseeing around seven hours of online school while working from home.
Every day, for me feels like we’re figuring out a new routine.
“Is it my day tomorrow or your day?”
“Can you switch with me tomorrow?”
“Do you think mom can watch the kids in the afternoon?”
“There was a positive at school. Did you receive a call to get the kids?”
It has been grueling trying to manage everyone’s schedule and learning to be fluid and adapt to a constantly changing situation with no end in sight.
This has sent me on a perpetual fluctuation of highs and lows combined with a lot of professional and personal guilt. I found that simple things like responding to an email sent me into writers’ block and I was also missing deadlines! This was a constant cycle, and I wasn’t sleeping. I was trying to keep up with everything, and I wasn’t taking time off to decompress. Who wants to stay home when that’s all you’ve been doing?
While social media platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram use to make me feel connected with friends and family, it became a heavy burden. It was one more thing I had to respond to or manage. It finally came to a point where I turned off notifications because they were reminders of everything I had not completed or missed. The sound of a notification easily sent me into a state of panic. What did I forget to do? It caused me to slip into the trap of comparing my life to what I saw on my feed, feeling guilty for not having the desire to attend celebrations, and withdrawing from activities and events I once found so energizing.
Seeing photos of families enjoying vacation, making it to their workouts, and friend’s celebrating, honestly, made me feel terrible. Meanwhile, I struggled to balance my workload, stay on top of my kids’ online school deadlines, stay on top of housework, be a good friend, good sister, good wife, and I wasn’t cutting myself any slack.
When it came to working, I started to avoid tasks and projects I used to love doing, and everything felt emotionally and mentally draining. I was overwhelmed and anxious. Burn out had won!
Last week, I finally surrendered and did the most challenging thing for myself, I reached out and asked for help. Asking for help has always been hard for me because I hate feeling like I can’t do something or that I’ve lost control. And for the sake of being honest, I had experienced burnout before and was made to feel guilty about not prioritizing and regulating my emotions. So, this time around, I made an appointment with my therapist (therapy helps!). Then, I opened up and told my manager and shared I wasn’t in a good headspace. She was highly supportive, and it gave me such relief. She gave me the space to rest and set out, together with my amazing People Operations Team, to address the things that got in the way of my productivity and help me with balance. (Yup, they’re amazing!) My manager checked on me every day, along with other coworkers. What helped me was that I didn’t hear anyone tell me it was a phase or that I just needed to prioritize.
When Managers genuinely care about their team members and are in tune with how they’re feeling, they can do what’s necessary to provide them support, letting them know, “it’s okay to not be okay.” The worst thing a manager can do is become defensive or, worse yet, judge you for not being resilient and telling you to regulate your emotions if you expect to hold a leadership position. I’m so relieved that my manager took the time to find out what wasn’t working. It was a moment that mattered.
I returned to work this week. While I was only gone for a few days, I am mindful that my struggle with burnout is something I’m going to continue to battle. What I need to remember is that I don’t need to prove myself to anyone else. This mindset shift towards rethinking what success and progress means and slowing down helped me so much. Some solutions are focusing on checking in with myself before I do anything, thinking positively, taking a break from work and things that overwhelm me, and most importantly, sharing how I feel with others.
Admitting that I had been struggling with a mental health issue was terrifying because the stigma regarding mental health remains, especially in the workplace. Let’s change this thinking! The best way to normalize mental health is to talk about it. In addition, Leaders need to model Leading With Care regarding mental health and what that means instead of ignoring it.
We need to continue talking about mental health, making it mission-critical, because sharing our challenges is a way to shine some light on the problems we face.
For me, celebrating 16 years at GTA with my GTA Familia is definitely something I am proud of. People care here, and it does start with you. Through my experience at GTA, I know this really is the Best Place To Work, and we all work collectively to ensure it remains that way.
If you'd like to read more employee work life stories, head over to our employee blog page, where you can find a collection of the best of them. GTA is currently looking for skilled talent to grow our GTA Familia. Learn more about our open roles here.
To find out more about their journey, connect with them on LinkedIn.