I have been reflecting on conversations with clients in the last few weeks, both individual and business clients. There is a theme developing around waiting until we get out of this crisis before stopping, examining the impact it has had on our mental health and then taking action.
Here’s a few examples….
One client of mine who works in an especially male dominated and macho industry got to a particular low point in early December at which point a colleague gave him my number. It took him until early January to call me. By the end of our first appointment it was clear that one of the areas we needed to work on was his need to “get himself back into a position where he felt pretty good” before coming to me and admitting he may need some support.
Another business we have been speaking to is aware that their teams are going above and beyond expectations to make the business work and have been doing so since April 2020. They know their teams are working under extreme stress and pressure and are “afraid to open up the discussion for fear they will go off sick.”
A service industry client of ours entered Lockdown V 3.0 and realised that they need to take action to support their teams now. They have realised that no matter how they tell themselves that this will be the last lockdown, experience shows there will always be challenge and change coming in from any direction and their staff “are too important to throw under the bus of stress.”
The Holiday Illness
We have this discussion often in workshops. Many of us can plot a graph of stress that peaks just before we go on holiday as we put ourselves under even more pressure and stress to make everything right before we go away. Midway through the break as we finally calm down and relax, we get ill. Our bodies have finally responded to the signals from our mind and realised that it is now safe to be ill. The time we have been saving up for, looking forward to, is now threatened by illness because we did not take proper care of ourselves for the other 50 weeks of the year.
The finishing line mentality
We do appear to have developed a collective finishing line mentality to our health.
That mentality where we tell ourselves that we just need one more push to get ourselves over the line and then we can collapse in a heap and pay attention to issues we have been avoiding.
It applies to our physical health but more so to our mental health because we can push our negative thoughts, our anxieties, our vulnerabilities away for a period of time with the idea that we will deal with them later. One of the issues with that way of dealing with mental health is that it easily becomes habitual and we will always have another reason not to deal with our fears. There will always be something else demanding our time that we can label as more important right up to the point where we feel so overwhelmed that we have no choice.
There is no finishing line
Pedants will wish to point out that the statement above is incorrect and there are plenty of examples of finishing lines. Their assertion is correct and helps make the point that I am making. In life there is never just one finishing line. Once we cross the one we are racing towards, life throws up another one for us to direct our energy towards.
Professional sprint athletes spend their lives visualising and training for “the race.” Once they cross the line they celebrate and then they start focussing on the next race. There is always another race to run and always another finishing line to cross.
We tell ourselves we will deal with the nagging voice in our heads that is warning us all is not right, once we have completed that latest challenge we are facing. To do so is simply to engage in self deceit. A deceit that we will tell ourselves again and again until we fall over.
Since April 2020 we have experienced 2 lockdowns and we are in the process of exiting from the third. Our hope tells us this could be the last. What does our experience tell us?
My mind is like my car
When I took on the responsibility of owning a car with it came statutory responsibilities of insurance, tax and MOT certificates. I also know that if I get it serviced regularly it is likely to be reliable and not break down. I also know that occasionally parts wear out and I know where to take the car to get it fixed when they do. I have a trusted mechanic for all of this. It is a relationship that works and keeps me safe and reliable.
My mind is the same. I have a coach who I see for regular servicing and if I notice a bigger issue I book myself in for more work. Of course, because I regularly spend time with my coach then am much less likely to have bigger issues came down the line. I carry my vulnerability with me and I deal with it. I don;t push it away to deal with later.
Just like looking after a car there are lots of alternatives to looking after our minds.
They range from DIY or Self Help to using apps, engaging with a coach, counsellor or psychotherapist.
You have choice
If you are reading this and you can recognise that finishing line mentality in your own makeup, good. You now have a choice about what you can do.
If you are running a team, a department or a whole business, the chances are that mentality exists in your colleagues and employees.
My question to you as a leader is, do you want to get out of Lockdown V 3.0 and see your team collapse in a collective heap of weariness and attrition just as you spot the next finishing line approaching on the horizon?
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