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Is Work Making You Crazy? Literally?

July 2, 2018

Let’s dismiss the PC yielding right up front. We’re going to talk about mental health and your work and how disguised and undiagnosed and unrecognized problems can be. So what is crazy? For this purpose it is not a poor euphemism for mentally ill but rather a synonym to take seriously. As two highly successful professionals chose to take their own lives this month, of course Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s suicides, the reactions were rightly alarming to the degree of distress and the usual symbols of success; power, position, wealth, had no concrete correlation to what added up to happiness and satisfaction. I’m sorry to say it this way, but life getting so unhappy you can’t bear to live it is just plain crazy.

So is your professional world a place of solace or a place of stress? Are the demands and challenges processed in wins and losses? Do the losses devastate you? Do losses create learning and future wins? Have you observed co-workers taking on worrisome traits? Would you recognize them if you saw them?

The two keys for self examination in this, highly non-medical, diagnosis of work making you crazy are about stress and depression. Both quite natural in life, professional and otherwise. Both can stimulate responses that lead to our great successes, and, both can be central in the demise of mental, and physical health, particularly if they endure without diagnosis and meaningful remedies.

Stress occurs whenever there is a challenge, it can be exciting and it can stimulate our adrenal responses in very positive and productive ways. Everyone reacts differently to stress, to different kinds, to different levels and there is no single formula for what is too much or too intense so we have to depend on our own consciousness and introspection to first evaluate. Physical symptoms are clearly the most apparent; do you have a headache at the end of the day, several days? Are you gaining weight, losing friends or not sleeping? Do you lack regular release activities that free you from the tension of stress? Do you lash out at others and find yourself regularly on edge or in a bad mood?

Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of stress is an over-acceptance of it’s necessity, without appreciating its gravity. “I hate this job stress but it’s what I have to do to get paid.” Sure, if it was easy it wouldn’t be called work but an acceptance of inordinate stress, or even “learning” to deal with it by suppressing or pretending to ignore it can take a direct physical toll in time but, just as devastatingly, can erode mental health in ways that may be hard to detect over time, may be rationalized as the “cost of doing business” or may lead to long and lasting funks, even dire consequences. The battle choices are about countering it, having satisfying release activities or avoiding it. The latter may mean employing behavior and career strategies ranging from avoiding certain people or paths to facing an honest evaluation of worth when it comes to what you are getting and what it is costing.

While depression can certainly be a vague form of destruction, who hasn’t had a spell? Here again the person who can best diagnose the early forms of seriousness are the person who can ask, and honestly answer, am I happy? Depression that lasts, that is easily triggered or becomes commonplace should be worrisome and should get professional diagnosis even if you want to convince yourself it will pass. It’s just this one person, or this one situation and if this then that will go away. Maybe, but the longer it doesn’t, the more depression recurs the more serious it can be. Self-medicating with the wrong “cures” or becoming comfortable as a victim or feeling helpless to find an alternative can avoid the self-confrontation that may be critical. You don’t need to hit the bottom to bounce back. 

You may be responsible for managing people and while no one can require you being responsible for their happiness I think every manager has some responsibility for a staff’s well being, even if just for productivity’s sake. You’d think twice about having a person assigned to work in a building with a failing roof if you have a conscious, do you give as much consideration to their mental health as their physical well-being and how are you influencing that? Simply asking people in safe one-on-one’s how they are doing or sharing an observation of concern may well be a tipping point to allow a person to seek a professional evaluation (and returning a person to productivity or making a change of mutual benefit). Making that a safe, unstigmatized option can also be key.

Most insurance plans have mental health coverage and it is unfortunately far too often underutilized for many reasons. Would you avoid a doctor if you had persistent and disabling back pain? Never enable shame with gossip of dealing with mental challenges differently than you would a person dealing with being in a wheelchair. A level down we may need more meaningful engagement in valuable relationships that allow us to reflect and challenge ourselves in our choices. Finding that can be a major step to health and health to performance, performance to success.

I can remember scaling effort to staff in the past assignments by saying, “Don’t let it make you crazy.” Maybe now I mean that more literally than ever.

 

Written By: Tom Fox

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