If mental illnesses were people, depression would be an asshole. He would be the mean-spirited person who chips away at your self esteem, day by day and moment by moment. His little brother, anxiety, would be the insensitive practical joker who has the world's lowest EQ; anxiety is the jerk that loves to scare you and instead of apologizing says something brusque like, "I was only kidding - lighten up!"
Today that jerk anxiety stopped by. Again, he was triggered by a fire drill at work. The last time that I wrote about this I described my experience within the heart of the attack vividly. Today I was very aware of the delayed effects - the after shocks.
Once the fire drill ended and things were getting back to normal, I began to notice some emotions within myself. Tears surfaced and streamed down my face slowly for about 30 seconds. A few minutes later I felt anger - I was so mad that a simple fire drill had caused this. Then I just needed to retreat to somewhere quiet and safe: home. And the final aftershock: fatigue. Once I got home I spent the afternoon in bed sleeping.
As I write this I am feeling much better, almost myself once again. And I know that by tomorrow the aftershocks will have abated and, although likely still tired, my mood will be back to normal. What's interesting to me is that at this point in my life with mental illness I often view myself and my experiences with curiosity. I want to know how I can learn from an anxiety attack or depressive episode; how can I use what I learn and apply it to my work in disability employment and mental health advocacy?
I wasn't the only person in a good size office building to have experienced distress today. I am not here to tell their stories, however; I am here to consider their experiences, in addition to mine, and try to make things better. Does a one size fits all approach really fit all? No, I don't think it does. It's time to consider safety (yes, we need to conduct fire drills) and mitigate risk by looking at it from a new angle and in consideration of people with disabilities. Would you know what to do in a real emergency to help a colleague who uses a wheelchair? What about a colleague who has a neurodveleopmental disability? I assume that someone knows what to do but who is someone?! A few things to think about, yes?
In my last post I wrote about dignity. I think it's very relevant here and now. Nobody wants to be the one that draws attention to themselves for what they perceive to be a moment of weakness. Is there anything worse than having people watch you cry? OK, there are worse things but my point is that it feels really uncomfortable and, frankly, embarrassing. I think we can spare people that feeling.
Keeping our employees safe and healthy in the workplace is important. Let's do what we can to mitigate risk and ensure that our workplaces are truly inclusive for all. Let's think outside of the existing box and build something better, together. Oh, and let's tell that jerk, anxiety, that he isn't welcome.
P.S. Here are some great tips and reminders to manage stress and anxiety courtesy of HelpGuide.org
- Practice relaxation techniques. When practiced regularly, relaxation techniques such as mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing can reduce anxiety symptoms and increase feelings of relaxation and emotional well-being.
- Adopt healthy eating habits. Start the day right with breakfast, and continue with frequent small meals throughout the day. Going too long without eating leads to low blood sugar, which can make you feel more anxious.
- Reduce alcohol and nicotine. They lead to more anxiety, not less.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise is a natural stress buster and anxiety reliever. To achieve the maximum benefit, aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most days.
- Get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can exacerbate anxious thoughts and feelings, so try to get seven to nine hours of quality sleep a night.