April 2019 is Stress Awareness Month, work-related stress and anxiety/depression is something that I am very passionate about and enjoy helping clients work through as I have been in those same shoes several years ago and can fully empathise and understand what it feels like.
I thought I would share with you my own story of the impact work related stress had on my physical and mental health, the ripple effect it had on my family and how I was able to get the support I needed to overcome it.
My previous career before becoming a counsellor was in Banking, I worked for one of the largest banks in Northern Ireland for almost 22 years the job itself like many other jobs involved a lot of pressure around targets, deadlines sales etc.
While I was good at my job it was never the dream career for me but with a mortgage and a young family, I thought that I had no other option but to see out my time in the bank until retirement as the thought of leaving to start somewhere new filled me lots of self-doubt and worry.
Every time I thought about maybe leaving for a new challenge, I could feel the pit of my stomach churn with worry, nerves and lots of questions of leaving which all revolved around 2 big words that I hear a lot with clients who come to see me with anxiety and stress…. WHAT IF
Those two little words for many people can be so crippling and debilitating creating so much self-doubt and chip away at your self-confidence that for me it was better the devil you know and maybe the grass isn’t always greener somewhere else.
I had for most of my life kept myself fit and looked after myself, I knew back then that it was good for my physical health but I never realised the huge benefits it had on my mental health and wellbeing.
But like most people when you advance a little up the career ladder and the responsibilities increase, I found myself starting to go into the office a little earlier, I would have my lunch at my desk as I worked not taking a break and then having to stay a little later in the evenings. I started to convince myself that by doing this it was only short term and I could come home and park the job at the office door when I left.
That was great in theory but what I didn’t realise was the impact these little sacrifices were having on my own wellbeing. I started skipping going to the gym or for a run telling myself I would start again the following Monday.
At the beginning like a lot of clients who come to see me, the impact it was having on my wellbeing flew almost under the radar as I was able to balance longer hours and take little or no breaks and it appeared to me that I was able to cope and it was not impacting me. I always remember telling myself I have big shoulders I can carry this load. Which was true I could carry it but what I was soon to realise was that you can only carry it for so long and it doesn’t take much for that load to become too much to carry.
What I found was that I was leaving a little earlier than before, staying later in work a little more and more than before, taking no breaks and exercise was out the window as I was exhausted by the time I came home.
My wife knows me better than I know myself and she could see the gradual impact it was having on me, I didn’t laugh as much, couldn’t relax, stopped doing a lot of the things I got enjoyment from, stopped socialising. When she tried to point this out to me time and time again, I would shrug it off and say it was ok I was FINE.
By the time I realised the impact it was too late and I found myself having to be signed off work for a number of months. I never realised just how much worry it caused my extended family as I was unaware in my own bubble believing that I was the only one it was affecting. Which caused me to feel even more guilt.
I thought by being off work it would help me feel better but it didn’t at all, Counselling was recommended and before I would have thought of counselling as something for other people and not me. How wrong could I be! Those counselling sessions not only allowed me to identify the causes of my stress, anxiety and at times low mood and work through them but it also reignited in me a passion for helping people I thought had been lost.
The biggest lesson that I learned through all of this was it was OK to not feel great and by talking not just to a counsellor but to my wife, family and close friends that it helped to not feel I needed to carry and bottle up everything inside.
I am a big believer that there are not many things in life that you can’t get through as long as you talk about it.
If you or somebody you know is in a similar situation show them this blog and that there is hope and a way through it, if they are open to accepting support. Which could start by contacting myself at E-Therapy Ni.
If you need to talk, we are here to listen.