One Day without Us – Celebrating the Contribution of Migrants

One Day without Migrants leaflet

Today, events have been taking place around the UK for #1DayWithoutUs. It is being held to celebrate the contribution that UK migrants make to the UK. The event coincides with the House of Lords meeting today to debate the Article 50 Bill, where Peers will also consider the rights of three million EU citizens in the UK after Brexit.

According to the New Economics Foundation, the UK economy would take a £328m hit and daily GDP would fall by 4% if all non-British citizens if all migrant workers stayed at home for a day. But this isn’t just about finances, it’s also about families, friendships… and even food.

Family and Friends – what would we do without them?

EU citizens such as my friend Frederika Roberts, have been busily tweeting under the hashtags #BargainingChip and #RighttoStay. A businesswoman and mother of two tri-national, university-aged daughters, Frederika is Italian and German, grew up in Luxembourg has lived in the UK for over 25 years.

She says “I have lived here since 1990 and have built my entire adult life here. Even assuming I can stay after Brexit under whatever new rules will be in place, the system doesn’t seem able to cope with the required paperwork. It could grind to a halt with 3+ million people needing to get documents.

Without those documents, we could end up in limbo for years, effectively trapped in the UK for fear of being denied re-entry after holidays or business trips. And we could end up living here without access to the NHS.”

The last point is especially poignant. Both of Frederika’s daughters were born with congenital heart disease. Her eldest had open heart surgery at four years old and aged 12 had an out of hospital cardiac arrest. Her youngest was born with a rare heart disease; pulmonary atresia. Frederika was advised to terminate the pregnancy but chose not to. At just ten days old, their baby stopped breathing and her heart stopped. Amazingly, both girls made complete recoveries, and her eldest has recently started university.

Frederika and her family have been present at today’s Leeds rally and have been sharing their experiences via Social Media. Most appear to be positive, yet in one social media post, her elder daughter wrote: Handing out leaflets for today and just got reminded why I’m doing this. I gave a guy a leaflet, he went away, read it, came back shaking his head and said: “Sorry love, I don’t agree with it.”

Migrants & Freedom to Travel

EU migrants have contributed to healthcare, business, education and other sectors. As a daughter of immigrants with British citizenship, I see the value of broadening horizons. Having studied and worked in the EU (Germany) myself, I often remind others that we are equally as free to migrate to other EU countries for our own personal or professional reasons.

Here in the UK, I’ve worked in international teams and have built close friendships with people who are now worried about their future right to stay and what that means for their partners or children.

I and others that have lived in the EU have experienced goodwill towards British residents in the EU. The attitude in mainland Europe seems to be that migrants are simply citizens exercising their EU citizenship rights. I hope that our leaders will recognise the value of EU citizens too.

Setting an Anchor – Your Quick Cheat for Increased Confidence

anchor NLP

In life, there are situations that can cause us disproportionate anxiety. Public speaking is one of those situations. Fortunately, I have a simple trick for you. I’m going to teach you how to set yourself an anchor (here’s a video if you need more support). What’s that? Anchors are external stimuli that trigger a particular internal state or response.

The way anchors make you respond at an unconscious level can be positive or negative.  To illustrate what I mean, I’m going to share some well-known anchors, and some of mine – how I have set anchors and how I’ve reframed others.

Anchors can be sights (e.g. a certain place), sounds (e.g. songs), touch/feelings (e.g. a stroke on your arm), smells (e.g. an aftershave/perfume) or tastes (e.g. a flavour that you experienced in the context of a situation or place). Symbols such as the Cross, the Om sign and globally recognised logos, such as FedEx are simply anchors.

I will share a positive anchor that I use for confidence before speaking engagements, which I set myself in 2005 and is still as effective now, almost 12 years on.  During my NLP Practitioner course, the trainer asked what kind of anchor I would like to set.  I felt that ‘Confident’ would stand me in good stead for any kind of public speaking, since I had started to do a lot of it.

Setting an Anchor

First of all, I decided what kind of positive state I’d like to be in and decided how I would set my anchor (in my case, by pressing my left thumb and index finger together). I then closed my eyes and regulated my breathing, taking slow, deep breaths.

When I was in a fully relaxed state, I recalled a time in the past when I’d been in that state.  I thought of a time when I’d spoken at a conference on Diversity, had received a standing ovation and a number of people had come up to me afterwards for my business card.

I then re-lived it as vividly as possible by amplifying the experience and the feelings connected to it in my head. I kept upping the feeling to the point where it was about to reach its peak.  At that point I pressed together two fingers on my left hand to set that feeling as an anchor. Then I let the feelings subside, focussed on my breath once again and slowly opened my eyes.

The anchor that I set is discreet and I’m able to use it whenever I want to feel extremely confident.  I have another one for feeling joyous. It’s important to be consistent by using the same anchor (i.e. same fingers or tap in the same place) each time.

You can set anchors for interview or first date confidence, handling a difficult conversation – whichever situation you need it for.

Releasing Emotional Connections

Positive anchors that I didn’t consciously set are songs by Kings of Leon and Warwick Avenue by Duffy – for differing reasons, but they make me feel great.

Negative anchors – hmm…In the past, when I used to see an Audi Estate my stomach would flip.  I always thought it was a certain person that I didn’t want to see. Seeing a car of the model and colour that person drove made me feel so anxious.

I released this through desensitising myself to the anchor by disassociating with it (a good job, since in a bizarre twist of fate, my dad now owns an almost identical model).  This is about learning new habits or responses and requires being in a strong state, so it might be something you need will support with.

Have a go and remember, there’s no need to be disheartened if it doesn’t work the first time.  Your subconscious is a powerful tool – you may need a few attempts or some support from an experienced NLP practitioner.


A bit about me: Your voice is your power. Let me help you be be heard.

If you’d like more confidence in public speaking, networking or even in your day-to-day communications, I can help through workshops or 1-2-1 coaching. Trained in public speaking and media handling, I have a range of tools and techniques to support you.

To arrange a discovery call, email anj@anjhandaassociates.com.

 

Beyond suicide – sending a letter into the ether

Yellow funeral rose

Danny, I haven’t blogged in a while, but today is a special occasion: it would’ve been your 35th birthday. I’m sorry that I haven’t written sooner, but it’s been a weird time. I had to report someone missing before Christmas, just like I did for Kai back in 2001. It was traumatic, but also I recognised how much better I manage my inner balance now.

You can’t always spot when someone is considering suicide (I should know, because you sure didn’t give us clues), but there are some warning signs I was taught to look out for through mental health training.

Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns; giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for doing this; saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again; developing personality changes. I observed these signs, plus some more.

Unlike with Kai, after a fortnight of trauma, this particular story had a happy (ish) ending for their loved ones. The individual is still around to tell their tale.

Enough about them. This blog is about you. And Kai. And all the others who were in such a dark place that they felt that there was no other way but to leave. It’s also for the people left behind. There’s always a way, Danny. You were both so bright and so proud. Perhaps that’s why you didn’t speak up? I wish you had. Maybe there was nothing I could have said or done in the end, but at least you would’ve known how much you were loved, by so many.

I can’t forget how I heard. It was the day after my birthday (wait until I see you in the ether, you’re in BIG trouble). I’d just got back from a trip away. Our friend, the one who found you, called me. “Are you home?” “Yes, why?” “Would you come over?” Intuition kicked in and I drove over immediately, although I later learned he was still at the police station when he called.

Bereavement and the highs and lows of social media

I don’t want to talk about how raw that night was, but I do want to talk about the blessing and the curse that is Facebook. We spent the next 48 hours in ‘control and command’ mode, parking our own emotions to inform as many friends as possible before the news leaked onto social media.

Your page now serves as a kind of memory sharing bank for family and friends. It’s a comforting place for many, but not all, of us. Facebook’s Memory Hop feature can be a lovely, nostalgic thing; on the other hand it can share old posts you would rather remain hidden.

When I eventually sought bereavement counselling (from Cruse) three months later, it was because all the emotions I’d suppressed following Kai’s death ten years previously hit me many over when I was finally ready to confront my feelings.

At the start of my third visit, my counsellor said to me “You’re trained in all of this [mental health], you know what’s going on… Do you know what your problem is, Anj?” I was taken aback, as I’m sure that isn’t a counsellor’s usual approach, so I simply replied “What?”

“Your problem is CONTROL. You’re such an organised person that you’re struggling because these events were out of your control.” I looked at him, mouth agape. Then I recovered. “You’re right. Thanks, bye!” And off I went, on a journey to release control, be more in the flow and do as much as I could to help others in a similar position.

Influencing decision-makers

Part of this journey was to be invited by the National Suicide Prevention Alliance to write the foreword for Public Health England guidance on local suicide prevention services. It’s called ‘Support after Suicide: A guide to providing local services,’ and boy is it needed.

Since you always were blessed (even if you didn’t see it yourself), the guidance was released yesterday, within your birthday week, even though I wrote my piece some months ago. I received a letter of thanks from Public Health England last night, on a posh letterhead and everything. I especially miss you on milestones such as birthdays, so thanks for that little intervention to make me smile.

Love you,

Anj x


Suicide prevention – seeking help

If you’re concerned that a loved one is thinking about taking their life, don’t worry about asking them about it. Talking to them won’t make them act.

As an individual, you’re not expected to make a judgement call. It is up to experts to do this. Your responsibility is to report it to a trained professional and let them decide on the most appropriate course of action. This can include the police and charities such as CALM (call 0800 58 58 58) or The Samaritans (call 24 hours a day on 116 123 in the UK).

Celebrating the German Day of Unity – and wishing for peace

Doves depicting Peace

Today, 3rd November, is the German Day of Unity.  On this day in 1990, reunification took place in Germany. ‘Die Wiedervereinigung’ came about a year after the Berlin Wall went down. At school, during my GCSE and then A’ Level German, I studied reunification and the events leading up to it. Rightly so, and I also won’t forget the euphoria of our German language assistants when the wall came down.

If you are wondering why the Day of Unity isn’t celebrated on the 9th November (the date the wall came down in 1989) the reason is dark. On that day in 1938, Kristallnacht, or ‘Night of Broken Glass’ took place. Kristallnacht was a pogrom against Jewish people in Germany by SA (Storm Division) paramilitary forces and German civilians.

Remembering this feels especially poignant, since today Jewish friends celebrate Rosh Hashanah, a two-day holiday that marks the Jewish New Year.

The falling of the Berlin Wall was a historic event, yet sadly history continues to repeat itself with the proposed wall in Calais. The UK government has refused to confirm costs, but it’s reported to be around £1.9m. Apparently, plants and flowers will be planted on one side of the 13ft high, 1 mile long concrete wall ‘to reduce its visual impact on the local area.’

Experts from a range of organisations – from law firms, to road haulage bodies to think tanks – have deemed it a waste of resources. They say that people will seek ways potentially more dangerous ways to get around it and no doubt they will.

My thoughts are with the innocents that get caught up in all this.  Charities have said that self-harm and mental health problems amongst children have soared in camps like Calais. Even Unicef has criticised the Home Office’s failure to rehouse them.

Children have died trying to seek asylum, including alone children who were trying to get to friends and relatives in the UK.  According to international guidelines, this shouldn’t happen in the first place, yet at least 1000 such minors are in Calais. At least 400 of these are eligible to come to the UK, according to a recent Guardian article.

What can you do?

What can we as individuals do? It can feel so overwhelming. Peace, at times, feels very elusive. I want to help women feel confident and resilient enough to create positive change in society, no matter how small; and to build a network of peers to support each other.

Asylum seekers and refugee women are the group where my own attention is focused, but there’s much to be done for other parts of society too. This is where I felt a network of proactive, influential women was needed; so I founded Inspiring Women Changemakers.

If you’re interested in knowing more about how you can help refugee support organisations or get involved in the movement, please get in touch. My email address is anj@anjhandaassociates.com.

You can also get involved on Facebook or Twitter.

 

Lilith – the Archetype: Claiming your Personal Power

Relationship dynamics and Black Lilith
A drawing I did a couple of years ago during a deep meditation. The black dot represents Lilith.

 

It’s 1st October and the New Moon is in Libra, ruled by Lilith.  Who or what is Lilith, you might ask?  In astrology terms, the Moon traverses an elliptical path around the Earth. An ellipse has two focal points. One focal point is occupied by the Earth. The other focal point, has been called the Dark Moon, the Black Moon or Lilith.

According to Jewish literature, Lilith was Adam’s first wife.  Lilith was created from the same dust as Adam, and therefore refused to lie underneath him during intercourse.  Adam was angry, but Lilith took herself off to Jehovah and uncovered his secret name.  With the power of knowing of his name, she demanded that he give her wings. She then uttered the unutterable (i.e. his name) and flew off.

Adam felt lonely and complained bitterly. It was then that God created a more subservient model, Eve.  Lore says that Lilith also tried to get Eve to take a bite of the apple from the Tree of Knowledge. She did this not to get her banished, but to gain clarity and see Adam’s true colours.

This archetype symbolises our personal power, shadow side and all.  It’s a good time to question your relationship with yourself; and with others. It’s not about ‘Me, Me, Me.’ Rather, it’s about what you stand for and how you show up within the collective. Consider this within the context of relationships/partnerships of all kinds and wider society.

Lilith: Two sides of your personality

Adam and Lilith’s dynamic also reflects the power struggle of patriarchy against women’s equality. Lilith was written off as a baby-harming seductress, who consorted with demonic forces… Isn’t that often the case within patriarchal society? Consider Adam’s fear of Lilith being equal and her fear of him being in control.

I’m talking here about masculine and feminine energies, not women versus men.  Many women in leadership positions, myself included, can be very action-focussed and assertive. It’s a constant work-in-progress.

Sometimes it’s called for; on other occasions a gentler approach is more appropriate.  Then there are situations where men want to be more outwardly expressive emotionally, but worry about being perceived as weak.

Finding the balance

Finding the balance of masculine and feminine within ourselves can be challenging.  Are there situations where you are excessively dominant; or conversely, too willing to people please?

Where do you give your power away: at work, in sexual relationships, within your family?  When do you stay quiet when you should speak up?  Where in your life is there imbalance?  These are the bigger questions that you should be asking yourself now.

This energy can be used for you to deeply consider how you can step up into the most powerful, principled, compassionate version of yourself.  It’s time to stop shrinking, just because others seem to expect it.  Claim your inner power, my lovely!


About Me

Through my signature coaching programme, LOVE (You), I work with professional people who have experienced emotional trauma (bereavement, breakup, serious illness, redundancy) and are sick and tired of feeling overwhelmed, lethargic or stuck.

I help people to re-connect with themselves and others; develop plans for a more positive and fulfilled future; and start to look forward with positivity.  I love to witness the visible transformation in them.

I only have a couple of spaces left on my programme this month, so email me now at anj@anjhandaassociates.com if you’re ready for change!

 

Metamorphosis: Emerging from a Dark Night of the Soul

Dark night of the soul is like a butterfly's transformation

Life over the last four years has at times been gruelling for myself and many others in my circle. Many of us have broken down, then broken through.  In some cases, including my own – first in 2012, then again towards the end of the last year – a “dark night of the soul” took place.

“Dark night of the soul” means different things to different people. To me, it means a complete crisis of confidence.  It doesn’t always mean depression; but rather a depressed state, where energy is low, life has lost its lustre and it’s difficult to find meaning.

It can be a questioning of everything you’ve ever known about yourself. What is true and what no longer holds? Your personal and professional status; relationships; friendships… all are held under a magnifying glass.

Some even question their reason for being. Fortunately, my appreciation of my life purpose was one of the things I had to hold on to. I feel it got me through my own dark night less painfully than might otherwise have been. There was also a book that I and thousands of others have found helpful: ‘Daring Greatly’ by Brené Brown, a research professor and vulnerability and shame expert.

A dark night of the soul can, in many cases, be triggered by traumatic life events, such as a bereavement, breakup or redundancy.  I myself have experienced all of these circumstances. Now I specialise in coaching professional clients (at a point after they’ve been through the early grieving process and received specialist support). I help them to release residual pain that remains following such traumas.

It’s not good for us to hang on to pain. We have to learn how to let go in order to heal. Most of us will experience it at some point in our lives and from my personal observations, it seems to happen from late 30s onwards.  In fact, I wonder how many times it’s been referred to as a mid-life crisis, instead of the transformational process that it really is.

Emerging from the dark night like a butterfly from a chrysalis

The dark night of the soul is a bereavement of sorts itself. It’s the death of the ego, a stripping away of your inner layers, bit by bit. It hurts! And much as I hate to break it to you, you have to work through the pain. The process can last days, months, even years. There’s no fast-track way to end this journey.

I want to let you know that it’s worth it. Like the caterpillar that crawls into its cocoon, you will digest yourself, breaking down your component parts.  Some of those parts of you will remain and morph into something new. You will even develop imaginal discs: parts of you that may or may not be revealed throughout your life.

You’ll eventually emerge from your chrysalis of doom and gloom. Tentatively, you’ll flap your new, wet wings.  It will take you time to practice flying, but you will fly sooner or later, I promise!

The Bright Side

The dark night of the soul happens for a reason.  You’ve started to understand what really matters to you, even if it’s simply by reflecting on what doesn’t matter.

As you start to get used to this raw, new version of you, you will start to feel part of something much, much bigger. Trivial matters won’t bother you as they once did, because you’ve been through the worst that you can imagine.

The concept of love will also start to extend out from your inner circle to embrace more and more people. You become more compassionate.  Hell, you even start to feel forgiveness for people you felt had wronged you in the past (P.S. This doesn’t mean you should take back that toxic ex or meet a former bitchy friend for coffee)!

If you’re currently going through this process, I hope my blog helped and I’m sending my love to you. If you’ve already been through it, I hope that it resonated. Now go shine!


A bit about me:

I’ve experienced many setbacks in life, from bereavements, redundancy, breakups and money worries. Something shifted in me following a friend’s suicide a few years ago – it led to my first experience of a dark night of the soul. After a period of grieving and reflection, I decided that it was time to change and I started on a journey of self-discovery.

I now want to share the tools and techniques that transformed my own life with you. Using my deep intuition, tons of life experience and professional skills, I create a safe, open environment for clients to learn and try things for themselves. Read more about my signature coaching programme, LOVE (You) here.

Former pop singer to lead Peace Choir outside Leeds Arena

Photo of Sue Hibberd was Drake, who is leading the Peace Choir

Former chart topper, Sue Hibberd, aka Suzanna Dee, is encouraging everyday singers to sing for peace!  First Direct Arena recently approached Sue to bring together like-minded people willing to join the choir. The choir has been set up to raise awareness of World Peace Day on 21st September.

Many of us feel saddened by social and human justice issues in the UK and around the world.  This event on World Peace Day is being held to remind us how lucky we truly are.  The key message is unity: One choir, one song, one voice!

Fifty people, including a pianist, have already signed up.  Now Sue is encouraging anyone who enjoys singing to join in.  If you sing in the shower, car, at karaoke, or have always wanted to sing in a choir but don’t have the time to commit, come along!

Sue currently is working with a Pudsey-based choir called Raise, who aim to address self-esteem and confidence issues through group singing.  She has also got Leeds College of Music involved, including he choir’s pianist, who was a former pupil.

She had success in the charts 13 years ago and was a session singer for stars such as The Spice Girls, S-Club 7 and Billy Piper. Sue left her career in music for a ‘proper’ job, when she met her now husband and his ready-made family of two children.

After eleven years of family life and with the children grown and off to University, Sue now feels that it’s time for her to give back to society. She wants to make a difference and her motto is to ‘Dream big…Do bigger!’

You can visit the page on Facebook for more information, or simply turn up to register at 8:30pm at the Arena’s VIP area for a 9pm warm-up and a 9:30pm start.


Note to Editors

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Youre-the-Voice-choir-World-Peace-Day-2016-281679408856812/

Contact Sue Hibberd (was Drake): 07784 352492 or email: suehibster@hotmail.com

Release written by Anj Handa. Email: anj@anjhandaassociates.com Twitter: @anjhanda

 

The Depths of ‘The Well’ – It’s not PMT!

Photo of The Chalice Well at GlastonburyThe Well – Denise Levertov

 

At sixteen I believed the moonlight could change me if it would.

I moved my head on the pillow, even moved my bed as the moon slowly crossed the open lattice.

I wanted beauty, a dangerous gleam of steel, my body thinner, my pale face paler.

I moonbathed diligently, as others sunbathe.

But the moon’s unsmiling stare kept me awake.
Mornings, I was flushed and cross.

It was on dark nights of deep sleep that I dreamed the most, sunk in the well, and woke rested, and if not beautiful, filled with some other power.

Women are like Waves

I first read about ‘The Well’ in John Gray’s ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ in the Chaper ‘Women are like Waves.’ In the paragraph below, he describes the feelings that women experience when they go into ‘The Well.’

A woman is like a wave. When she feels loved her self-esteem rises and falls in a wave motion. When she is feeling really good, she will reach a peak, but then suddenly her mood may change and her wave crashes down. This crash is temporary.

After she reaches bottom suddenly her mood will shift and she will again feel good about herself. Automatically her wave begins to rise back up….One study revealed that a woman’s self-esteem generally rises and falls in a cycle between 21 and 35 days.

I couldn’t find a reference to the study, but the chapter made perfect sense to me.  ‘The Well’ is the time when we feel unaccountably low. We may feel unloved, or that things aren’t great.  It can feel like walking through fog and articulating ourselves isn’t as easy as usual. Some people crave sweet things.  Personally, I don’t reach for chocolate, although I do want to cocoon myself more during this time.

Why ‘The Well’ is not PMT

Going into ‘The Well’ is not PMT.  I don’t suffer from that in any case, so I knew it wasn’t this that made me feel down at a certain time in the month.  The period when we go into the well happens before then – roughly every three weeks.

Sometimes the feelings only last for a few hours, sometimes a couple of days.  We all go through it, yet it rarely comes up in conversation.  When a friend recently confided in me and admitted that she felt silly for feeling blue when she had nothing to complain about, I told her about ‘The Well.’  “But why does nobody talk about this?!” she exclaimed.

They are now 

I want you to get rid of any notion of feeling silly, ungrateful or any other self-judging comments that you make to yourself.  You can’t help it.  Here’s what goes on in your body between day 15 and day 22 in a 28-day cycle: your progesterone rises; estrogen and testosterone drop for half for a few days, then estrogen rises again.

So what does that mean for you? Around day 15-18, you might experience irritability, fatigue and ‘the blues’ due to plunging estrogen (which also dips again before your period). See the graph above.) From around day 19-22, your estrogen levels rise again and your mood improves.

But…we also have to factor in progesterone. The level rises this whole time and the effect is that we often feel lethargic, quiet, less interested in mingling and more wary.  It’s this hormone that makes us reach for comfort food and gives us ‘brain fog.’

Now that you know what is taking place, I hope that you will honour your feelings.  Just go with them – you need to go to the bottom of the well before you can rise back up.

 

 

Learn to love being bonkers!

Learn to love being bonkers quote

You’re bonkers! This is a regular refrain from friends and family, who often wonder what I’m going to get up to next. I’ve come to appreciate it. My version means being playful, curious, spontaneous (and sometimes a bit reckless, sorry mum and dad).

My professional and campaigning life often involve ‘heavy’ subjects, so it’s important to get a balance by injecting fun into my days. Here’s why it’s a great thing.

Being bonkers means I get invites to all sorts of random places, which this month include a private art viewing at stately home, Harewood House and a place on the VIP list at Brutus Gold’s 80s night at O2 Academy in Leeds.

Being bonkers means that I get to have fun on the trampoline at a BBQ whilst other adults sit around cradling their wine.

Being bonkers means being asked to help promote causes I care about. I was involved in the Leeds launch of Warriors film, which only last week was screened at the United Nations in Brussels. After the Leeds screening, I went for a drink with the producer and the Maasai star of the film (who was dressed in his full Warrior regalia at the time).

Being bonkers means forming connections via social media and translating them into real life bonds. I’ve travelled to Wales to stay with a friend that I met on Twitter; and the Aussie that I also met on Twitter now resides in my spare room!

It’s Liberating!

Even Dizzee Rascal thinks so…

Some people think I’m bonkers
But I just think I’m free
Man, I’m just livin’ my life
There’s nothin’ crazy about me

Treat life like an adventure. Go on, be bonkers!


About Me

Through my signature coaching programme, LOVE (You), I work with professional people who have experienced emotional trauma (bereavement, breakup, serious illness, redundancy) and are sick and tired of feeling overwhelmed, lethargic or stuck.

I help people to re-connect with themselves and others; develop plans for a more positive and fulfilled future; and start to look forward with positivity.  I love to witness the visible transformation in them.

I only have a couple of spaces left on my programme, so email me now at anj@anjhandaassociates.com if you’re ready for change!

Masking Mental Ill-health – Burnout at the Top

Burnout

Burnout can wreak havoc in your personal and professional life and have a huge impact on the people around you, yet most people are still unwilling to talk about it. From the individual’s point of view, they don’t want to be seen as ‘weak,’ ‘incapable,’ ‘not up to the job’ or any number of things that their internal dialogue is telling them.

Organisations too are reluctant to admit it’s happening in their workplaces.  They see it as a reflection on their culture.  I know this from experience.  In 2011, from a sense of personal frustration due to lack of support from my own employer at the time, I created a workshop for managers on Stress Absence Management.

Within a six-month period, three of my team members had undergone tragedy in their lives and needed time off.  I had to deal with the HR process and facilitate the most positive return to work possible for each of them.  It was a stressful time and my MD made my life very difficult through his lack of utter lack of emotional intelligence.

At the time, I’d undertaken Mental Health First Aid course, but I realised that there wasn’t a product on the market that was aimed at managers that would teach them how to better support themselves and their teams, so I developed one.  Companies snapped up my course – but didn’t want anyone to know they had adopted it!

It’s the unrealistic expectations on leaders, by themselves as well as their bosses; as well as a lack of support, that can led to burnout.

Burnout

“A state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.”

That’s the technical definition.  Now I’d like to describe it from the point of view of Bernie Mudie, who spoke last week at the Mindful Employer conference in Leeds, hosted by Asda.  A former civil servant, she was head of a large Government department, with 300 staff and a contracting area valued at £4bn.

She loved her job. She willingly worked long hours, sat on a number of Boards, engagedworked with MPs and a wide range of stakeholders.  Then, following a restructure it went from “frenetic to supersonic.”  She started to experience memory blanks and initially worried that she was starting to get the dementia her father suffers from.  Then she put on weight, three stone; and her blood pressure rose.

In her words, she went from the top of her game to the bottom virtually overnight.  Her return to work was terrifying and she experienced paranoia about the Stress Risk Assessment.  A further restructure was the final straw, but fortunately she was able to take voluntary severance following her 35 year career.  She’s excited about what comes next.

At the end of her talk, Berni asked a question that resonated with me.  She asked “How do people move forward if they don’t had the advantages that I did?…[as a senior women, people took it more seriously].

A (Very) Personal Story

I know what that feels like.  In the late 90s/early 2000s, I had a high-flying sales career, alternating work each week between London and Frankfurt.  Then things started to go downhill…

My brother was hit by a bus and was in hospital for a few months, initially in a coma; I had to report a friend missing and his body was found a fortnight later (as a 23 year old, I had to attend his inquest alone); in those same two weeks my beloved uncle died unexpectedly; my employer underwent voluntary liquidation; and I went to a new job with a bullying boss.

That final experience was my tipping point and I collapsed at work.  I’d been on auto-pilot for so long that I didn’t realise that I was experiencing burnout.  I was hospitalised for a week and it was at that then, in 2003, that I decided to move back to Leeds, one of the best life decisions I’ve ever made.

Life was smooth again for the next ten years, until a close friend took his life.  As usual, I masked my feelings and supported our friends, not thinking about myself very much at all.  You see, I believed my own rhetoric…“I’m a strong pair of shoulders,” “I’m capable.” “I ‘get’ mental health.”

What a joke!  Three months in, something gave and I decided to go to Cruse for counselling.

At the start of my third session, my counsellor said something that made me sit up.  It was this: “Anj, you know all the techniques.  You understand the grief cycle and where you are on it.  Your challenge is that you are so used to being in control and these events were not in your control.  That’s where your issue lies.”

The Ripple Effect

His words had a huge impact.  They placed me at the start of a journey of becoming more in the flow and adopting an open approach, not just in my home life, but also in my role as a female leader with influence in my business and civic community.

Old habits created a lot of resistance at first, but as you can see from this blog, sharing has become much more natural.  I want to show others that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel and that they’ll emerge stronger, even if it seems out of reach in their present situation.

It never ceases to amaze me how, by being open about this topic, others start to say “Me too.”  The change starts with ourselves.  By being open yourself, you give others the space and ‘permission’ to talk about how they’re feeling.  You don’t need to have the answers, you just need to ask the questions.

I encourage you to start having more honest conversations.  This approach, although difficult for our egos to embrace at first, creates a far-reaching ripple effect – you’ll start to see your workplace start to change before your eyes.  Now go and start talking!


About Me

Through my coaching practice, I work with professional people who have experienced emotional trauma (bereavement, breakup, serious illness, redundancy) and are sick and tired of feeling overwhelmed, lethargic or stuck.

I help people to re-connect with themselves and others; develop plans for a more positive and fulfilled future; and start to look forward with positivity.  I love to witness the visible transformation in them.