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This year’s theme for mental health awareness week is Anxiety. I should like to start with a little experiment. Raise your hand for ten seconds. Now consider how you felt.

What is Anxiety?

Collins English Dictionary describes anxiety as: a feeling of nervousness or worry; In psychology, anxiety is a state of feeling very worried, and often shaking or feeling sick, as a result of mental illness or a bad experience.

The NHS provides a little more insight:

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. For example, you may feel worried and anxious about sitting an exam, or having a medical test or job interview. During times like these, feeling anxious can be perfectly normal. But some people find it hard to control their worries. Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily lives.

To reiterate everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their lives. That includes you and me. It becomes problematic if uncontrollable and constant.

Recognising Anxiety

We all like to think of ourselves as laid back, that nothing flusters us. It can be the ultimate compliment for some. Yet this attitude can be very damaging. The person it is directed at might feel an expectation to live up to such a reputation. They may put on a mask, pretend they are fine, coping with anything thrown at them. Where is their release? What happens when things do go wrong? How often do we find ourselves thinking: “She was the last person I expected to do that”; “But he was always so strong.” We term mental ill health as a weakness. The stigma is there. We must stop with the labels and learn to understand.

Returning to the opening exercise. How did you feel? Was there a momentary panic? If you raised your arm did others ignore you? Did they glance up then look away? Did anyone speak to you? Perhaps you refused because you were too embarrassed. Perhaps you were worried about what others might think or how they would react. Even if you were alone did you feel stupid or awkward? These are all natural reactions. A form of every day anxiety we all experience. Only for some that anxiety goes much further. It cam ultimately:

  • Inhibit their daily lives,

  • Dominate their thoughts,

  • Stop them going out,

  • Impinge on interaction with others,

  • Lead to withdrawal in conversations or meetings.

  • Lead to depression and other illnesses

More often, however, those suffering with anxiety are high-functioning. They hide their feelings, they can be high achievers, loyal, helpful, outgoing, and organised. Inwardly they might be people pleasers, have difficulty saying no, overthink everything, have racing thoughts, strive for perfection etc.

There are any number of symptoms of anxiety with various causes. None of us are immune, none of us are so strong it won’t happen to us. If you can have a broken leg you can suffer from anxiety. The NHS has a detailed section on anxiety that I would recommend everyone takes time to read. Perhaps your anxiety levels are affecting you without your realising. Recognition is the first step, then to know help is available. It is a sign of strength to say to family, friends, colleagues or the doctor that you are struggling.

Who is responsible?

I am

We are all responsible for our own wellbeing but that is not the end of the matter. Everyday pressures can build up. We can take on too much, things outside our control can seriously affect us. Imagine moving house, possibly starting a new job with an elderly relative in need of care, or perhaps dying. Work might be depending on us, our children could be struggling. Do we still think our wellbeing is solely down to us?

Our workplace

Employers must look after their staff. They must have good wellbeing policies in place and allow open discussions. It is no longer acceptable for a manager to say I expect you here 9.00-5.00 and all your problems must be left at the door. We spend so much of our lives at work, it is not only right that our employees look after us it is in their best interests to do so. Presenteeism costs the UK economy £15.1billion alone, and absenteeism £8.4 billion according to the Centre for Mental Health.

The Government

Although obvious it is often forgotten. Not only must the Government provide sufficient services through Manx Care (or the NHS in the UK), it is vital for the Government to promote wellbeing. The Government must work with schools, businesses and organisations to remove the stigma of mental health. Government should promote and work with businesses in the wellbeing sector to assist and work alongside Manx Care. Government should promote Wellbeing in the workplace, leading by example.

Regulators and Professional Bodies

Professional bodies must recognise wellbeing within their professions. They must promote good practices and encourage businesses to look after their staff. They should all have their own wellbeing polices, hold relevant CPD events and provide an opportunity for their members to raise concerns.

Regulators should understand the environment in which those they regulate operate. They must consider external factors behind issues leading to disciplinary action. Regulators should take account of toxic environments and look at ways of tackling such problems. They, along with professional bodies, should also look at education and how Wellbeing, especially Mental Health, fits in.

Community Groups

Clubs, Churches, associations and voluntary groups can all do much better in looking after members. Think about a Chess or Bridge Club. Players attend week after week playing the game they love but also enjoying the social interaction. How often do such clubs think about the wellbeing of their members? Think about football clubs. Men especially, find it difficult to talk about their lives and emotions. How open is a club to a member who says I am having a bad day when asked, how are you?

Friends and Family

The most important group to all of us and who play a huge part in our wellbeing, but can you talk to your friends and family? Do they recognise when things are going wrong? Perhaps the signs are only small to being with, they quieter than normal, overreacting to little things, starting to fidget. Do you ignore such signs or question them? If miss the early signs, easily done, do you notice if things get worse? Can you spot when your friends hide their emotions? Perhaps you might be too scared to say anything, worried about saying the wrong thing. Perhaps you doubt yourself and decide you imagined it. They might be fine next week, and you can say something then…

Where from here?

Look after yourself, try to recognise anxiety as it arises. Look after your friends and colleagues. Engage in open conversations, address the subject exactly as you would a friend who has a broken leg. Employers should create physiological safe environments and introduce lasting and sustainable wellbeing polices. Most of all we should all talk. If you didn’t do so earlier, put your hand in the air, ignore any anxiety you might feel and start a conversation. Share this article and discuss the points raised. Talk about your own anxiety. Break the stigma.

If you require help and assistance the IOM Government’s wellbeing support page is a good place to start.

Please contact us if you would like assistance in designing and implementing a wellbeing strategy for your organisation.

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