How mentoring can boost mental health

A mentoring relationship can lower anxiety for both mentor and mentee.
(pic credit: Rabia Elif Aksoy)

Mentoring junior colleagues can boost the mental health not just of the mentees but of the mentors themselves, according to a study by the University of Cambridge Judge Business School.

Anxiety, in particular, was seen to reduce in a mentoring programme for high-stress roles in the English police force (which was the main context for the study). Mentoring was shown to take a role that facilitated further discussion of tricky issues, and could involve other stakeholders and managers across the organisation, in a positive and meaningful way. While some officers may not want to speak up for fear of the mental health stigma, mentoring was able to help them deal with anxiety and other issues.

The study says: “Mentoring provided reassurance to the mentors by illuminating how other, often junior, officers also experience anxiety – thereby normalising their own experiences. By acknowledging that anxieties are common, both the mentees and mentors in this study appeared to be more comfortable discussing such issues and therefore in developing different coping mechanisms.”

Mentoring “fills a void”, says the study, and effectively helps to prevent mental health concerns from escalating. Above all, mentors and mentees reported the importance and relief of being listened to – and to recognise that other people were going through similar issues, helping them to feel more supported and consequently more effective in their role. Even more than that, the mentors found more meaning and purpose in their jobs.

Study co-author Dr Thomas Roulet, University Senior Lecturer in Organisation Theory at Cambridge Judge Business School, concludes: “The study suggests that a relatively inexpensive practice such as mentoring can help reduce anxiety among both senior and junior staff, and this could help organisations address the serious and costly workplace issues of anxiety and mental health. While the study focused on high-stress roles in the public eye, we believe that the findings may also apply to other occupations that also have anxiety-provoking pressures.”

The study is called Mentoring for mental health: A mixed-method study of the benefits of formal mentoring programmes in the English police force and is published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior.

A psychotherapist’s perspective on achieving work-life balance

Establishing your priorities and sticking to them can help you balance your life.
(pic credit: pixelbliss)

It’s National Work Life Week, an initiative created to raise awareness of the challenges facing working families and to encourage more measures to support their wellbeing. Though the stats aren’t great: separate studies show that a third of employees are happy with their work-life balance – and three-quarters of working parents say they’re suffering stress and anxiety from the lack of work-life balance.

I see a lot of people coming into my therapy practice on the verge of burnout because they’re trying to meet the relentless demands of other– and the high expectations of themselves. The drive to ‘have it all’ is leaving them depleted and satisfying no one. They find themselves constantly running towards deadlines, and having no time to enjoy the journey along the way. Before they know it, another year has passed and they still haven’t achieved what they long for.

While many work-life balance initiatives are aimed at changing the way employers structure the working day – for example, allowing for flexi-time and home-working – I believe there are some steps you can take as an individual to achieve more balance in your life:

Know your purpose

Why are you doing this? Why are you setting the alarm early to tick off all points on your routine and run ragged through your day? What are you getting out of work? Is this how you want to be spending your time? Do you feel joy and satisfaction in what you do? Having a purpose is what bounces you out of bed in the morning. Having work that is aligned with your core values feels effortless and is worth all the inevitable juggling you have to do. Your purpose may be to have a job that is a means to an end so you can enjoy your family life. Your purpose may be to achieve promotion and to climb the corporate ladder. Whatever your goal, it’s being clear on why you’re doing this that can remind you to keep going through the frazzled times – and it can help you make decisions that are tagged to your purpose.

Keep firm boundaries

A boundary is a counselling word, in effect, that means the lines you put around yourself that show the limits of where you’re prepared to go. In the workplace, a contract would outline the professional boundaries within which you’re expected to work. Personal boundaries are more about the way you operate and how much you give and take. And deciding where indeed you draw that line? How are your boundaries? Are you on time, focused, and good at meeting deadlines? Or are you rather slack in your timekeeping and end up rushing to complete projects because you’ve been distracted along the way? A key step to achieving work-life balance is to do work at work, and be home when you’re at home. Be fully present where you are. Aim to keep work and life separate so you can live them both as fully as possible.

Wait a heartbeat before saying yes

It can be so easy to get into the habit of saying yes to everything, especially if by nature you’re a people pleaser. Yet your work can mount up and any hope of balance flies out the window because you’ve said yes to that extra project. Saying no can be challenge: it can feel like a rejection of the person, and you may fear the repercussions on your career by saying no. Yet, if you’re tuned into your purpose, and are clear on where your boundaries lie, you will have more clarity as to which tasks you say yes to, and which you turn down. Say yes to what will enhance your life. Say no to what will burden it (and this is the same for things you take on in your home life as well as at work). Waiting a heartbeat before saying yes can help you assess your priorities and make the right decision for you and your work-life balance.

Biggest source of employee stress is not knowing what bosses want

davanti counselling confused employee

Unclear expectations from managers can create stress among workers (pic courtesy of iosphere/freedigitalphotos.net)

Never mind heavy workloads, long hours or annoying colleagues. The greatest source of stress for employees is having bosses who aren’t clear about their expectations.

Nearly a third (31%) of employees in a survey carried out by US employee assistance firm ComPsych said lack of clear direction from supervisors was the primary source of their stress. Second (20%) came confusion or conflict between colleagues or departments. Belief that workload would intensify was the third stressor (18%) and fourth was uncertainty about the future stability of the organisation (15%).

Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, Founder, Chairman and CEO of ComPsych, said: “Change has become a constant for many workplaces, whether in the US or globally. Employees are telling us that much of the disequilibrium around change is coming from managers.” He added that employees are increasingly asking for training around resiliency in the workplace.

I agree that change can be stressful, as you just don’t know what it will mean for you. When your stability becomes threatened it can trigger a survival response (like fight, flight or freeze) and you can become stressed. It can be a terrifying time not knowing what lies in store for you, and you can end up with anxious days and sleepless nights fretting over what will unfold. It can put you in a place of second guessing what your boss might want – not knowing if you’re right or wrong – which can leave you feeling deskilled and fearful.

The unknown can also bring up feelings of powerlessness, like being a child again. Hard though it may be, the antidote to this is to step into your adult state and take steps to feel as though you are taking charge of something at work. That may be asking for a meeting with your boss to clarify what is required of you, no matter how hard that might seem. Your stress levels will thank you for it, though.

The ‘dark side’ of perfectionism can cause stress and burnout

Worrying about meeting standards, and fear of failure are two aspects of the darker side of perfectionism, which can lead to burnout (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Marcus74id)

Fear of failure and worrying about meeting standards are two aspects of the darker side of perfectionism, which can lead to burnout (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Marcus74id)

Think of a perfectionist, and you’ll picture someone conscientious who goes the extra mile to produce top-notch work. Someone with extremely high standards who is motivated and energised to achieve them. That’s the ‘light’ or positive side of perfectionism, according to researchers, who say that these qualities and attributes can contribute to a strong sense of achievement.

But there is also a darker side to perfectionism, which is when people “constantly worry about making mistakes, letting others down, or not measuring up to their own impossibly high standards”, according to lead researcher Andrew Hill, associate professor of sport psychology at York St. John University in England, whose findings were published in the Personality and Social Psychology Review. People who become consumed by perfectionism are more likely to achieve the opposite, by sabotaging their success in relationships, on the sports field, and especially in the workplace.

The results from this current study came from an analysis of 43 other studies over the last 20 years. The dark side of perfectionism – or ‘perfectionistic concerns’ can lead to people fearing they’re not being good enough, of berating themselves every time they make a mistake. Instead of feeling good about their achievements after all the work they’ve put in, sometimes a lack of support or acknowledgement in the workplace can turn perfectionism into cynicism, and the darker aspects can turn in on themselves – sometimes leading to mental health concerns, such as stress, anxiety and depression. Not to mention self-criticism and the voice of the inner bully/critic, mercilessly tormenting the perfectionist who feels that nothing will ever be good enough.

The antidote to dark perfectionism is compassion and forgiveness (not always easy for a perfectionist), and seeking out environments and people where mistakes are not only tolerated but encouraged as an opportunity to grow and learn. Admittedly, this isn’t always easy. Hill added: “People need to learn to challenge the irrational beliefs that underlie perfectionistic concerns by setting realistic goals, accepting failure as a learning opportunity, and forgiving themselves when they fail. Creating environments where creativity, effort and perseverance are valued also would help.”

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Your ‘weekend effect’ could depend on how happy you are in your job

Happiness levels in your job will depict how much you enjoy your weekends (pic courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos/net/Mr Lightman)

Happiness levels in your job will define how much you enjoy your weekends (pic courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos/net/Mr Lightman)

Do you live for the weekend, counting down the hours and minutes until clock-out time from work on Friday? Or is the weekend merely a continuation of a socially complete, happy lifestyle? The answer to that will depend on how satisfied you are with your job, how well you get on with your boss, and how much social interaction you have during the week with colleagues and friends outside work.

At least, that’s the conclusion from analysis of the ‘weekend effect’ on seven emotions – happiness, sadness, enjoyment, laughter, worry, anger and stress – of thousands of US workers in the Gallup/Healthways daily poll 2008-2012, carried out by John F. Helliwell and Shun Wang and published in an NBER paper.

They found that while stress levels were lower all round, there was no significant ‘weekend effect’ in terms of happiness or laughter for people who felt satisfied in life and work during the week. Their happiness remained pretty much constant across the span of seven days.

However, there was a marked difference in happiness levels for people who were miserable in their jobs, especially for those with micro-managing bosses and an environment where there was little trust. Their happiness levels were three times higher compared with people who had fulfilling work lives.

If five days out of seven are making you miserable, it could be time to look at why, and what you can do about it. If there’s a payoff for you at weekends, then fine. But if deep down you know you’re not living your potential or achieving what you’d always set out to achieve, then it might be time to explore some options that might just make you happier.

Redundancy can create long-lasting trust issues

Losing your job can make it difficult for you to trust people again. (photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/pakorn)

Losing your job can make it difficult for you to trust people again. (photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/pakorn)

Losing your job can create such deep scars in your self-esteem that it can take you 10 years to be able to trust people again. Not even a new job can heal the wound or help you regain a sense of self, according to a study of 7,000 British adults by the University of Manchester.

Social scientist Dr James Laurence found that being laid off can create “a decade of distrust” – and the cynicism doesn’t go away even when the person made redundant returns to employment. He said: “People’s willingness to trust others tends to remain largely stable over their lifetime. However, this work shows that trauma like redundancy can shift people’s outlook of the world and this change persists long after the experience occurred.”

Losing your job can feel traumatic, especially if your identity and self-esteem are wrapped up in the work you do. Redundancy can bring up all kinds of feelings of failure and shame, and the study shows that the impact can be long lasting. When the sense of self is punctured, it can take a long time for the trauma to be processed and for the person to feel whole again.

If you’re suffering the effects of redundancy and would like to regain trust in others and faith in yourself, email or call Karen on 07956 823501 to book a confidential counselling appointment.

Have you caught ’empathic stress’?

Scientists say stress is contagious. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/ddpavumba)

Scientists say stress is contagious. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/ddpavumba)

Has your boss ever started huffing and puffing, even when everything is going to plan and to deadline, and you can’t help but start to feel the pressure too? Or how about you’re watching a tense moment on TV and you feel yourself far more stressed than you should?

Scientists say stress could be as catching as the common cold. Just being around stressed individuals, or watching them stress out, raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol even if you’re an observer. This was the main finding of a study by the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and the Technische Universität Dresden. The researchers found that observing stressful situations has a physical response – and say that this form of ’empathic stress’ should not be ignored because it can lead to serious issues of burnout, depression and anxiety.

Empathic stress was worse when the observer stressed individual were in a relationship. But even watching stressful programmes on TV can raise cortisol levels. “Stress has enormous contagion potential,” say the researchers.

They added that people working as caregivers could be particularly susceptible to the harmful consequences of empathic stress. “Anyone who is confronted with the suffering and stress of another person, particularly when sustained, has a higher risk of being affected by it themselves,” they add.

Interestingly, while other studies have shown women to be more empathic than men, this piece of research showed that “men and women actually experience empathic stress reactions with equal frequency”.