It’s the story I hear all day long….work stress is a major problem for many of you.
And even for me…
For the last ten years I worked in a busy, pressured CBD General Practice. I saw patients every ten minutes, I solved their problems, sometimes a multitude of problems in that short stretch of time, and then I moved immediately on to the next patient. I experienced an ever present work stress, the fear of getting something wrong, missing something, and the pressure of keeping up, being up to date, knowing everything. Add to this the time pressure of busy, high powered patients and I was in the midst of a perfect storm.
Don’t get me wrong, some clients I really enjoyed, but the time available for connection was limited, and the pressure of the appointment book was always there. I decreased my hours, found other interests, meditated, exercised, went to PD. I have reached the end of that career now, probably ten years prematurely, but I decided enough was enough. I have ten years of working life left and I want to use them well!
A long time coming
I don’t remember ever feeling that I loved my job, what kept me there was a sense of having put in the hard yards and not letting anyone take my hard won prize away from me. Looking back I’m surprised at the extent to which I never could admit how detrimental my work was to my own mental health. There was some inner sergeant major stomping around and bellowing out orders, keeping me at the grindstone and unable to look up, to imagine how else work might work.
If it’s too hot get out of the kitchen
This was the climate, ‘Suck it up, Princess’. I created my facade of self confidence in a world that was like a glass wall. I could see the mental unrest of my colleagues all around me, and more recently their suicides reported n the media. Reports of the poor mental health of doctors, especially female GP’s crossed my desk….nothing ever came of them. WE NEVER DID ANYTHING ABOUT IT. And driven on by my own perfectionism the saga of work stress continued.
Is this a familiar story?
How many patients did I see who were being destroyed in much the same way by their work? Especially those, like me, who were in high level, professional jobs. Too many. They came with physical ailments, the Sunday night insomnia, the Monday morning retching, the peptic ulcers and panic attacks. Eczema, asthma, and of course they came with mental health problems…depression, anxiety, substance abuse. Many of them had extended periods away from work and were medicated in order to return to a toxic workplace. Here are the facts from 2010;
- It is estimated that a GP who sees 40 patients a day can expect that between eight and ten (20 – 25%) of these patients will require support or treatment for anxiety or depression
- Stress-related workers’ compensation claims have doubled in recent years, costing over $10 billion each year
- A survey of over 5000 workers indicated that 25% of workers took time off each year for stress-related reasons
And from 2018…
- A large study into the mental health of corporate Australia shows almost one third suffering from some form of mental illness. (2)
The tip of the iceberg
Shocked by the figures? I was. I knew anecdotally that there was a rising tide of mental illness, alcohol abuse and work stress. Even more shocking is the following; only 17% of those scoring in the severe range for stress and depression seek help (2). Mental health just isn’t as kosher as physical health. Keeping it to yourself is like nursing a pressure cooker, you’re ok till you’re not ok.
What to do?
My epiphany came when I realised I actually had control over my life, I could choose. This wasn’t being done to me, I was choosing every step of the way, and happily I have now been able to create a new working life in psychotherapy, engaging with others in a much more meaningful and useful way. Now I have skills, to challenge, to nurture, to meet others in a warm, human and rewarding way, and to engage with crisis as an opportunity for growth and change.
Crossing the threshold and allowing yourself to become aware of just how uncomfortable you are is the first step, seek help, talk to a professional, find work life balance, expect more for yourself and find a way to make work work for you. It is possible to loosen those circuits which seem so deeply entrenched, ask yourself, ‘What if…” Begin to dream about what would float your boat, even if it seems impossible, let new circuits start to form and maybe even put in an order with your unconscious to start living the way you want, not according to rules which don’t work for you.
If you recognise yourself in this article, make an appointment to see a mental health professional or read more at:
I am offering reflective retreats in Bali and Australia, individual and group psychotherapy. These are a good place to start the journey home!