EXPOSURE TO HARSH MESSAGES AND IMAGES
The news headlines have been exhausting. The video footage, even moreso. A surreal, strange, false dual world emerges when we are barraged with media and harshness during our non-work hours, and then we enter our physical workspace into a sort of cocoon where much of the talk, noise, and direct contact with the media is temporarily suspended while we attend to work tasks with what we at least feign to be giving our full attention.
WORK AS A TEMPORARY SANCTUARY
To some degree, work may offer some sanctuary for a handful of hours each day, from the rawness of the emotions that some of us feel when hit with the flood of current events, messages, and images. We know we’re only insulated for a while, but we’ll let ourselves relax into that safe workplace bubble for a short while, knowing that we will emerge from it abrubtly and certainly.
NEED FOR HEIGHTENED SENSITIVITY
But while at work, we aren’t entirely free of the impacts of what is tearing at us emotionally. And it is important to be aware of this, for your own sake if you are the one stifling your emotions, for the benefit of your co-workers, and for those you manage and lead, if you oversee staff.
We all need heightened awareness, sensitivity, and grace at this time, for those who may be hiding anguish that has been tapped into, and this includes ourselves!
Sexual harassment, assault, and rape, treatment of women by men, and even treatment of women by other women . . . are all some of the really difficult issues that have swarmed around us in the past week. They are difficult to hear about if you are a person who knows a woman who has suffered because of harassment, assault, rape, or from any type of disparaging or disrespectful treatment.
If you are the sister, the brother, parent, spouse, friend, or other confidante of a hurting person, this is a tough time, because the injured person has now had their old injuries re-injured.
Please hear that.
Anyone who has been hurt in the past by any of these actions (subtle and overt), did not ask to have them re-activated. They not plan to have them re-activated, but now because of what has emerged in our presidential race, has had all of the old anguish stirred up all over again, and set afire.
This is on top of any other struggles that may be going on in her life currently.
Now add this layer. Many of these hurting people may now also be face-to-face with the reality (that they would probably prefer not to be facing) that they are presently in a primary relationship that is disrespectful, that includes mistreatment, abuse, deception, or even marital rape. Their relationship with their parents could be in upheaval because of a denial or invalidating of such mistreatment. This may have endured for years, even decades! And now . . . what to do about it? Acknowledge and let it continue? Take a stand and uproot a family?
This is not small potatoes. Anyone in this situation is likely to feel their world is lonely, feel the ground is shaky under their feet, and that it’s difficult to form sentences without a trembling voice.
This is extremely hard to stifle at work.
HOW CAN WE HELP AT WORK?
If YOU are struggling, please know that you are not alone.
You are not alone.
Find out if your organization has EAP (Employee Assistance Program) benefits where you have access to a number of counseling services, confidential and free or low-cost. You can also use your health insurance plan to seek out mental health providers and start the process of intake. There may be a few steps to get through before you are in a counselor’s office, so start the process now. Here are a couple of additional resources for you to contact:
For the immediate term, walk. Sleep. Walking has fast-acting, mood-boosting benefits. Getting enough sleep restores body and mind. At work, know that though it may seem like others are insensitive, try to believe that it’s most likely not personal. Give yourself some extra space and the creature comforts that help you (music in your earphones, tea, a cozy sweater).
If someone ELSE is struggling, still seek out EAP. Sometimes, your EAP service will have a benefit whereby you can call to ask for advice to help you best help someone else, especially if you are a manager or leader. This may be called, “Organizational Services” or something similar. Also check the EAP website, perhaps located on your Human Resources webpage, for any downloadable resources, helpful links to other good sites and materials.
I am often asked by managers exactly where the boundary is between wanting to appear supportive and prying for personal information. Understandably, this is tricky. My suggestion is to have your wording prepared ahead of time. When we’re caught off-guard, we blurt, and when we blurt, we can get ourselves into situations where we wish we could “un-say” something.
For example, you might say, “I’ve noticed you aren’t smiling as much as you normally do . . . are you okay?” or, “Are you doing alright? You seem a bit quieter than usual . . . ” Then, you can offer something like, “We have a really good benefit called EAP that gives us access to support resources. There’s a link on our HR webpage, if you’re ever interested. It’s confidential.” This way, you’re letting the person know of the proper support channel and that you both notice them and you care.
Then, I like to recommend closing with something like, “Let me know if there’s a way you think I might help in my role. Take care.” This reinforces again, that you care. And gently, that you are not the counselor but rather the overseer of the work. You wear the production hat, so to speak, and this clarifies that if there is a tweak in the work process, activities, responsibilities, timelines, etc. to discuss, you want to open that conversation proactively.
BRAIN STATE DURING HEIGHTENED ANXIETY AND ANGER
A person steeped in a state of anxiety, threat, and anger is a person whose limbic system is working in overdrive. Remember that this means it will be a challenge for this person to focus for longer chunks of time and do creative, innovative kinds of work. Negotiating, handling dicey interpersonal interactions are also more likely to be a bigger challenge now. Work with this person to shift tasks and priorities as flexibly as possible, so that there is some self-direction in choosing tasks according to ability to focus and level of anxiety.
Go back to these blogs for some good tips on how to manage focus: