Nurturing Empathy for Anxiety during Mental Health Awareness Week 2023

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week focuses on the difference between anxiety and anxiety disorders which are often misunderstood and can significantly negatively impact our lives.

So how are anxiety and anxiety disorders different and how many people suffer from them?

In its purest form, anxiety is a very normal reaction to stress and can be beneficial in helping us to get prepared for stressful situations.

Anxiety disorders however are different in that the anxiety experienced is excessive and prolonged and can become all-consuming making everyday tasks almost impossible.

It is estimated that over 30% of adults have or will suffer from an anxiety disorder during their lifetime.

However, a 2022 poll found that almost half of working mums suffer from anxiety and depression. Half!!

And when I think about it further, I am surprised that it is only half! As working women, it is just the case that often the weight of childcare and household chores fall on us to manage alongside the stresses of work. Add to that financial, geo-political and environmental stresses and it is a wonder we get out of bed every morning.

I have lost count of how many times at work that people have assumed that I effortlessly balance a job and 5 children.

I get asked for tips on how women can have it all. And let’s be clear, they can’t!

Something always must give, and, in my experience, it is your own health, either mental or physical rather than work or family life. We are told to lean in, lean out, be authentic, but try to talk to someone at work about how you are feeling, and you will see seat shuffling and a box of tissues being pushed in your direction.

Anxiety and depression fall into the same categories as menopause and miscarriage when it comes to highly awkward work conversations. And yet these are issues that so many of us experience, that affect the core of our souls and impact how we show up at work every day, so organisations must get better at this. Empathy and vulnerability are at the core of connectivity, and we all need to connect to work together effectively so these are skills that in my mind are essential for every leader. So why aren’t more organisations providing training on this?

So many of us do not share struggles with anxiety for fear of people judging us as being in some way weak.

Photo by Adrien Converse

My personal confession

So here goes. I am Helen, I have had a successful career, I have 5 beautiful children and I have suffered with severe post-natal depression and post-traumatic stress along the way. Medication was a lifeline throughout these experiences, and I am not ashamed to say that without that support, my life could have been very different.

I wouldn’t change any of the choices I have made, and navigating the challenges has built my resilience and empathy along the way. However, I do wonder how much better my life would have been had I been able to share these struggles with the organisations that I have worked without fear of negative ramifications on my career.

Anxiety is not a weakness; it’s a pure human experience that can manifest in many ways, often invisible to the naked eye. Only by listening, showing empathy, and embracing vulnerability will this epidemic be addressed within the workplace.

So how can organisations help to support sufferers of anxiety disorders?

  1. Education and Awareness: Educating we and others about anxiety disorders is a powerful step towards dismantling misconceptions. Share resources, articles, and personal stories that shed light on different aspects of anxiety. By increasing awareness, we can help break down stigma and create an atmosphere of empathy.
  2. Active Listening and Validation: When someone opens up about their anxiety, practice active listening without judgment. Validating their experiences and emotions can provide huge comfort. Offer a safe space where they feel heard, understood, and supported. Sometimes, lending an empathetic ear can make all the difference. Please do not say “pull yourself together.”
Let’s use Mental Health Awareness Week 2023 as a catalyst for change and compassion. By nurturing empathy and understanding around anxiety, we can create an environment where individuals feel empowered to discuss their experiences and seek the support they deserve.
As always, we would love to hear your thoughts. Let’s continue to learn from one another and foster a more inclusive, anxiety-aware community.

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