Between 1960 and 1972, the Apollo Program landed 12 men on the moon. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shepherd, Edgar Mitchell, David Scott, James Irwin, John Young, Charlie Duke, Harrison Schmitt and Gene Cernan.
In order to land these 12 lucky souls on the surface of another celestial body, it took over 400,000 people to put them there. This week, the BBC released a podcast to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing called 13 Minutes to the Moon and it details both the final phase of the first descent to the moon’s surface and the months and years that led up to those extraordinary moments.
What’s that got to do with mental health at work you ask but bear with us, we’re getting there.
Podcast presenter Kevin Fong, an expert on space medicine and Co-Director of the Centre for Aviation Space and Extreme Environment Medicine at UCL, says that virtually every person who worked on the Apollo Program felt a deep connection to the program and when we talk about how stressful our own jobs are, is there anything more stressful than putting a man on the moon?
Every nut and bolt, every screw, every single part of the rockets and landing modules had to be 100% perfect. Not tightening a screw could very well make the difference between life and death, and it was close with Apollo 13…
The stress, anxiety and depression that putting a man on the moon caused thousands of those involved with the Apollo Program must have been unbelievably acute, but no-one said anything.
Back then, mental health was taboo. No-one talked about it. It was never mentioned. If you suffered, you suffered in absolute silence. You got on with it and if you burned out, so be it. You were replaced.
Today, it isn’t taboo anymore.
Mental Health At Work – The Facts
Stress at work is normal isn’t it? Every job, from rocket scientist on down, has it’s stressful elements but don’t we just have to accept it as part and parcel of our everyday lives and – we know it’s a tired cliché – don’t we just have to keep calm and carry on?
Yes and no.
First, let’s take a look at the statistics surrounding mental health at work, all from the 2017-18 Labour Force Survey from the Office of National Statistics:
- Work-related stress is at its highest rate since 2002
- Reports of work-related stress, depression or anxiety have risen by 16% since 2014-15
- In 2016-17 the proportion of people experiencing work-related stress, depression or anxiety equated to 1,610 workers per 100,000 (in 2005-06 it was 1,190 per 100,000)
- 526,000 people who had worked in the previous 12 months had a work-related mental health condition (2016-17, 487,000; 2015-16, 442,000)
- In 2016-17 the number of working days lost to stress, depression and anxiety was 12.5 million, up from 11.7 million in 2015-16
Mental health issues manifest themselves in any number of ways. It can be the annoying boss who takes credit for every piece of work you produce, it can be tight deadlines coupled with not enough time to get everything done or it can be external relationship or financial issues affecting your ability to concentrate. Notwithstanding all of this, there’s the impact on your physical and emotional well-being.
Alternatively, a little healthy stress at work keeps you on your toes, keeps you energised and allows you to focus your attention, so when does a little anxiety become a deep hole from where it’s very hard to emerge?
We’re a Team, And Teams Stick Together
First, it’s important to note that we’re not experts in this field, we’re not psychologists and we don’t have all the answers. We are employers with staff who are exceptionally good at what they do and as employers, not only are we responsible for paying them at the end of every month for an outstanding job well done, we are also responsible for their well-being.
As our very own Stephen Dorling says, ‘we want the guys who work for us to feel connected and engaged with our business, our aspirations and our mission. We want them to feel comfortable with our clients and we want them to feel like they each have an equal voice, especially when they’re often working remotely or on-site.’
The Causes Of Workplace Stress
The most common causes of stress, anxiety and depression at work are:
- Fear of redundancy and the associated financial issues
- Increased workload due to staff cutbacks
- Slim opportunities for promotion
- Pressure to meet tighter and tighter deadlines
- Unmanageable expectations with no increase in salary or job security
- A lack of control, conflicting demands or unclear expectations
And we know when stress at work hits us because there are some very clear early-warning triggers:
- Feelings of anxiousness or irritability
- An apathy towards work, like you can’t be bothered but are unsure why
- Restless sleep and the associated fatigue
- An inability to focus, concentrate, listen or respond
- Physical symptoms like headaches, tense muscles and stomach issues
- An increased dependency on drugs, alcohol or gambling
The very definition of cause and effect.
Minimising Stress, Anxiety And Depression At Work
As we said, we don’t have all the answers but we can offer the following tips as to how we can all feel better at work and in fact, they’re deceptively simple.
The way out of the funk of opposing instructions, unclear requirements and a constantly-changing priorities list is via a path of effective communication. The people in charge need to be clear what they want and expect from you.
Talk to them, not to air a list of grievances but to establish a clear plan of what is expected of you and when it’s expected.
While at some point or another we’d all like to tell our bosses to ‘do one’, it doesn’t help and could land you with the added stresses of a P45. Many of us will turn to a bottle of wine and a four-cheese pizza at the end of a particularly hard day but this type of instant gratification only masks the long term effects.
Try running, yoga, Pilates or swimming. Not only will you feel better but you will sleep better and wake up more refreshed and ready.
Is Coffee The Answer?
For some the answer is a resounding ‘yes’ but an opening salvo of a quadruple-shot caramel cappuccino followed by three or four rounds during the day will leave you with the jitters and feelings of unease.
A couple of coffees in the morning is fine but try switching a couple of coffees with fruit, jasmine or chamomile tea. They will calm your stresses and again will afford you a better night’s sleep.
Turn Defeats Into Victories
We can all break in-built habits that have a negative effect on us at work:
- Set yourself realistic targets, i.e. always do your best and no-one can ask any more from you
- There are plenty of situations you control that you can do something about but don’t focus on situations you can exert no influence over
- De-cluttering your workspace is a cathartic exercise. For one thing, knowing where everything is can be a great stress-reliever but more importantly, a clean desk equates to clarity of thought and behaviour
- Reverse negative thoughts by picturing the best possible outcome of a given scenario rather than the worst
- Being a cog in a wheel often gives rise to thoughts focused on ‘what’s the point of all this’ so instead of thinking of yourself as a mundane box-ticker, look for positivity and meaning in what you do. You will regain a sense of purpose and regain control of your day-to-day stress levels
Again, we’re not suggesting you tell your boss what you really think of him or her, rather the fact that all uptime ying needs a downtime yang. It will help to counteract the negative stressors in your life and as the old cliché goes, work to live, don’t live to work.
Your contract gives you holiday time, take it and don’t feel guilty about it. Everyone else does so why shouldn’t you? When you return, you’ll feel refreshed and invigorated. Also, here’s the one we’re all guilty of – when you leave work, LEAVE WORK! Emails and responses can wait until the morning or after the weekend. Switch your phone off and instead have some quality time with your family or friends. It will relax you and allow you to unwind.
Workplace Stress Is Avoidable If…
…you know three things – the causes, the effects and the resolutions. Leave it to fester and it will only get worse but if you take steps to start eradicating stress, anxiety and depression from your work life you will feel better, more productive, valued and more positive.
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