Category Archives: Self Care

Psychological Safe Defense image

Learn To Survive And Thrive Despite Narcissists, Sociopaths And Psychopaths

Have you ever had an interaction with someone that wasn’t quite violent or blatantly rude but left you feeling ‘off, rattled or shaken? What was going on there?

Have you found yourself falling for liars, con artists, or manipulators on more than one occasion? We have too.

What about psychopaths? Ever wondered if someone you know is a psychopath? Sometimes it’s essential to know.

We are seeing situations where people face more extreme and antisocial behavior- and master manipulators end up using them and pulling their strings.

Having delivered mental health and resilience training across the world, to organizations of all sizes and in all industries, and to individuals from all walks of life, we know very clearly that one of the things people struggle with most, in maintaining their health and wellbeing, is dealing with difficult people.

Everyday interactions and relationships with friends, family and colleagues can be tricky enough, even when everyone involved has the best intentions at heart.

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But more and more, we see more extreme antisocial behavior to the point where they could be dealing with psychopaths, sociopaths, and other master manipulators.

Suppose you are not prepared, not alert, or not equipped with techniques to deal with these people and situations. In that case, you could be at risk – sometimes physically, sometimes financially, but often psychologically too.

Therefore, for good mental health and so many other reasons, we need to build our awareness and understanding of people who may not have our best interests at heart. And develop a skill set to deal with these people, behaviors, and situations more effectively.

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We want to raise awareness and help people develop their psychological toolbox. We want good people to feel confident and in control when dealing with bad people out there – knowing that most people are good, well-intentioned people, but that, from time to time, they will come across dangerous people to their psychological and physical health. We also want them to know how to handle them.

We want to be aware and prepared to be able to:

  • identify different types of manipulators and understand their inner psychology
  • know how to spot other signs of manipulation and how to respond effectively to nip those in the bud
  • understand the dozen or so different strategies people can use in an attempt to shape your behavior, and how to neutralize them
  • look after your psychological safety and mental health effectively and securely when dealing with these people and their behaviors

So, what are some things you can do to protect yourself, your loved ones or your teams at work?

Well, here are four things you can do, in a nutshell (we go into more detail and more strategies in our Psychological Self Defense course):

  1. Spot it early and leave, but if you can´t go, then…
  2. Get clear and confident in your own beliefs and knowledge
  3. Don´t try to play their game. Don´t try to outsmart them or trick them, or play pretend to catch them out. You´re not likely to win.
  4. Communicate in a way that is very clear, firm and transparent.
  5. Don’t try to control their actions, but stay cool, calm, and collected no matter what happens.

There’s a lot to talk about, and it’s imperative we do. But it’s hard to put this much detail here in writing. That’s why we created the Psychological Self Defense course where people can discover the strategies, tools and skills, to better deal with difficult people and to develop a type of “psychological armor” to protect themselves and their team from harm.

This online course shows you how to spot the different types of manipulators, the signs of manipulation, the ten sneaky strategies they use to pull the wool over your eyes, and the best ways to respond to this manipulation.

We consider this essential knowledge for everyone.  Of course, suppose you’re a manager or supervisor. In that case, this is even more critical knowledge to protect the wellbeing of your team – and avoid the legal implications these types could create for your company.

Please, do yourself a favor and check out the Psychological Self Defense course

It could be the best thing you do this year.

Author: Peter Diaz
Peter Diaz profile

Peter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organisations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

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Psychological-Self-Defence

Advanced Psychological Self-Defence

Protecting Yourself from the Expert Manipulation of Psychopaths, Sociopaths and Other Difficult People

Have you ever been in a relationship where, for some reason, you couldn’t quite figure out, you felt as if you were being controlled or restricted in some way? A relationship where you started to doubt yourself, your actions, and your emotions, or felt as if something just wasn’t right? If you have, there’s an excellent chance that you were being manipulated.

What, Exactly, is Manipulation?

While it does have a negative connotation, manipulation is a natural, effective and useful tool that helps us survive and thrive in society. We start using unconscious manipulation as infants and small children. For example, when they get hungry, babies cry. This manipulates their parents into doing what they need, giving them food. Children will often do the same thing once they realize how powerful their cries are, for example, using them to manipulate their parents into purchasing them a toy.

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This type of manipulation is, truth be told, relatively normal behavior. All children do it, so the last thing you want to do is judge them or deride them too harshly. At some point, with discipline, most children grow out of self-obsessed manipulation and mature into adults who are considerate of others, kind and don’t need to use manipulation to get what they want or need; they ask. But it doesn’t always work out that way and, for some, immature manipulation traits can continue into adulthood.

When adults use wanton manipulation, however, it often is emotionally and psychologically dangerous and damaging. That’s because, at its core, manipulation is a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) form of control. Control of an individual, a group, team, or organization, or even an entire nation. When a car salesperson pushes you to make a purchase, they’re trying to control both you and the situation to create an outcome that favors them (i.e., more sales). The problem is when their wanting to sell the car is more important to them, than your need to buy one.

You can walk away from that type of situation, of course, but it’s not as easy if, say, the person manipulating you is your partner, a colleague, or someone in power, and they’re doing it to ‘keep you in line’ or otherwise derive some other benefit from your abject obedience. In short, manipulation is a typical human trait that, when selfishly abused, can be quite damaging.

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The Different Types of Manipulators (And Why They Do It)

Manipulation covers a whole range of different scenarios and situations, from more ´mild´ forms, to those that are much more damaging and dangerous. To help us clarify, we´ve identified at least 3 types of manipulators:

  1. Immature – like a child, they don’t intend harm, but are merely self centred
  2. Entitled – they believe they deserve things to be their way, and don’t want to cause harm, but will justify hurting others, to get what they want.
  3. Pathological – they don´t care who gets hurt, or even enjoy causing harm to others. This includes sociopaths, who may act impulsively without thinking how others may be affected, and psychopaths who are cold and calculating and may even play along within societal rules to achieve their own objectives, but with zero regard for human life or emotions.

Identifying the Obvious (and Not So Obvious) Signs Of Manipulation

Some of us are very trusting people, and when we meet someone new, it may not even cross our minds that they could have ulterior motives, or not be completely trustworthy. You might dive into a new romance, friendship, or business partnership assuming that the person has none other than the best intentions, only to find a little while down the track that things start to go pear shaped.

If you´re nodding your head here, it´s likely that you may have been burnt before in this respect. You´ve probably had friends and family tell you that you´re too trusting or naïve. And they could be right.

On the other hand, some people (usually those who have been burnt too many times before!) err in the other direction, and could be very critical and closed off, even suspicious towards someone new.

As with all things, a bit of balance is called for. It is worthwhile as you are getting to know someone that you remain aware, but not hypervigilant, to the way they behave and communicate.

To know if you’re being manipulated, you need to know the signs and, if you will, symptoms of unhealthy manipulation. Like the early days of the flu, things won’t ‘feel right’ when you’re being manipulated. That’s the best time to nip it in the bud, frankly, so knowing what to look for (and all the many signs of manipulation) is vital.

Things Don’t ‘Add Up.’

One of the most common signs you’re being manipulated is when situations and circumstances don’t add up or make sense. If your new partner is trying to convince you, for example, to sign away your home to them so that you can save money on a new mortgage. That doesn’t make any sense and would be a big red flag that they may be manipulating you.

You Start To Question or Doubt Yourself

Some manipulators are very good at what they do. So good, in fact, that they can start to make you doubt yourself and start seeing things their way. Their manipulations can make you feel as if you’re going a little crazy as your brain tries to figure out what’s going on.

Something Feels Off (Your ‘Gut’ Is Telling You To Be Careful)

Knowing how to feel and trust your ‘gut feeling’ is essential to sniffing out a manipulator. It’s a little feeling that says ‘hey,’ this doesn’t seem right’ or ‘get the heck out of here, this is a bad situation´. If something feels ‘off’ to you, there’s a good chance it is and that you need to extricate yourself from the situation.

Understand the Common Manipulation Strategies

People who use manipulation for evil or immoral intent have specific tried-and-true strategies they use and use often. Knowing these strategies will make it easier for you to spot if you’re in danger of becoming the victim of a predator, sociopath or psychopath.

Initial Grooming and Creating Trust

This strategy involves being nice to you and creating a feeling of trust and security. It can happen quickly (within a few hours) or over a longer period of time (weeks or months).

Playing Your Emotions With a Sad Story

Human empathy is an excellent thing, no doubt. Manipulators know this and use sad stories to hit your empathy button. Portraying themselves as weak or a victim, ironically, is how they manipulate their victims.

Foot in the Door

A classic strategy of persuasion: I ask you to make a small concession, to which you reluctantly agree. Like the unwelcome houseguest who asks to stay for ´just a couple of weeks, til I get on my feet´ and is still living with you (rent free) a year later.

Separating You From Those Who Love and Care About You

This is one of the most wicked forms of manipulation, putting a wedge between their victim and those who care about them (and who may alert you to their ways). They create drama where there is none, making their victim believe that their family or friends have shunned them (or worse).

Praise or Putting You Up On a Pedestal

This is a prevalent strategy used by sociopaths. By showering compliments, they overwhelm their victim’s gut feelings, leaving them highly vulnerable. Manipulators have used this technique to steal from people for eons, preying on their victim’s vanity or lack of self-confidence. Praising you for following their orders or giving them what they want

Ridicule and Sarcasm

Praise can often be alternated with ridicule and sarcasm, designed to avoid addressing your concerns (no matter how legitimate), create shame and self doubt, and deter onlookers from even considering your perspective or supporting you.

Twisting the Facts

This can be the most frustrating, but sometimes you won´t even know it is happening. This can include exaggerating or understating the facts, bias, outright lying, feigning ignorance, making excuses, leaving out important details, using language to mislead, and so on.

Reciprocity & Guilt

They may go out of their way to do something for you. It could be just that they are nice, but beware, if they try to convince you that you ‘owe’ them, they’re using reciprocity as a manipulative tool. Or they may flat out blame you when something they have done doesn´t turn out well. This is where it starts to take a horrible turn and can often lead to…

Fear, Threats and Intimidation

Creating fear, threatening violence or to reveal intimate knowledge is a potent strategy and used by sociopaths and psychopaths frequently. Some will veil their threats (however thinly) with storytelling. For example, by telling their victim a story about “a lady who went to the cops but later disappeared and was never heard from again” or “imagine what would happen if your family found out about what you did¨.

Wearing you Down

All of these strategies can play with your mind and emotions to such an extent that after some time, you simply get worn down and end up giving in to the bully.

How to Protect Yourself

The very best way to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of a sociopath or psychopath’s manipulation is to nip the problem in the bud as soon as it starts.

While most people are good, well meaning people just trying to do their best in this world, there will always be a small percentage,who are willing to trample on other people´s rights to achieve their own outcomes and agendas. Some of these are even wily or charismatic enough to make it into positions of power.

When it comes to protecting yourself, you really only have two options:

  1. Walk Away– If someone is trying to manipulate you, your best bet is to disengage completely and walk away. It might not always be possible, of course, but if it is, that’s your best course of action.
  2. Learn how psychological manipulation operates so you can spot it coming, and avoid you or your loved ones falling victim to it.

Either way, don´t allow yourself to be manipulated. The costs are simply too high. And when you see signs of psychological manipulation at play, whenever possible, speak out about it. If you don´t, you may find yourself or someone else in a world of trouble not too far down the road.

In our online learning course ´Psychological Self Defence´ we show you 18 different strategies you can use to handle a master manipulator, sociopath or psychopath, and how to protect yourself both in physically, mentally and emotionally.

Author: Peter Diaz
Peter Diaz profile

Peter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organisations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

Connect with Peter Diaz on:
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The-Psychology-of-Fear

The Psychology of Fear: How Fear Harms Workplaces and People’s Lives

‘El miedo es gratis’ (Fear is free) – Old Spanish proverb.

Most people in Spain have grown up hearing that. Fear is free. What that means is that fear is free, as in, it doesn’t cost any money. But it turns out, they weren’t 100% right, were they? No, you don’t need to pay money to be afraid, but Fear,it turns out, is very costly. It has a high psychological cost, physical cost, and a financial cost, since, at the very least, it stops you from doing things and taking chances.

Today we see the whole world gripped by fear. A fear with a name but without a face. A fear that has been going on since the beginning of the year. A fear that has become imperative we get rid of immediately. Why? Because prolonged fear causes a type of stress that can become really hard to ditch.

THE ROLE OF FEAR

In psychology we see fear as a basic and ever-present emotion. A certain amount of fear is normal, even good for us. It helps us to survive, by having an inbuilt, rapid mechanism to detect danger, and therefore allow us to take action to prevent harm. It is the foundation of our fight or flight response.

The-Psychology-of-Fear

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THE PROBLEM WITH FEAR

The problem is that if our fear response goes into hyper drive, it can cause harm itself. It can paralyze us and stop us from taking actions that would be beneficial to our wellbeing. It begins to control us rather than serve us. And when fear is prolonged, the potential for serious mental distress in the form of mental disorder is greatly increased.

In mental health, we know that all mental illnesses are founded in, or at the very least, accompanied by, a large amount of fear. This means that when someone you love experiences mental health distress, of any kind and severity, you can be fairly certain that at some level, fear is involved. Fear may be lurking just under the surface, or it may permeate every aspect of their life and their decision making.But, how specifically?

HOW FEAR IMPACTS US

Decision Making – A fearful person cannot make good decisions, the decisions that they normally would make, because fear impairs and interrupts good cognitive function. For example, the research shows that when we are stressed, we are less likely to choose good healthy foods. So much for dieting when you’re afraid of being disliked! Another common response to fear is to delay making any decision, because we are too worried about what the consequences might be if we make the wrong one!

Fear

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself” – Franklin D Roosevelt

Risk Averse Bias – Importantly, fear also creates a bias in the way we interpret information. It leads us to focus too heavily on the risks, rather than making an objective analysis of all the facts of a situation. We can easily appreciate this in sufferers of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCD is a disorder where the person becomes fearful of dying, either of unseen microorganisms like bacteria, viruses or germs, or from physical accident, injury or misadventure. People with OCD are not able to make objective analyses of situations and have to be helped, through therapy, to change their association with fear of pathogens. In a work context, in organizations where there is fear, you see groups become risk averse, which is not helpful for growth and development, and sometimes causes the exact result that the executives were afraid of, and trying to avoid.

Problem Solving –It’s also well known that fear disrupts our capacity for problem solving. We become tunnel visioned on our main concern, rather than expanding our thinking to discover and consider a wide range of solutions. In fact, often people tend to oversimplify the problem and the solution to the problem. The solution is often emotional, rather than logical, and does not stand up to scrutiny.

Undermining success – Fear not only impairs our capacity to solve problems and to make good, effective decisions, it also boycotts our chances for success in life. For example, ever heard of the term ‘fear of failure’? Well, we now understand this differently.We now know that often, people that say that they are afraid of failure, when they dig in deeper and explore it, they are also fearful of succeeding. How is that possible? How can anyone be afraid of succeeding? Simple, think of your life right now, as it is. If you were 100% successful and achieved amazing dreams and goals, how many of the people that are around you now, would still like you then? Or would they be envious? For most people, if they were to significantly improve their life, fear would need to take a back seat.

Can you see why fear would not always be useful in a work context?

HINDSIGHT 2020

Today, as a collective, we are experiencing a new kind of fear, which is unique in a sense. This is a fear that is being drummed up, encouraged by governments, some scientists, and the media. Though it may not be the intention, we are reminded to be fearful of others, and fearful for our safety. These reminders to be afraid are conveyed in somewhat subtle ways by the masks we must wear in many places, the visual signs we see alerting us to social distance, the announcements and conversations we hear, and in many other indirect ways. There doesn’t seem to be a reprieve from these (sometimes) subtle, yet constant reminders.

Whether it is warranted or not, is not the question here. The fact remains that we know that fear causes stress, and that long term stress causes an untold number of physical and psychological illnesses.

According to the American Institute of Stress, 120000 people die every year as a direct result of workplace stress. Chronic stress is also linked to the 6 leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, respiratory deaths, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.

The idea that fear causes physical damage is not new knowledge. In fact, there’s a lovely Sufi story that illustrates the harm fear brings:

“A caravan leader in the middle of the desert crossed the plague cloud on his way. – Where are you going like that, asked the chief? – To Baghdad! I have a thousand lives to take, the plague replied without stopping! A few weeks later, the leader of the caravan again crossed the cloud of plague. – ‘Hey!’, said the head of the caravan, ‘I’m back from Baghdad! It was not a thousand but ten thousand people that you took away!’ – ‘I only killed a thousand people as I was ordered’, retorted the plague! ‘The others were scared to death!’”

Being literally scared to death may sound a bit extreme, but it brings us to an interesting phenomenon that was discovered in the 1800’s, called ‘Voodoo Death’.

“VOODOO” DEATH

Voodoo death is a sudden, unexplained death resulting from spells, sorcery, or curse. From a psychological perspective we may explain it as resulting from belief in the power of those spells, sorcery or curses.

In his article ´Voodoo Death´, Walter Bradford Cannon shares numerous examples from traditional cultures, where there have been instances of death observed in these conditions:

  • In the Tupinambas Indians of South America, there have been cases observed of fright induced death, following the prediction or condemnation by a chief or medicine man with the reputation of having supernatural power.
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  • In Brown´s New Zealand and its Aborigines, there is an account of a Maori woman. who, having eaten some fruit, was told that it had been taken from a tabooed place. She exclaimed that the sanctity of the chief had been profaned, and that his spirit would kill her. This incident occurred in the afternoon; the next day about 12 o’clock she was dead.
  • Australian University Professors have observed that from time to time the natives of the Australian bush do die as a result of a bone being pointed at them, and that such death may not be associated with any of the ordinary lethal injuries.

In today’s terms we may not call it ‘Voodoo Death’ anymore, but we have studied the science, and we now have good evidence for what we now call Somatoform Disorders, and the Nocebo Effect. We can categorically say that fear can, and does injure, harm and, in the most extreme cases, kill.It can be directly, as in the case of the examples above, or indirectly, as in the case of people believing themselves sick and dying of iatrogenesis or side effects of treatment.

THE NOCEBO EFFECT

Almost everyone has heard of the placebo effect. We see the placebo effect when people have a positive improvement in response to a substance, idea, thought or situation, simply because they believe it to be ‘true’ but without it actually having any active ingredient or proof. Their mind, the unconscious part, has taken control of the body and made it respond ‘as if’ the substance or idea is a matter of fact.

The placebo effect is the most studied effect in the history of science since it’s used as the standard to produce relatively safe medicines. What most people don’t know so well is its close cousin – the nocebo effect. That’s where a person believes something benign is actually malignant to them. In this case, the person starts feeling all the symptoms and often displaying the signs of the particular ailment they believe they have, although they don’t have it. For example, ever googled some kind of strange illness and then you start feeling some of the symptoms explained? How did that happen? Well, you tapped into your nocebo. Of course, most people stop just in time of making themselves actually sick, or do they?

Building-Resilience-at-Workplace
Building Resilience at Workplace course

HEADING INTO 2021

Think of this interesting and dangerous situation during the Coronavirus situation: the media actively selling fear, the government promoting fear to get people to follow their directions, the doctors panicking trying to understand a new threat and an increased influx of new patients, and the patients themselves in a state of panic. This is a situation of compounded fear. Fear at every level. What do you think will be the results of this heightened level of fear? From purely a psychological perspective, that’s a PERFECT STORM for ill health in the form of somatoform disorders, mental disorders,iatrogenic deaths and suicide.

So, it is vital we learn to identify when fear is building in us and learn how to handle it as quickly as possible. It can save our lives and that of our loved ones.

6 Things You Can Do That Will Immediately Neutralize The Fear In You

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  1. STOP, or severely limit, watching the news. It’s a horror movie!
  2. STOP believing unreliable sources that have a vested interest in selling you fear AND have lied to you in the past (politicians, media, etc) when in doubt, ‘follow the money’.
  3. STOP ruminating – it means stop entertaining negative, fear inducing, thoughts. Get busy with another, better thought or activity. Ie watch a comedy, go and play, etc
  4. START exercising – it releases yummy endorphins and makes you happy. Start with some kind of easy exercise
  5. START spending time every day to notice all the things you do have that we usually take for granted (ie clean water out of a tap, hot showers, some of your loved ones ;), the warm and comfy bed you get into at night, etc)
  6. START eating healthy. What we eat does make a difference. The wrong kind of food, or the wrong amounts, can tax our system and produce chemical anxiety. Ie coffee, capsicums, iceberg lettuce, oranges, etc. Every body is different so it is a matter of paying attention to what your body says and experimenting.

This article was first published here

Worklife eMag - Fear Factor
Work-from-home-burnout

The real dangers of Work-From-Home burnout and how to properly tackle them

Work-from-home (WFH) burnout is a real, serious, and increasingly common risk for remote workers across the globe. Learn the signs of WFH burnout, how to combat it, and where employers/virtual managers and employees can reach out for help.

The world is grappling with the novel coronavirus pandemic that continues to take a toll on nearly all aspects of people’s lives. The vast majority of the workforce across the globe has willy-nilly adapted to a new work environment — the new “normal” in the context of the pandemic. But working from home has also opened a Pandora’s box of workaholic tendencies, anxieties and fears, proneness to overworking and burnout, and potential mental health problems.

While the virus itself poses a risk to our physical health, the impact of the whole unnerving situation on our mental health is anything but negligible, and this is especially true for remote workers whose home has transformed into their office. Between working harder and longer hours from home and juggling family responsibilities, people who have been working remotely due to government-imposed restrictions are facing an increased risk of WFH/ lockdown burnout, with potentially long-term repercussions.

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Different Remote Workers in Different Industries, All Overworked and Burned Out

What used to exclusively be their own oasis of relaxation where they’d spent quality time with their loved ones and unwind has also become their work environment for several months now. In a recent BBC News video, three professionals working remotely in different industries share their WFH experiences in terms of feeling the signs of burnout and overworked during lockdown in the UK.

 

“When I used to work at the gym I’d finish my work at the gym and then get home and rest but this just feels like there’s no end”.

Ana, a young personal trainer living in the UK, has been intensely working from home since March. Stuck at home, she started posting more educational content and live streaming workouts on Instagram, which quickly increased the number of clients from different countries. To provide her services online to clients in different parts of the world, such as the US and Australia, she’s been working almost round the clock. “I’m constantly working”, confesses Ana. From 30 sessions per week, Ana now manages 50-60 sessions per week.

 

“Because I lost all the gig income, I had to really buckle down”.

For David Altweger, a middle-aged musician and owner of an independent record label, the pandemic has had a devasting impact on his gig income. Running a record label online requires a lot of hard work and longer hours, so it’s no wonder that David’s workload significantly increased. He starts his day at 5 a.m. with a strong coffee. David’s workday is around 16 hours, as he’s got to handle every aspect of his business himself, including design work, office work, and, with his distributor closed due to lockdown, even CD deliveries, which are quite time-consuming, taking him at least 2 hours a day.

“Sometimes I feel like Covid Father Christmas delivering music to people’s door”, confesses David. His Moka pot is his “secret weapon”, but at the end of the day, he feels “completely knackered”.

 

“Lockdown has brought out the workaholic in me”

Abbey, a young art director working remotely for an ad agency in the UK has been feeling the pressure to stay productive and has been experiencing the effects of overworking due to fear of losing her job too. “I’m doing ten times more because there’s so much uncertainty around jobs and everything”, laments Abbey, for whom “the need to keep working” at all costs is so strong and deeply embedded that she oftentimes refuses to tend to her physiological needs for food.

She finds it difficult to take a break just to have lunch because she “doesn’t know how to switch off”. A major contributor to her inability to switch off is the fact that work and relaxation take place in the same environment i.e her home. Separating the two is as difficult for Abbey as it is for other remote workers around the globe.

In America, where over 30 million people have filed unemployment claims since March, the pressure to stay productive and even be more productive than prior to the Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to a dramatic rise in the number of overworked people working from their homes. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll , 45% of US adults say that this whole situation associated with the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health.

I find myself working all the time, even when I should be getting ready for bed”

41-year-old New Jersey resident and mother-of-two Alana Acosta-Lahullier is overworked and feels burned out to the bone. Alana says she feels “an obligation to get everything done right”, even if doing so is detrimental to her mental health and well-being. Between her full-time job, working remotely for an electrical contractor, parenting, and helping with the schooling of her daughter and son, who has ADHD on the autism spectrum, she’s “constantly on the verge of a panic attack”.

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Panic-Working Is a Manic Defense

Even Gianpiero Petriglieri, a psychiatrist, MD, and associate professor of organisational behavior at the Business School for the World (INSEAD) admitted in late March that “by the time I went to bed at 3 a.m., I was exhausted, edgy, and miserable” due to “panic-working” from home.

The obsession with staying productive at all costs is considered a “manic defense” by psychoanalysts. Panic-working gives us a false sense of security and the illusion of being in control. It numbs us in the short term but this defense comes at a high price – feeling disconnected from reality, our experiences, and other people, and completely burned out.

Fighting Fire with Fire: A Vicious Cycle

Remote workers are oftentimes pushing themselves too hard as a way of coping with their anxieties and fears caused by the pandemic and the recession. But overworking in an effort to stay productive does not serve them well; in fact, it’s akin to self-sabotage because it eventually leads to burnout, more anxiety, depression, and other repercussions on their mental and overall health.

Both employers/virtual managers and remote workers need to be aware of the increased risk of burnout associated with working from home, recognise the (early) signs, and effectively combat it as early as possible.

Working Harder and Longer Has Become the Norm

Transition to a work-from-home culture has been challenging for managers across the globe. Finding new ways to ensure that their remote teams stay productive is one of their main priorities. However, instead of worrying about their teams’ underperformance, virtual managers should be on the lookout for overperformance, which has been found to be productivity’s enemy rather than its ally.

According to a 2017 working paper published by researchers at Harvard Business School, task selection is a common way through which workers manage their increased workload. More specifically, they tend to complete easier tasks, a behavior labeled as Task Completion Bias (TCB). Although TCB has been found to improve short-term productivity, it negatively impacts long-term performance measured by revenue and speed alike. Workers who do not exhibit this behavior tend to be significantly more productive than those who exhibit TCB.

Research shows that the vast majority of remote workers are more productive than their in-office counterparts. They work harder and longer hours than ever before for different reasons, including the fact that employers apply increasingly more pressure for efficiency purposes. for financial rewards, and out of fear. Remote workers fear for many things – they fear for the health and safety of themselves and their loved ones; the economic fallout and uncertainty of the future; they fear for losing their livelihood/financial security and no longer being able to provide for themselves and their family, and more.

But the reality is that overworking makes a remote worker more prone to WFH burnout.

The Warning Signs of WFH Burnout

Work-from-home or lockdown burnout refers to a state of exhaustion on physical, emotional, and mental levels caused by prolonged and excessive stress associated with panic-working/overworking from home and disruption to the work-life balance.

Although burnout is still not classified as a medical disorder, the World Health Organisation (WHO) included it in ICD-11 last year as an occupational phenomenon and is defined as “a syndrome” that results from chronic and unsuccessfully managed workplace stress.

What to watch out for:

  • Chronic fatigue/exhaustion and apathy
  • Depression and/anxiety worsening over time
  • Constantly elevated stress levels and reduced energy levels
  • Feeling overwhelmed and mentally drained all the time
  • Inability to focus and forgetfulness/memory issues
  • Lack of motivation, feelings of negativism toward one’s job
  • Declining performance, avoiding work or inability to switch off
  • Chest pain, shortness of breath and/or heart palpitations
  • Irritability, anger, and sleep disorders (e.g. insomnia)
  • Dizziness and headaches/migraines
  • Loss of/reduced appetite and/or gastrointestinal issues

Early recognition of these signs via virtual channels such as chat apps and video calls is of the utmost importance. It’s worth noting that a worker who is affected by WFH/lockdown burnout does not necessarily have to exhibit all of the above signs, because it manifests differently in different people.

Burnout can also weaken a remote worker’s immune system, which in turn may increase the risk of getting infected with the novel coronavirus.

Tips To Combat Lockdown Burnout

  • Establish clear boundaries that separate work from personal life to prevent work-life balance disruption
  • Set office hours and create a schedule designating work, free and family time to regain control
  • Avoid the tendency of being the perfect worker, which adds extra pressure
  • Take time off to unwind and discover a new hobby
  • Maintain social interactions/connections to avoid social isolation and detachment
  • Don’t suffer in silence -Talk to your team, virtual manager and reach out for help
  • If you are a manager or supervisor, make sure you can provide first aid for mental health incidents involving anxiety, stress and burnout.
  • As an organisation, provide workplace mental health training and resilience building skills training for your managers, supervisors and leaders.

Reach Out For Professional Help From Therapists

It’s absolutely crucial for virtual managers to learn to recognise the telltale signs of work-from-home burnout as early as possible in order to minimize its long-term impact on remote workers’ mental well-being as well as to properly address it in a timely and efficient fashion. The Workplace Mental Health Institute ( WMHI) is here to help virtual managers across the globe with a suite of tailored, top-tier and results-driven telehealth training courses and services, counseling, and coaching sessions on mental health, well-being, and resilience of employees working remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

If you’re an employee working from home and you’ve been feeling the effects of burnout and overworked during lockdown, it’s in your best interest to take some time off to decompress and to speak with a qualified therapist. In case your job offers free counseling sessions through an employee assistance program (EAP), then do yourself a huge favor and take full advantage of it for the sake of your mental health and well-being in these uncertain and difficult times.

Author: Peter Diaz
Peter Diaz profile

Peter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organisations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

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How-to-stay-calm

How to stay calm in the storm

9 simple strategies to swim while others are sinking

The storm arrives. A deadly virus spreads. People start dying. Borders don’t matter. Armies are helpless. Stock-markets plunge. Economies around the world tumble. Thousands lose their jobs. Relationships break up under stress. News of doom and gloom is the flavour of the day, every day. Depression skyrockets. A mental health tsunami is at hand!

Welcome to the world we live in. Disruption is the new normal. This is a time of many inner and outer changes; changes that will lead to great stress and unhappiness if left un-managed. This stress can lead to toxic build-up within that creates immense mental health problems and can sabotage the happiness, health and harmony we enjoy in our day to day life.

Neuroscientists have found that chronic stress shrinks the area of the brain responsible for memory, learning, and decision making, which can lead to impaired cognition. Chronic stress can also contribute to significant health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, anxiety, depression, and more.

How-to-stay-calm

How do we handle this storm that has come upon us? How do we stay centred even as the world shakes? How do we swim while others are sinking? How do we manage our mind to continue to enjoy peace, stability and calmness even as the external storm rages outside?

Wisdom is the stabilizer of life – Vikas

Wisdom is the stabilizer of Life. Wisdom teaches that we live in two worlds simultaneously, the inner and the outer world. Our external world is not always in our control, but our inner world can always be in our control.

To become joyful and experience happiness in our daily life it is necessary that we maintain awareness of both these worlds. Awareness is the practice of staying awake moment to moment; to be fully present, to choose deliberately.

The more aware we become, the greater our control over our life grows, and vice-versa. Here are 9 powerful solutions to a time of crisis, guaranteed to keep you calm in the storm of life.

  1. Have a willingness to make and follow hard choices – Crisis forces you to take a realistic look at the bigger picture of your life and make some hard choices to move forward. Be willing to do this rather than resist it. Make difficult choices if you need to and demonstrate a whatever-it-takes attitude. Remember, it takes less energy to get an unpleasant task done “right now” than to worry about it all day.
  1. Have a personal vision – Having a personal goal of getting out of the crisis, as it will become the light that guides you forward. A goal will motivate you and make it easier to take corrective measures while having no goal will just make you drift and lose direction through the crisis. Goals give you power. Choose not to waste your precious present life on guilt about the past or concern for the future.
  1. Set a clear strategy – To reach the goal, plan a clear strategy, and communicate it to others who are a part of it. Plan your journey forward and walk the plan. It is a truth that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Simplify your life! Start eliminating the trivial things.Eliminate unnecessary commitments.
  1. Focus Avoid multi-tasking; it is tiring for your brain. When you have many things to do, multi-tasking may look like a good idea at first. But our brain cannot multi-task; it quickly switches between tasks so it appears to us that we are multi-tasking. In fact, it only adds to your stress. It is more efficient to do one thing at a time andwith focus, so that you increase your performance and finish the task earlier with less stress.
  1. Take baby steps – A wisdom teaching says ‘If you know but do not do, you do not know!’ To learn how to swim, you must get wet. Take positive and persistent action on a regular basis. Even if the results are not fast to come, trudge on ahead towards your goal. Take baby steps if you have to, but whatever you do, make sure you are moving ahead all the time. The direction you are going in is important, not the speed.Just do what’s in your power, and brush aside all other concerns. Remember as the wisdom master Lao Tzu said, ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’. So, take action, today!
  1. Be persistent – Probably the key quality to coming out of crisis is persistence – a determined mind that just never gives up. Once your mind is set, stick to your target with crab-like persistence, changing only if a better way shows itself. Practice consciously doing one thing at a time, keeping your mind focused on the present.
  1. Capitalize on opportunity – There is good even in the worst of times. Identify this by looking deeply at how you can benefit in the long term from the current crisis. Be quick to spot opportunity and to seize it to your advantage. Warren Buffet, the world’s best performing investor, is famously known for making his greatest and largest purchases at a time of crisis when everyone else is selling. Welcome change as an opportunity and challenge to learn and grow
  1. Be patient – Be willing to wait for the reward of your efforts. Believe that the strong man is a patient man. A crisis has little flexibility for the impatient or the irritable. Take time to be alone on a regular basis, to listen to your heart, check your intentions; re-evaluate your goals and your activities. If you have an endless to-do list, prioritise your activities and do the most important ones first.
  1. Stay optimistic – The night is darkest before the dawn breaks. Behind every dark cloud is a silver lining. The sun shines even when the clouds cover it. The dark night leads to sunrise and the day will end in darkness. Be aware of the larger movements and rhythms of life and stay optimistic even as you go through this time of chaos and crisis. You are bigger than it, and this is not the end of your life; it is just a comma in the sentence of your life, not the full stop. Having a positive mind-set is the greatest asset you can have in a time of inner or outer crisis.

We may be in the middle of a surging wave, but with the strategies I’ve shared above, we can always learn to surf it, and come out on top.

Vikas Malkani

Vikas Malkani (aka Mr. Wisdom)

Founder of SoulCentre, Asia’s Premier Centre for Meditation, Mindfulness and Stress Management.

Vikas has been called the ‘World’s #1 Wisdom Coach’ and is a TEDx Speaker, a bestselling author and a coach who trainsindividuals and businesses to get maximum results with minimum effort.

This article was first published on WorkLife CoronaVirus Edition

Grief-and-Loss

4 Steps to navigate grief and loss amidst COVID-19

As COVID-19 has become a household word across the world over the last month, many of us find ourselves in uncertain territory. We are grieving the familiar bedrock of our lives like office time, schedules, in person meetings, and social activities. With children home from school, self-quarantines in place in much of the world, and restricted travel we are all navigating a new normal.

As we walk this unfamiliar path, perhaps fear, questions, and doubt are trying to overtake familiar landmarks like balance, trust, confidence and faith that things will all work out.

You are not alone. Most of the world can resonate with feeling anxious or uncertain, or walking through the pain of loss. Loss of job, routine, finances, stability, or even loved ones. But, believe it or not, there is hope and help despite how hard things might look in this moment. You can find your way again by taking these steps when your world feels out of control.

Step 1. Establish your mindset

It’s said that mindset is everything. You would never begin a journey without knowing where you are hoping to end up. In the same way, when we are in uncertain times, we need to have a mindset that will withstand the trial.

Grief-and-Loss
4 Steps to navigate grief and loss amidst COVID-19

One way to combat a negative attitude that often accompanies hardship is to choose a centering thought. Be intentional and choose something that is meaningful to you like a favorite expression, a significant truth, a motivational quotation, or a faith-based truth. Make it your own and refer to it often. Put it on your emails, social media, or say it in conversations to keep it in the forefront of your mind. When we choose a mindset that is framed in the positive it help us avoid getting stranded on the dark path of negativity.

Step 2. Determine your non-negotiables

In a crisis, instead of constantly reacting to your circumstances, a bit of proactive planning will give you a head start. Stay focused by creating a list of your non-negotiables. Think about things like physical, emotional, mental, and soul care. Then ask yourself a few questions: What’s important to me? What routines will I try to keep no matter what? What can’t I live without? What won’t I tolerate? What guidelines would I like people to follow?

Once you’ve asked yourself these questions, make a realistic list of what you need. Whether it’s diet, exercise, sleep habits, regular social activities, faith involvement, children’s bedtimes/schedules, or working hours, you get to decide how you’re going to navigate your hard place. Once you’ve made your choices, be sure to communicate your needs to others so they can help you take care of yourself in this way.

If you don’t determine what your absolutes are, they will be determined for you. So be proactive!

Step 3. Ask for Help

In researching my two books, Alongside and Hope in the Hard Places, I surveyed hundreds of people who had faced all manner of loss, grief and hardship and asked what their greatest struggle was during that time. A huge percentage said that although they were lonely, overwhelmed, depressed, hopeless or afraid, it was very difficult to ask for or accept help.

Pride, shame, embarrassment, or guilt are significant roadblocks that stand in the way of hurting people getting the help they need. But it’s important to understand that being in need is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of being human!

Many people want to help and when we allow them to, we give them a chance to feel good in an uncertain time. Trying to handle everything on our own will burn us out. But in times of uncertainty, we have a chance to see the best, and be the best, in terms of our relationships.

Step 4. Stay engaged with others

There are many ways you, too, can be a source of help and comfort to those around you. Try one of these ideas to encourage and help others while maintaining your relationships:

  • Call a friend and ask how they’re doing, giving ample time to listen.
  • Have coffee dates or happy hour with friends or family by Facetime or video conference.
  • Change your regular book club or study group to phone or video, and take a moment to share your highs and lows with each other.
  • Download a video sharing app for your phone and use short video messages to stay in touch with groups of friends or colleagues.
  • Order a box of cards online and take time to write one note of encouragement per day to someone you care about.
  • Read an uplifting book at the same time as a friend and make a weekly phone date to discuss it.
  • Host a virtual dinner party where you and your friends make the same thing at your own homes and then sit down to eat together online.
  • Meet friends for take-out and maintain social distance by eating and chatting in your parked cars next to each other! (if your local authorities allow you of course!)

These practical steps are a way to set your course toward positivity and caring for yourself despite the tumultuous world circumstances. Even amid grief and loss you’re facing today, you can walk through the next days and months with hope, purpose and clarity.

Sarah-Beckman

Sarah Beckman

Speaker, Pastor, and Bestselling Author of Alongside and Hope in the Hard Places

This article was first published on WorkLife CoronaVirus Edition

A-Message-from-Shirelle

A message from Shirelle to kids everywhere

Hi. My name’s Shirelle. I’m a dog.

Really. I’m a husky-mix, and I live in California with my human friend. I’m not sure of his actual name, but because I think he’s the best sounding, smelling and feeling human, and the face I most love to see, I call him Handsome.

I also have a website, AskShirelle.com, where I give advice to people who write in. I get all sorts of questions, about everything from difficult parents and kids, to pet issues, to crushes and dating. LOTS on crushes and dating!

But lately, what I’ve mostly been hearing is fear and confusion about this awful crazy Coronavirus. Parents are worried about how to care for their family, kids are scared their parents won’t be able to feed them, everyone’s wondering how long they’ll be shut in… and of course, everyone’s wondering if they or their loved ones are in real danger!

And they’re right to worry! At least for a while.

You see, the difference between this virus and the many, others out there that make people (or dogs) sick is that this one is new. As far as anyone can tell, it didn’t even exist till last year.

A-Message-from-Shirelle
A Message from Shirelle to Kids Everywhere

So all these other diseases and toxins out there have been investigated and worked on by doctors and scientists for centuries, to a point where humans know how to cure, or protect against, almost all of them. But not this one. So yes, that makes it scary.

But here’s the good news. Doctors and scientists are a clever bunch, and they are busy working on solutions to keep us safe. They just don’t have them yet, but they´ll get there. In the meantime, governments all over the world are doing their very best to contain the virus. To keep it from spreading, as much as they can.

And how are they doing that? Oh you know very well – it’s what you’ve been hearing everywhere for the past few weeks. They’re telling everyone:

  • Stay home as much as possible
  • Stay six feet (two meters) away from other people as much as possible
  • Wash your hands as much as possible
  • Keep your hands away from your face as much as possible
  • Don’t cough or sneeze on others, as much as possible
  • And especially, if you’re feeling sick, keep yourself inside and away from anyone else.

If everyone in the world did this, perfectly, the virus would find no one to hitch onto, and it would die off within a couple of weeks. But … it’s not possible for everyone to do these perfectly. People have to get food, doctors need to work on sick patients, and you all have families and loved ones we’re there for.

So does that mean we’re all doomed?

Not a bit.

First of all, because we know what to do, we can keep this nasty little thing from hurting most of us.

And second, although the world economy is taking a big hit, with all these people not going to work, we’ve seen it way worse (you might have heard of The Great Depression, in the 1930s, when it seemed like no one was going to be able to make money again for ten years! And the world survived that!).

And we know that this will end. Maybe in a few months, certainly within a year. And when that happens, the economy around the world will EXPLODE! Can you imagine how many people will suddenly be rushing out to restaurants, to beauty salons, to clothes stores, to movie theaters, to dance clubs, to travel – everything they were unable to do during this.

But third, biggest of all, there’s something about this craziness that’s different from most of the other awfulness we’ve seen before, or ever will again. Do you know what it is?

For once in our lives: EVERYONE IS ON OUR SIDE.

You know how, when you play a sport, everyone on the other team wants you to lose, so they can win? Or if you get into an argument, the other person wants to prove you wrong? Or how, way too often, some people dislike or distrust some groups of other people, because of their color or their religion or their nationality?

There’s NONE OF THAT in this! When a person gets sick from this virus, EVERYONE IN THE WORLD wants them to get better. EVERYONE wants you to wash your hands, EVERYONE wants you to stay safe.

So I’m not going to tell you to be happy about this. But maybe you can find some things to enjoy in it. Maybe you get to spend more time with your parents than usual, and have some fun with them while they can’t go to work (I can tell you, I am LOVING having Handsome home so much! I have never gotten so many walks, cuddles, or treats!). Maybe you can catch up on the reading you were supposed to do three months ago, so you’ll get a better grade at school – even if all your classes are online – or learn an instrument. Or get better at that videogame that’s always beaten you.

Or, and here’s my favorite idea, maybe you could take this time to do something absolutely wonderful for someone. Do you have neighbors who need to stay locked in, who could use someone to bring them some food, or take care of their garden, or walk their dogs? You could be that person. Or even just calling them and talking with them, or singing a song.

Do you realize that you kids and we dogs have a superpower in common? We make people happy just by being there, just by giving them a smile or wagging our tails. You and I can be the best part of a person’s day, so easily.

So in the end, yeah, this stinks. But it’s also an adventure. And just like Harry and Hermione and Ron battling Voldemort, or The Avengers battling Thanos, you’re going to have bad days and good ones, victories and losses, and laughs and tears.

But, also like them, you also get to use this time to find out, and show everyone around you, who you really are.

And when we’re all past this rotten time, that’s what people will remember, and that’s what will matter.

For the rest of your amazing, beautiful, and treasured lives.

Be Brave!

Doug-Green-and-Shirelle

Doug Green and Shirelle

Shirelle is a Husky Saluki mix, and Handsome (aka Doug Green) is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Los Angeles. Together they help kids aged 8-15 with social, developmental and emotional issues that concern them.

This article was first published on WorkLife CoronaVirus Edition

Bad-Boss-in-workplaces

Mental Health Expert Warns: 8 types of manager you could avoid for a mentally healthy workplace

Bad bosses are to blame for rise in workplace mental health issues

A recent study commissioned by global staffing business, Robert Half, showed that half of workers surveyed quit due to a bad boss. The survey results seem to support the theory that people leave managers, not companies.

Mental Health Expert and the CEO of the Workplace Mental Health Institute, Peter Diaz has warned that bad bosses are contributing to a rise in mental health issues in the workplace. We already know that workplaces are increasingly under more pressure due to the state of the global economy and the level of digital disruption happening across all industries. These pressures are being felt by many people as employees are being asked to do more with less time. At a time when employees need to be further supported given the challenging economic environment, it seems many businesses and managers haven’t got the memo.

Peter Diaz says there are eight types of bad managers you could avoid for a mentally healthy workplace.

1. Rude and Insulting Managers
This type of manager seems to find joy in making others feel less powerful or special. They openly criticise you in front of others and even raise their voice from time to time. Whether they do it on purpose or do it without even realising, this type of behaviour is incredibly destructive. You can let them know how their actions affect you however often this behaviour is attached to narcissistic personalities and those who feel threatened by others. Giving them feedback is unlikely to change their behaviour.

3. Disorganised and Last Minute Managers
This type of manager typically makes their inaction your emergency. I think we have all worked with someone like this and can vouch from personal experience that this type of manager is dangerous and soul destroying. Helping them to better manage themselves and their responsibilities is not your job.

4. Unapproachable and Arrogant Managers
This type of manager is difficult to work with. Often staff will avoid dealing directly with this type of manager because they find them so intimidating. Often when these managers do engage, they are always right and tend to gloat about it. This is a personality and style issue. You can can do your research and work out how to crack their ‘self-loved’ veneer – but it can be a challenging task.

5. Managers Pick and Play with Favourites
Unfortunately, these types of managers are everywhere. They overtly pick favourites and these people seem to get away with blue murder including not doing their job. They also tend to be the ones put up for promotion and other opportunities. Other staff often end up carrying the load which burns people out and leaves them feeling undervalued, underpaid and exploited. You can try to pamper the boss with praise and sell your soul to get into their good books – but if you are a person with a moral compass this usually isn’t the best option.

6. Micromanager
This type of manager will give you things to do and then tell you how to do it and check every aspect of your progress. Most capable staff will only put up with this behaviour for a short period of time before leaving or exploding. The key is to build confidence and trust fast while establishing mechanisms to keep your manager constantly updated. This tends to add so much work to an already busy load that most people move on to other roles to get away from the micromanagement.

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7. Too Busy and Unavailable Managers
We are all busy in the year 2019 – but the people we should be most available for, are our staff. If it means that managers have to get to work earlier, or lock in staff time that can not be double booked, then this is what must happen. Managers who find themselves too busy for their staff are not managers, they are simply absent colleagues. Staff need engagement with their manager, they need to be able to access their manager to discuss and resolve issues and seek guidance on work related matters.

8. Distressed and Overwhelmed Managers
Bosses are human too. When they are distressed and overwhelmed, they can become a risk to the mental health of their team. Self care is very important for bosses too. Here you can encourage your boss to care for themselves. Do things they enjoy and have regular small breaks throughout the day to improve productivity.

Bad managers can cause mental health issues in their workplace, and through bad management they can also worsen issues staff may be experiencing. If we can better equip businesses and managers to understand and deal with mental health issues in the workplace, we can save lives – many lives. Importantly we can also help managers to be better managers.

Peter Diaz and Emi Golding have written and released a book to provide organisations and managers with practical assistance on dealing with mental health in the workplace. Their much anticipated book is called: Mental Wealth: An Essential Guide to Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing. This latest workplace mental health book provides important guidance for all organisations, leaders and managers on mental health in the workplace and how to build resilient and meaningful cultures and processes that enable organisations to support and appropriately manage those with mental health issues.

It is more important than ever that every business, organisation and manager across the country is positioned to deal with mental health issues and understand the warning signs. We all need to step up and ensure we are taking care of people. The only thing that gets us through hard times is people. We need to help people and support them to cope and to be resilient.

The Workplace Mental Health Institute is the leading peak body for research, advice and training relating to workplace mental health.

The book is available for purchase from a number of different outlets like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Powell’s, Indigo, IndieBound and many other bookstores worldwide and online.

Please visit https://thementalwealthguide.com for more info on this book.

Author: Peter Diaz
Peter-Diaz-AuthorPeter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organisations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

Connect with Peter Diaz on:
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WMHI-Lessons-Learned

Focus on the Learning, Not the Lesson

A friend from my days as a psychologist in the Army once told me about her role as a counsellor for Army recruits. Twenty-five years ago recruit training methods were, well, different to what they are today. Many recruits found the style of their instructors to be intimidating and scary, leading some of them to have second thoughts about their worthiness to be a soldier. Upon seeking some guidance, recruits would reflect that they weren’t cut out for the role.

Imagine the recruit’s instructor has said to the recruits, “Right you lazy lot, get your useless behinds to the mess hall, make sure you eat ‘cos you’re going to need something to puke up this morning in training, then be back here in 15 minutes, or you’ll be scrubbing the showers with your toothbrushes!”. The recruit, understandably, explains to my friend that they don’t feel their instructor has much faith in them.  (This ineffective training style has thankfully disappeared from recruit training establishments!)


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My friend would ask them to tell her what it was that the instructor had actually asked them to do.

  • “Go eat breakfast, then be back in 15 minutes”, would come the reply.
  • “And what happens if you focus on the other stuff they’ve said?”
  • “I feel horrible, can hardly eat, and just want to go home”.
  • “Does that help you to achieve your training goals?”
  • “No.”
  • “What difference would it make if you were only to focus on the message, but not the delivery?”

The recruit’s face would visibly shift with the new thought, “I’d know what they wanted me to do, but I wouldn’t take all the other stuff to heart”.

Thankfully the majority of us do not experience this degree of ferociousness in the feedback we get at work. Regardless, the principle is the same – focus on the message, not the delivery. The delivery does not change the message, only the impact of the message, so if that impact is not helpful try to focus just on the message. Reframe the message in a way that is positive rather than negative. Instead of “My boss hates it when I ramble in my emails”, think, “My boss prefers brief emails”.

Those of us who are managers can focus on identifying what an individual needs to learn in order to avoid repeating a mistake. In providing performance management, the error will be a part of the discussion, but not the focus of the discussion – effective work behaviour is the focus. Some workplaces do not see mistakes as the learning opportunities they present, but in an environment where the employee’s manager is able to coach them through the lessons learned, the result is an employee who is better prepared to apply the new knowledge to their advantage.

When the culture is that of blame the focus is on the mistake, or the lesson – when the organisation has a coaching culture the focus is on the next step, or the learning.

Author: Alison Skate
Alison Skate author

Alison Skate is a Workplace Mental Health Specialist for Workplace Mental Health Institute. She began her career as a psychologist in the Australian Army more than twenty years ago. Alison is a leadership coach and workshop facilitator.