Hi, I’m Holly, I’m the delivery director at Deeson and a certified Mental Health First Aider. Since starting at Deeson, I’ve worked alongside the leadership team to advocate a supportive environment for those struggling with their mental health.
We have a wellbeing budget, support a good work-life balance through flexible working hours and run fortnightly wellbeing sessions with the team to provide a safe space for people to share, listen and provide peer support. We also have a mental health policy which is published in our open-source handbook.
I’ve worked at Deeson for over four years now, and until very recently I haven’t needed to personally refer back to these policies. However, I recently felt overwhelmed, stressed and on the brink of burn-out which resulted in me requesting a mental health day.
I want to share my story, to open up the conversation and enable others to feel that this is also an option for them if they ever find themselves in a similar position.
I thought I’d start by sharing some of the early indicators I noticed which weren’t normal for me and highlighted that I wasn’t coping and needed something to change.
Early Indicators of Stress
- I started to find the things I am normally known for being good at more difficult than usual. Team members often come to me with problems and issues and for the most part, I can very quickly offer up creative solutions to the table. However, of late, I’ve been unable to work my way out of my problems let alone my teams’, sometimes even avoiding lurking issues because I haven’t got the headspace to resolve them.
- I’m known for being cool, calm and collected but I had started to recognise that I was more easily irritated or agitated than usual. Hopefully, for the most part, I was not displaying this outwardly but I was aware my patience was becoming increasingly thin – something I’d normally have in bucket loads.
- In the evenings I’d seem absent to my partner. I felt like my head was full and I noticed that I had a short attention span, unable to focus long enough to watch a television program or read a book.
- I was struggling to articulate myself as clearly and succinctly as I normally would, losing my train of thought or struggling to be mindful i.e. listening with one ear whilst thinking about a hundred other things to do at the same time.
- Feeling emotional/vulnerable/fragile, basically not myself. I knew I had to do something when I felt unable to cook dinner because I felt so overwhelmed.
What I’ve learnt
- Don’t wait for someone else to prioritise your own mental health.
- Communicate explicitly to your support network – I had to say to my partner, “I know I look like I’ve got it all together but I’m not coping”. It’s very easy to go about your day to day life without making adjustments for yourself or allowing your loved ones to carry the burden for you.
- If you feel safe doing so, communicate that you’re taking the time off for your mental health rather than because you’re physically sick to your line manager and senior team. It not only normalises taking time off for mental health but provides clear information to a line manager or employer that may aide and/or alter the support they give you – especially the after-care on return (which one wouldn’t get for being off with a cold, for example). I’ve been thoroughly supported by members of my team who were aware of the reasons behind my leave and were able to cover things in my absence as well as provide support upon my return.
- Be aware of what your indicators might be and don’t wait for the breaking point before you listen to your mind and body and take some time out.
- When you’re away, think about what you want to change. It won’t happen overnight but use it as a chance to reset boundaries and take control.
How Line managers and Team can support colleagues
- As talented professionals who work in agency-land our time is our main commodity. As a manager myself, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate from “productive/busy” to “overwhelmed / breaking point busy”. Have regular temperature checks with your team and listen to the language being used; “breaking point”, “burn out” or changes in their behaviour e.g. tearful, disengaged or easily frustrated are all signs someone might be struggling and need you to intervene.
- It can be useful to share discreetly if you’ve noticed a change in someone’s behaviour. I had two peers in the days before I took time off saying they’d observed a change of behaviour and were concerned, this reinforced to me that what I was feeling was real and genuine and validated my decision.
I acknowledge that for many, one day may well not be sufficient and you may need to discuss with your employer further adjustments or changes in returning to work. However, regardless of your own unique circumstances, I hope this post starts the journey of normalising taking time off in the promotion of good mental health and wellbeing.