Work Work work work work

Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 4-29-2023

It recently occurred to me that I have not yet written a blog specifically on the topic of how our stressful work lives/ environments factor into our deteriorating mental health. This is an important topic! As we often spend 40+ hours at our job’s week after week, month after month, year after year. I’ve had some debates regarding the U.S. workforce in the past… is 40-50 hours too much? It often depends on the type of work, as well as the workers personal mental health history. It also depends on whether or not they have physical disabilities as well. Then, it also depends on what is going on in their personal lives’ outside of work. Since I’ve worked primarily with military, veteran and military spouse populations, this adds a unique layer as well; deployments, traveling every 2-3 years, long extended missions out of state etc. I also must mention, the covid pandemic added yet, another layer of work stress. All of a sudden people had to figure out how to survive after being laid off in a moment’s notice. Or, find out how exactly they are supposed to work from home while also assist their kid with homeschooling. As a social worker, there was no way I was prepared for all of this. Yet, we were expected to continue working as essential employees, during a time where mandated social policies were forcing everyone into crisis mode/ acute stress reactions.

Managing your mental health when you’re a full-time worker

Toxic work environment Red flags– What to look out for when you are job hunting… a very large red flag are jobs that have high turnover rates. Sad, anxious and angry employees leave fast. I once interned at a clinic that had 4 people resign within one month, one of those people literally resigned after 4 days of working. So when the time came for me to job hunt for my first career post college, that was a very certain NO. Many people have also mentioned jobs that do not list pay and often avoid the topic of pay throughout the interview process… also a red flag. I one time had four interviews before I was hired by a Non profit in NYC. Throughout the entire process, pay was not mentioned. Then when HR finally said I was ‘hired’, I asked for the pay. It was pitiful. When I asked for a little bit more, they lied and said they would let me know. They never messaged or called me back, but instead hired someone else as fast as lightning. This indicates that this company does not care about quality workers, rather, they want someone that will work hard for little pay. Work sections with sexual, verbal, physical harassment, racism, homophobia, sexism, agism and so on…. NO. Work sections with a ton of gossip and passive aggressiveness, also a NO. This indicates a lot of resentment over time; and bad morale is contagious.

Boundaries & Self Advocacy– Whenever social workers ask me what type of curriculum do I wish there was more of in social work school, I always say without a doubt, more classes about boundaries and self advocacy. People love to throw around the terms, but rarely do they ever explain how to put this into action in a real life scenario. When people are new at a job, they want to make a good impression, they want to stay out of trouble, they often want to earn their keep. New workers are extra vulnerable toward being groomed for a toxic work environment, or a toxic grind/ hustle culture that can lead to burnout. They are extra susceptible to being taken advantage of. And don’t even get me started on new military members! A large part of self advocacy is making it clear/ communicating what amount of work leads you to feeling burnout. And a large part of boundaries includes being able to say no, reminding people you are on your break, and understanding that not everything you are tasked with is at the same priority level. Boundaries can also include delegating work as needed; no one should be doing everything. It’s also important to NOT enable the lazy worker, or the victim worker that often acts ‘helpless’. Even if someone is a slow learner, we do them a disservice by doing their work for them, and we will suffer in the long run. My main form of boundaries/ self advocacy with my current job was to insist on no more then ten patient slots a day; they tried to push me for 12. No No No No No.

Job Switching as Needed– Gone are the days of picking 1 career and sticking with it for 25 to 35 years in order to retire. Not that there is anything wrong with that, if you find something you love, and you can tolerate it for that long, that’s amazing! It’s not the rule anymore, more like the exception. Will we (Millennial & GenZ generations) have retirement pensions that could help us afford the increased cost of living? Are we willing to suffer through a job long enough to even find out? I don’t believe in urging anyone to stay in a position that they hate. Especially if it’s deteriorating their mental health or destroying their personal life along with it. And, since technological advancements, working from home opportunities, and entrepreneurship have given us more options, we don’t have to settle. We can, maybe, find something we are passionate about. Or, we can find a job that happens to respect the limitations of our mental illnesses. We don’t have to suffer to make money, per say. Job switch when you are miserable, explore, learn yourself, learn what works for you. Life’s too short to suffer miserably in a career you hate for decades.

Making the Most of your time off– What do many people do when they get home from a hard day? If you are zoning out into a screen all evening, eating junk, while dreading the next day, your mental health will likely suffer more. This was me for many years. I still do it… sometimes. But mental health teachings remind me that that type of routine is not a balanced one. I stumbled across a YouTube channel on micro adventures a few years back. This man encourages people to ‘no longer live in the 9-5 world, but rather, live in the 5-9 world. As in, live for your time after work, don’t’ let work be the center of all your worries and build mini adventures during that time off. I couldn’t agree more. I love little road trips and adventures, while I also love to have some down time to do ‘nothing’. No longer should we feel guilty for having the human need to rest both our bodies and brains too. If you work hard, you need to play hard and rest hard. I took that concept of micro adventures and also started to use it in other areas of my life. Micro dose adventures, and drugs, and chores, and workouts, and intimacy, and cheap entertainment. If we do not have a plan of action after work, we may get lost in a vacuum (screen) and lose all sense of time and goals. Now a days, I tell myself to try to do at least 2 or 3 things an evening out of the following list: Workout, cook, chores, sex, write, sing, or TV. No specific time pressure’s, just remain conscious and productive… sometimes. Stay balanced and live with less regret.

Work is NOT your life, your purpose, or your entire identity– I’ve worked with some clients that spent their entire lives ‘living for their work’ and becoming addicted to work. Most commonly, this issue manifests due to a desperate need for emotional avoidance or escapism from a life they are not happy with outside of work. It can also manifest due to heavy societal pressures to produce and consume at rapid rates. They also have obligatory thought patterns that plague their brains: “I should”, “I must”, “I need to”, “I have to”, “I’m lazy If I do not do….” etc etc. Unfortunately, when they near retirement they appear to be having an ‘Existential Crisis’ so to speak. Who will they be now? After work is gone? No more distraction while they live with what surrounds them outside of their job and whatever exists in their head that they cannot get a grip on. This is the unfortunate reality of a person that allowed work to become their entire purpose and identity. They were unable to nurture other aspects of their lives such as: family, friends, relationships, fun hobbies. They were unable to nurture their body, mind and soul as it deserved to be nurtured. They are not a whole or balanced human. They lived on autopilot with fear controlling the majority of their actions. Work is important… it pays the bills, it helps you learn and grow. Sometimes it is even fun and joyful, but it is not your entire life.

Published by functionallymentall

Social Worker, Writer, USAF Veteran

2 thoughts on “Work Work work work work

  1. AMEN!!! A bad car accident forced me into 20 months of agonizing work at 3 jobs. I survived it, not quite sure how, but on the positive I made some new friends and even saved a little. Finally my lawsuit has been finalized and I can go back in time before the accident. I hope I never have to go thru that ever again and I now appreciate even more my time off from work and I plan on exploring new adventures. The government and society has pushed us into robots and this girl is gonna break free from that. Thank you for sharing and saying out loud what we all feel but are sometimes to afraid to say.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: