Make emotional fitness your new decade resolution says Archana Muthappa

Have you made your New Decade resolution? That’s right, this is 2020, the beginning of a new decade.

For many of us, the start of a New Year is about a fitness regimen, cleaning out of cupboards and pushing the refresh button in the physical sense. It is about increased kindness and gratitude. This is the time of year when there are lists about the resolutions to make, the ways in which to keep them, the need for planning, managing, etc. A lot of it is physical and, therefore, tangible. In many ways, these are the tools we use to help keep us on an even keel and able to manage situations. This year, can we spare a thought for our mental and emotional wellbeing, as well?

A study I did on mental health among communications professionals in India in the middle of 2019, pointed to the fact that a substantial number of the 185 respondents have trouble sleeping (65%), more than half face physical and digestive aliments (52%), find it difficult to concentrate (43%), are socially withdrawn (41%), etc. Interestingly, 74 % of the respondents spoke to their managers about their mental health concerns, and 47% of these managers had no recommendation to make about how this could be managed.

This draws our attention to some aspects:

Is it not necessary that a team lead is equipped to manage a call for help or intervention on subjects related to emotions.References to mental health issues are usually hushed, whispered, or simply disregarded because of how deeply social taboos related to mental health are ingrained into us.

    Across age groups and levels of responsibility, there is a need for sensitisation on matters related to the identification and management of mental health issues

    In this article from December 2019, I mentioned that ‘stress’ has turned into a catch-all phrase for an entire range of emotions – from anger to pain to jealousy and physical tiredness. Often, a colleague or friend will say ‘I’m so stressed’ – when she really means she’s angry with something a colleague said, or frustrated about missing a deadline, or even just tired from a long work week.

    As we go along in our journey of emotional fitness, it becomes more and more important for us to be able to name our emotions accurately. Because of societal norms related to what are perceived as negative emotions, we often mislabel them – it is just easier to say stress, which appears to be an acceptable form of managing emotion. When we disregard our ‘negative’ emotions, we lose a valuable lesson in managing the world around us.

    We all know that none of us smile all the time. Yet, it’s all we do on public fora, perpetuating what we have been taught – that people will avoid us if we needy and weepy, and the only face worth projecting is a happy face. There is a premium on appearing to be happy, positive and upbeat all the time.

    It is heartening to note that over the last many months, there has been an increased discussion on the topic of awareness in mental health. In many ways, this is the start of a movement of inclusiveness. This is a demonstration to the people with whom we work that there is support for issues of the mind as much as there is for a physical ailment. Often, we are not equipped with the language to express an emotion (not all of us are poets!) – have you ever felt that when you articulate the way you feel, it sounds like not much at all? The fact that mental illness is taboo simply places an additional burden on us that suffer and us that listen. Would expression be easier if we knew that we would not be judged or that it would not impact our careers?

    In order to facilitate the process, could employers consider putting in place a mental health policy or offer the employees the services of a counselor? Could there be a process of sensitisation across every employee to enable a support structure? 

    My wish for this decade is that more people will focus on getting fit – both physically and emotionally. I hope this year will bring us 20-20 vision, and with it, the guidance to reach out and allow ourselves to be heard, knowing that while inner strength is a good thing, it could exact a very high price.

    If you have any suggestions or feedback about stress management and well being at work do give a shout, using #MentalHealthMatters to @ArchanaMuthappa who conducted the first base line metal health survey for PR professionals in India. You can also ping @PRmomentIndia with your views.

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