Someone asked me recently, ‘When will I know if I need to get help?’ I guess the very act of asking the question goes at least some way towards answering it. To put it another way, if you feel you need help, what’s stopping you from asking for it? Often we can leave it as long as we possibly can – until we feel really desperate – because of that fear of asking, that fear of facing our feelings. You might have tried talking to family and friends, or you might feel that letting them know how you truly feel is too much of a burden. You might be noticing how it’s affecting your life: in your eating, drinking or drug-taking; at work or in relationships; maybe in recognising you’re not getting to where you want to be in life. I believe if you are noticing this resonates with your experience, if you are asking yourself these questions, it is a good idea to consult a counselor or other mental health professional. Seeking help is a sign of strength. Don’t wait until you are desperate. You might also find that speaking with others who have been in therapy can provide useful information.
Sometimes it’s hard to not get caught up in the pursuit of happiness. All those smiling faces on tv, all those self-help books promising us the key to that elusive state. Even counselling can seem like a gateway: ‘If only I can sort out what’s wrong with me, I’m sure to feel happy.’ But happiness, like all emotions, is by its very nature fleeting. The harder we try to capture it, the more impossible it seems to be to hold on to. I believe that it’s better to recognise the signs of unhappiness (maybe drinking or eating more, sleeping too much or too little). Accepting what we are feeling allows us the space to make choices, and perhaps try to take care of ourselves a bit better. By just being conscious of what is going on for us, how we truly feel in the moment, we honour our experience and move on, leaving room for what is coming next.
Recently a young banking intern, Moritz Erhardt, collapsed and died after working for 3 days straight. He was only 21 years old. I imagine that he had wanted to impress his bosses and colleagues and to make the most of a great opportunity, hoping to get a permanent, paying job with the bank. In a related article, I read a young woman’s description of how she ignored the signs of her body’s exhaustion and ended up in hospital on a drip: her immune system had stopped functioning normally. She, like Moritz, was trying to earn enough money in a high pressure, high stress job so she could go on to do what she really wanted with her life.
So how does it happen that we end up ignoring how we feel, and what we know to be good for us, in the pursuit of ‘work’? How does it come about that the goals and ambitions linked to our work override our common sense and compassion for ourselves? We hear and read about unemployment, recession and fear and anxiety helps fuel our ability to shut off from what we feel. If we can just get through this next week, day, hour… I believe this kind of behaviour also tells us something about how easily we divide mind from body; using our wills to conquer our poor, defeated bodies. Clearly both these examples show the extremes people can go to in pursuit of their ambitions. Nevertheless, I think we can all benefit from thinking about how we benefit from checking in with ourselves, listening to our bodies; treating ourselves with compassion and understanding.
After the summer – with all its associations of holidays, sunshine and relaxation – the thought of getting back to work can be daunting and even depressing. Perhaps you’ve been putting those feelings of dissatisfaction with your work to the back of your mind, even hoping that a bit of rest and relaxation will have changed how you feel. Work takes up such a large chunk of our lives, and it’s somewhere that we sometimes notice feeling bullied, panicky, overwhelmed, unrecognised or unfulfilled. The pressure of meeting deadlines and targets can be huge, bringing with it great anxiety and harm to self-esteem.
Many of my clients come because of work-related issues and the ways in which they are affected by them aren’t always left at the office. They inevitably come home to affect family and personal relationships. And even when we’re supposed to be getting away from it all it’s all too easy to check emails and make conference calls even on the beach or in the hotel restaurant: too often work seems to come first.
Work can also be the place where people feel they have to appear confident, happy and together. Often people feel they can’t talk honestly to their boss or colleagues about how they feel, leaving them stuck dealing with difficult feelings alone or taking them out on family and friends. Counselling can support you in various ways, including learning how to strike a balance between the demands of work and the ability to respond to those demands. It can also help you to understand what is happening to you and to feel able to make choices about how to cope with, and even perhaps enjoy, such an important part of your life.