Almost one-fifth of Estonian residents feel mental health problems not sufficient reason for missing work[11.03.2022 :]
When life throws us several curveballs at once, it is very likely that the accumulating tensions will directly affect our general wellbeing, including work and motivation. However, a recent Estonia-wide study of wellbeing at work by Seesam Insurance revealed that a total of 19% of Estonian residents have continued working while ill because they feel that mental health problems are not considered a real illness.
The study indicates that 28%, i.e. nearly one-third of people who have experienced work stress, feel that their condition was caused by mental health problems. Above all, this concerned employees aged 25-34, who are in the prime of their working lives; in this group, the respective indicator was as high as 43%. This trend is made even more worrisome by the fact that many of these people do not do anything to mitigate the situation because they are used to the idea that stress is part and parcel of demanding work.
How does a person’s private life affect work and motivation and what kind of warning signs should we look for in ourselves and our colleagues to prevent tension from developing into permanent stress? The top tip from psychologist and mindfulness therapist Helena Väljaste is to be aware of the tools for taking care of your mental health and be attentive to changes in terms of both yourself and the people around you.
What are the warning signs to look out for?
“As people, we are like a non-stick pan when it comes to good things and a strip of Velcro when it comes to bad things – it is easy for us to confine our attention and thoughts to what is problematic and become hostage to these emotions. In the throes of disquieting thoughts, it is difficult to switch to work mode and focus on your tasks,” says Väljaste.
The study participants highlighted that insidious work stress often translates to constant tiredness, but also a negative mood and problems with concentration. In more extreme cases, people also noted that they avoid communicating with clients or colleagues due to work stress and are reluctant to start working in the mornings.
These warning signs are also highlighted by specialists: according to psychologist Väljaste, the main symptoms of severe stress are difficulties focusing on work, constant postponement of tasks, inability to make decisions, sadness, pessimism and mild irritability. “You can generally recognise a person suffering from work stress intuitively,” Väljaste explains. “The most common symptoms are problems with concentration, memory, decision-making and motivation. Their usual behaviour may have changed or they may complain about having health problems or being tired or exhausted. They may appear distant, sad, indifferent, anxious, irritable, pessimistic and critical. They may miss work often, avoid events and tasks, make more mistakes and, in extreme cases, exhibit signs of addictive behaviour. These warning signs are worth paying attention to both in yourself and your colleagues and loved ones.”
Two major arts of stress prevention: planning and switching gears
It is clear that work cannot be fully separated from personal life. However, according to an expert, there are ways to align them.
“There is no such thing as stress-free life because life is constantly throwing us challenges big and small,” says Väljaste. “However, we can learn ways to keep the harmful effects of stress to a minimum. Here, we can seek help from two major arts: the art of planning and the art of switching gears. If we know our priorities, good planning skills can help us manage our time wisely. Mastering the art of switching gears, however, is important so that we are able to direct our focus and attention to what we are currently doing. Mindfulness tools help everyone to find effective ways to focus on work matters at work and to switch off afterwards and be present in our private lives,” says Väljaste.