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We accept submissions of personal writing on any aspect of mental health from service users and our friends and network. You can remain completely confidential if you prefer. It is entirely up to you.
In 2021 we’re sharing our latest personal thoughts post from SOS Silence of Suicide ambassador Emma Griffin here. You can read her original post from September 2020 below to get a taste of this space, or read more blog posts from our ambassadors here.
If you’d like to share your thoughts, ideas and tips with the rest of our readers, let us know via email or message us on Twitter.
Setting Boundaries (Learning How to Say No)
The coronavirus pandemic has truly been a roller coaster of ups and downs, round and rounds and comings and goings. It’s been a time of uncertainty, confusion and for a lot of people it’s been an extremely lonely and stressful time. However, as restrictions have started to ease and day-to-day activities are adapting to the “new normal”, this stressful time hasn’t disappeared; it’s evolved into its own pandemic called Burn Out.
Throughout the months of being stuck indoors we learnt how to make Zoom calls with our families so we could all quiz together once a week, stood outside our doors at 8pm every Thursday to thank all those that risked their lives for our safety, we baked banana bread and Tik-Tok’d till our hearts were content but we also missed out on SO much. For most of us we missed work, we missed seeing our friends and families face to face, we missed playing football or going to the pub on a Friday night and if Covid-19 taught us anything at all it was that life is so short and precious.
So with lockdown lifting and places reopening we are all jumping at the chance to go and feel a bit of normality again; going to see everyone we missed so much and were desperate to hug, working really hard in our jobs to make up for the time we were off, running around doing everything at once, catching up on everything we felt we missed out on.
But with such little time in each day to cram all that into, we are running ourselves into the ground and exhausting ourselves – ultimately “burning ourselves out”. This brings feelings of not only tiredness, but feeling like you will snap at any point, unable to cope, stressed, numb and depressed and could develop into more long term difficulties. Your entire body becomes a pressure cooker; giving you a sign that you need to slow down. Now is the time to re-adjust our boundaries and learning to say no will give us the space to prioritise our needs.
Friendships are extremely hard to say no to, especially when lockdown stripped us of our most important need; human contact. Looking through the window or through a screen just wasn’t the same and it felt like it had been forever since you were able to give your friends a hug.
But now we are allowed out of our houses we are desperate to see everyone we missed and make up for lost time. For those that have gone back to work full time however we only have evenings and weekends to squeeze all those people in; that’s two whole days and a few hours after work and working a full shift is draining enough as it is. It’s important here to recognise the time you have and how much you are able to give. As precious as our experiences with friends and family are to us, we put too much pressure on ourselves to be everywhere with everyone all the time and it is just impossible.
Be aware of when your body is beginning to feel tired and like you need to stop but also learn to have honest conversations with your friends about this. You are allowed to change your mind on plans – you might have had a really tough day at work, or maybe you didn’t sleep great the night before or you might really want to just curl up on the sofa with your favourite chocolate and this is okay! Your friends will understand as more than likely they will be feeling exactly the same way as you are. Each and every one of us have had our own experiences throughout lockdown and will have faced different challenges along the way that we are all still trying to figure out. We are all exhausted! Rearranging to a time when you’re more mentally available will not only lessen your risk of burn out but it also means you will be more open to conversation, more engaged and more active when you do catch up. Saying no every once in a while is a lesson we all need to practice.
For most of us being away from any kind of working environment for months on end it was a slight shock to the system when we got the call to start working again. The prolonged period at home made us wonder if we will be able to do our jobs anymore, would we remember how to do certain tasks, or even all of our passwords to log onto our systems. For some people there was confusion as to why they were furloughed but their colleague wasn’t, bringing doubts to their minds on whether their role was deemed unworthy in the first place. This means that when we have returned to work, we are feeling additional pressures to catch up on both physical work but also personal development work too. We might feel that all the hard work towards a promotion is lost now or if we work all the hours under the sun we will be less at risk for redundancy. They are all real and valid worries for a lot of people right now but the truth is we can only do our best.
With a lot of us working from home at the moment, it is much easier to work through your lunch breaks, work late or even on weekends as it’s so hard now to “switch off”. This constant stream of work and mounting pressure heightens the risk of burnout, making you less productive whilst you are working and also less motivated.
One way to ease this is to keep on top of tasks by writing a to-do list every morning of all the things you need to do that day. It will not only bring a sense of accomplishment as you tick each item off, but will also look a lot less daunting when you see everything written down. Most times we build up everything in our head and it all becomes too much but as you write it down you become a lot clearer on the task at hand and also helps prioritise.
Be strict on your time and realise your free time is precious. If you haven’t managed to tick off every single thing on your list that day, it’s okay. Some days we will have urgent ad-hoc requests that do require a little more of our time but most things can always wait until the next day so don’t be tempted to remain logged on for “just a few more hours” – say no! You have done all you can and have the power to say “I have other priorities today but I will be able to do this tomorrow for you”. This will alleviate pressure on you but will also reset the other person’s expectations.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, get the strength to speak to your manager. It is their job to make sure you are safe and happy within your role and should be there to support you when you feel like you are drowning. We are all human beings and despite the office hierarchies, we are all equal and should show compassion for one another. So if you are a manager, it is even more imperative right now to check in on your colleagues. Make sure they are not working late, struggling with work loads or give them a little sign they are doing a good job.
The lack of face to face contact is difficult for some so be inventive with the way you can show you’re grateful for their hard work. If you’re not a manager, learn to be honest. Your manager will be able to guide you in the right direction, maybe another member of your team can help or maybe they can give you additional training, but without speaking up they won’t be aware. If for whatever reason you feel you can’t speak to your manager, please don’t sit there and struggle. Speak to someone else in your team, within the business or even at home. Sharing your worries and struggles turns the temperature down on that internal pressure cooker and opens the path for solutions.
Lastly, and probably one of the most difficult but important ones, is personal time. For those of us that have children or hectic lifestyles we will know this is few and far between. We daydream about doing nothing for even ten minutes and wish we could just take a break. However, finding those moments of peace could significantly lessen your risk of burnout.
With so much going on, we are programmed to feel guilty when we do nothing but sometimes it’s exactly what our bodies need and is a sign we need to rest. We can all find at least ten minutes each day, it’s not even 1% of your day however make this your time to do whatever makes you feel good.
Maybe it’s a book that’s been on your shelf forever and you haven’t got round to reading, or going for a walk, watching an episode of an interesting series on Netflix or even taking time to make yourself your favourite meal, find this time and do not feel guilty for taking it! Learn to say no to yourself – “no, I won’t do the washing up just yet I am going to just finish this chapter I am reading”, “no, just sit down for ten minutes before you have to rush out”, “no, I am going to make myself breakfast today”. Understand that this time is so special and that you deserve it! Everything is in moderation and that includes your busy times so treat yourself to something you enjoy.
Please remember you are not alone and if things become too much, please reach out to speak to someone. We are all in this together and we are all guilty of saying yes to too many things but learning to say no and that our needs are most important will give us all some space to breathe.
If you are feeling particularly vulnerable right now, please also remember that the SOS new phone lines are open Monday to Sunday 9am until midnight to help talk things through. The number is 0300 1020 505 and someone will be there to listen.