How do you know if you need help adapting emotionally to a serious health issue?

How do you know if you need help adapting emotionally to a serious health issue?

How do you know if you need help adapting emotionally to living with a serious health issue? This is a big question. And it raises so many more questions, concerns, and maybe fears.

You may wonder if you are going crazy. Or you think should be able to cope on your own. In fact, you may feel it would not be right to have to ask for more help. You already feel a burden on everyone around you.

Family and friends may be saying in a well-meaning or exasperated way to ‘be positive’, ‘get on with it’, and ‘we all have difficulties’. People offer suggestions, so many you are swimming in them.

Like I wrote last week, you didn’t choose to enter the world of serious health issue, so there is also the element of not knowing what you need to know. That makes it hard to get help because you don’t know what would help.

Adapting to the physical changes can take priority and sometimes that is all we have energy for. Attending to the emotional side of the changes often comes much later in my experience.

No wonder it can be hard to know when you need help. All these things can make it genuinely difficult to get the help when you need it. So I’m going to share some of the signs I’ve come across in my own experience and that of my clients to help you know when help might actually be a good thing. And the one thing that could still trip you up in getting the help you want and deserve.

help to improve emotional health

When taking action to improve our emotional health helps

 

Signs that help would help your emotional health

 

These are some of the signs that you may be ready for help. This isn’t easy reading because the situation you find yourself in isn’t easy to deal with. So as you read it, if anything resonates with you, just notice that and be gentle with yourself.

  • You feel a sense of disquiet or struggle on the inside.
  • You feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster, out of control.
  • Things are so different now, life can feel like a struggle at times or a lot of the time.
  • You miss your old life, want it back, you keep comparing yourself to how you used to be and trying to live like that despite the changes. But it feels very hard to achieve.
  • You may feel alone, like no one really gets it however much they try and are lovely.
  • You are ignoring the changes that have happened to you.
  • Food, alcohol, drug intake, or risky behaviour has increased. They offer you an escape from this new unwanted life.
  • You isolate yourself from others more and more.
  • Whenever you talk about your health and the changes, you get upset or angry, or both.
  • People offer help, or comfort, and you snap back in anger.
  • People might tell you the changes they see in you, that help might be a good idea, and you might not like that.
  • You don’t do very much anymore, not even favourite activities.

Yet…

You desperately want to be happy again. You want to find hope, sometimes you still feel a flicker of hope inside you. Figuring out how to be happy, but in a changed body, and making sense of everything the serious health issue means can feel like a very large mountain to climb or an icky large swamp to swim through.

 

But this one thing can trip you up from getting help

 

The expectation that you should be able to do this all on your own.

What fuels this expectation?

  • The assumption we will be an imposition on others and we feel guilty as a result.
  • The fear of being seen as weak. When we say, ‘I cannot or do not want to do this on my own,’ we make ourselves vulnerable. In our society, vulnerability is mistakenly equated with weakness.
  • We are showing our difference and so setting ourselves apart from the groups we belong to. We may feel our sense of belonging is threatened and don’t want to risk that disconnection.
  • We are acknowledging the change that has happened to us and what we’ve lost as a result. This can be so hard to do.
  • We worry that by not doing it by ourselves, we will feel worse. Being able to do things ourselves feeds our sense of self-worth.
  • We worry about being ‘needy’, which doesn’t have good connotations in our society.

No wonder why we expect ourselves to do everything on our own! Some of these are myths and and others are genuine issues and I explain how and why here.

asking for help and neediness

We are all needy. B Babcock 2016

 

So when are you ready to accept and receive help?

 

I often find the following combination in action when people are ready to reach out for help. You:

  • realise how you feel and are behaving isn’t helping you, and you’ve had enough of feeling that way
  • want to make a change, that desire is there
  • feel a flicker of hope that things can be different. You may or may not know exactly how you want things to be, but you feel ready to start exploring that
  • get to the point of saying, ‘I’ve done all I can on my own and I’m not getting to where I want to be.’

It’s at this point I find people ready to take a leap of faith, to reach out and connect with another to help them get to where they want to be even if they don’t know where that is. Paradoxically, this is your first step in taking back control, which is a big thing to do to help restore your confidence, self-belief and self-worth.

leap of faith

The artwork is by Charlotte Reed of @maythethoughts. Make sure to check out her fab work!

 

Here is a small step you can take to get support

 

If you are thinking about getting support to help you emotionally adjust to living with a serious health issue, sign up to get the free Prepare for Coaching guide. It will help you think through the changes you would like to make, what helps you to make such changes, and how you would like coaching to help you do that.

Completing the form will also automatically sign you up to the Return to Wellness newsletter which is an email delivered every 2 weeks with the most recent blog post plus links to articles or videos, news, any special offers and latest freebies.  I don’t like spam and value privacy, so I don’t forward or sell your email to third parties.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

What concerns do you have about reaching out for help? When you have reached out for help in the past, what made it more difficult or easy for you?

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness, or are caring for someone who is and would like support to take that first step in making change, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

Between today, 9 November 2017 and 31 January 2018, I am offering a 20% discount on coaching packages for individuals. It’s an early Christmas and New Year treat! Make sure to use the code #XMAS17NY18 when you get in touch.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, share using the social icons.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

When you are forced to change because of a serious health issue & don’t know where to start

When you are forced to change because of a serious health issue & don’t know where to start

Change is often an unexpected but constant presence when you experience the onset of a serious health issue. There is a lot you need to change, but also a lot you don’t know. So making that change can feel very difficult. Sometimes impossible given it’s hard to know what you need let alone where to find that information and support.

It’s understandable. You won a ticket in a health lottery you didn’t even know you were playing. If you had known that lottery was out there, you wouldn’t have chosen to play it. So the question is…

 

Where do you start?

 

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Whenever I have to make a change, whether it happened to me (enforced change) or one that I chose, I find this quote by MLK a form of support. Change can be destabilising because it introduces so many unknowns, and we humans often don’t like uncertainty. It can be scary. But taking that first step into the new world with all its uncertainty is key. You don’t have to know the final destination when you take that first step, i.e. see the whole staircase. Seeing that whole staircase rarely happens. We end up building the staircase as we go.

Another reason it can be hard to take that first step is it is acknowledging that the change has happened and the outcomes may have resulted in a lot of loss, i.e. of what your body used to be able to do, job, relationships, sense of independence and being in control, confidence, etc.

 

Making the change easier

return to wellness

I set up Return to Wellness to make taking that first step or first roll easier and to help you build your own staircase to where it is you want to go. (If you feel using a path metaphor is better for you, particularly if your mobility has changed, then use that. I appreciate the staircase theme might not resonate for everyone.)

This came from my own and a loved one’s experience of serious illness, plus witnessing many others with the same or similar condition as me struggling to find adequate support to make sense of everything.

I support you, whether you have the health issue or are in the caring role*, to:

  • Deal effectively with the emotional impact
  • Navigate the many changes
  • Create a ‘new normality’
  • Reclaim meaning and purpose in your life

I empower you to return to wellness, and stay there. Hence the name, Return to Wellness. It is definitely a return to something we once had and knew. A return to having hope and dreams for the future, restored confidence, having purpose and meaning in your life, a sense of happiness and wellbeing, work you enjoy, valued relationships, enjoyable hobbies, a return to yourself.

*Our carers need just as much support too. They are often the hidden heroes.

 

Why make this change?

 

Because you are important. Because your life matters. Because we have this one life for all we know. And it is precious. You know the value of life. So let’s live it, and live it as well as you can within your changed body.

 

How Return to Wellness can help

 

coping with serious illness newsletter

NEW! Return to Wellness newsletter

 

Return to Wellness can help you identify changes you need and wish to make and to navigate them whether it’s about managing the health issue’s impact and learn to accept that, finding an emotional balance, getting your needs met with doctors, returning to work or finding a new job, managing your career, reducing stress, enhancing relationships, creating a ‘new normality’, or something else.

Return to Wellness offers you this support through:

  1. 1-1 coaching where I help you figure out what is best for you to do. Clients have found this very empowering because they learn they do have their own answers of what will work for them and this restores a sense of control. I help you find those answers.

 

  1. Offering you the opportunity to take part in research about acceptance in the context of health issues. And by taking part in the research, you get a free 1-1 coaching session in exchange. It’s a great way to get a taster of this kind of support.

 

  1. I have also just started a newsletter which will give you first-in-the-queue access to these kind of articles, practical strategies and advice to manage your health and wellness, updates, offers and freebies. You can sign up here. You will receive the newsletter every 2 weeks. I don’t forward or sell your email to third parties.

 

  1. There’s a free Wellness Assessment coming soon which you can do on your own to identify your levels of wellness in various aspects of your life. If you sign up to the newsletter, you will find out when it’s available.

 

  1. I am developing an online workshop (not sure what to call it yet) to help you return to wellness in various aspects of your life. This will become available in 2018. But if you want to help shape what that programme could look like, how you want it to help you, get in touch here and we can have a chat about it. And if you sign up to the newsletter, you will also get updates on it there.

 

Make the change – Take that first step/roll

 

Support is available to help you take that first step or first roll in making the change you want. And you don’t have to do it by yourself. Return to Wellness can help and partner you on that journey.

Here is an important reminder when making change. It’s important to do it in stages. At each stage, you get used to where you are, you become comfortable with it, it starts to feel natural, and then move to the next stage. This helps make everything that much more doable because you are not trying to do everything all at once. This approach also makes it much more likely you will make your change happen. And that first step, it’s such an important step to take.

 

Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. Martin Luther King

Taking that first step/ roll in faith is the best thing you can do for yourself.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

What is the scariest thing you find about change? Or do you find it an opportunity? In the past when you have made a change, what enabled you to take the first step/roll?

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness, or are caring for someone who is and would like support to take that first step in making change, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, share using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

 

How to find a hobby to improve your mental health

How to find a hobby to improve your mental health

A month ago I wrote a blog on the 10 ways in which a hobby can improve your mental health when living with the impact of a serious illness or injury.

But after writing the blog, I thought of something I did not address in it. It was a question put to me by someone living with a neurological condition.

 

How do I find the right hobby for me?

new hobbies after serious health issue

Finding new hobbies after a serious health issue changes your life.

 

Great question! You may not have a hobby or have found the right one for you. You could be busy with the routine of your health issue, work, family and/or life in general. Which is normal and happens to a lot of people.

But maybe you are at the stage that you like to find a hobby to give yourself a break from illness, family, work, whatever. Or you may want an activity just for yourself or to restore a sense of normality in your life.

So in this post I am going to continue the theme of how a hobby improves mental health by answering that question.

 

How do you find the right hobby for you?

 

First, a recap from the previous blog the 10 way in which hobbies improve your mental health and quality of life.

 

hobbies improve mental health

10 ways hobbies can improve your mental health

 

These 10 ways provide an insight into the criteria or questions you can ask yourself when selecting a new hobby. Not all may be a requirement for you. Nor are they all a requirement for a hobby.

 

1. You are interested in the hobby

 

The hobby has a decent chance of holding your attention and focus. This is particularly important if you are hoping for the hobby to provide a distraction from your symptoms for a time.

 

2. You can use existing skills which you value using

 

This can be a powerful reminder of your existing strengths, which we can sometimes forget about when we are in a difficult place. For example, I enjoy research because it allows me to use my brain in a way I value. A new hobby I picked up whilst seriously ill was genealogical research. Another advantage of that hobby was I wasn’t required to move too much, which was good because I couldn’t due to the illness.

 

3. You will be able to physically do the hobby or adapt your approach to it

 

Sometimes after a serious health issue, our bodies can permanently change and we may no longer be able to do previous activities or we must adapt how we do them. For example, a friend had a heart attack and due to having angina as a result, returning to their hobby of running was not possible. They chose a new hobby of photography as it would allow them to walk whilst taking photos.

 

4. The hobby can provide an opportunity to learn and get better

 

Learning a new skill or developing an existing skill further provides a sense of satisfaction and mastery, which contributes to improved mental health and quality of life.

 

5. There is an opportunity to achieve something

 

And do you value that kind of achievement? For example, knitting can result in a finished product like a scarf, hat, jumper or blanket that you can use or give as a gift to someone.

 

6. The hobby provides a sense of belonging

 

Does the hobby provide an opportunity to socialise with others in person? Or to connect virtually with people? Which do you prefer? As I said in the previous blog on hobbies, being with others fosters a sense of belonging, which can be very powerful as it reduces the isolation that can result from having a serious health issue.

However, you may want a hobby that allows you to be by yourself and that is ok too.

Sometimes this nature of belonging is looking after something or someone else, whether it be a child, plants, or a pet. Whatever it is, it depends on you to survive and flourish. The process of helping in this way can be very affirming of you and your abilities. This is powerful as often after the onset of a serious health issue, it is common to lose our sense of self-worth as we feel we cannot contribute or look after others as we used to.

 

7. Is the activity something you think you will enjoy doing?

 

When we enjoy something, we often relax. And relaxation reduces stress. A win-win all around.

hobbies improve our mental health

The impact of hobbies on our mental health is a virtuous circle.

 

8. What meaning does the hobby give you?

 

By ‘meaning’ I mean you value what the activity has to offer whatever that is, such as the activity itself, being with people, helping others, creating or collecting something, increasing your knowledge, playing a team game with others, just having fun or something else. Or maybe the hobby allows you to live a value of yours, something that is important to you. For example, baking could be expressing a value of creativity, or community if you share your bakes with others.

 

9. Does the hobby restore a sense of normality to your life?

 

A hobby can provide routine like ‘every Wednesday evening from April through March I go kayaking’ and this fosters a sense of normality.

 

10. Consider what you enjoyed doing in the past, what you are good at and passionate about

 

What we enjoyed doing in the past, and our existing strengths and passions can be the source for new hobbies. Even skills we use at work and our jobs can be used in a hobby.

Hobbies we had as a child may capture our interest again. Or we may adapt childhood interests to what we want to do now. For example, maybe you used to sew clothes but now you want to make quilts.

If you are skilled at organising events, many charities and local neighbourhood initiatives may require this skill. If you are an accountant, maybe you do the accounts for free for a local club or charity or bring that skill to a non-executive position of an organisation. You can channel a skill you use at work towards a cause you find meaningful.

If you are passionate about nature, keeping bees or letting a beekeeper keep hives in your garden, bird watching, or creating homes for hedgehogs in your garden can all become hobbies.

It might be possible to adapt your approach to previous hobbies so you can still enjoy them. For example, if you now have limited mobility and gardening was a favourite pastime, raised outdoor beds or potting and growing plants indoors could still allow you to enjoy the hobby.

Sometimes a hobby can grow out of another hobby. For example, a friend developed a passion for Word War I history whilst doing genealogical research. He has since contributed to his local council’s initiative to commemorate those from the area who fought and died in the war, and may even start leading tours of the battlefields in France.

So based on the 10 ways hobbies improve your mental health and quality of life, these 10 criteria and questions can be your starting point in finding new hobbies. Have fun trying out new activities in your search and when you find your hobby, share it here. I’d love to know what you choose and how you are finding it.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

Did you pick up any new hobbies as a result of your health issue? What influenced your choice? And how is it helping to improve your mental health and quality of life? Share below as your comment could help someone else.

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness, or are caring for someone who is and would like support to enhance your sense of emotional wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to share it with the world, share it using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

 

How hobbies can improve your mental health when living with serious illness or injury

How hobbies can improve your mental health when living with serious illness or injury

Living with the impact of a temporary serious illness, chronic illness, or injury can be draining in many ways and adversely impact your mental health. The routine of illness/injury can quickly take over. It feels like the illness or injury dictates your life and is in control. It feels like parts of you are slipping away and you don’t recognise yourself anymore.

This is understandable. When you are living with the impact of a serious illness/injury, it’s not like you know automatically what to do. You have to figure out new ways of taking care of yourself and what works for you. That can be time consuming. Also, life continues to happen around you and you have to deal with that. It can feel like there isn’t time left to focus on fun things like hobbies and personal interests. Life is just too busy or you’re too tired to focus on them.

But hobbies and fun activities can be the very thing that will improve your mental health and quality of life. This is super important when you are living with a potentially life-changing health issue. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

Having been inspired by my own and a colleague’s experience, and others writing about their experience, I share the 10 ways hobbies and personal interests can help you improve your mental health, and restore some normality to your life, your quality of life, and your sense of self.

hobbies can improve mental health

 

How hobbies improve your mental health and quality of life

 

Here are 10 ways in which hobbies improve your mental health and quality of life. Hobbies can:

1. Provide an escape from symptoms

In the early days of living with Transverse Myelitis, I had bad fatigue, neuropathic pain and major sensory disturbance (pins and needles everywhere in my body). I could only sit on the sofa and watch daytime telly, which I found boring.

So I opened my laptop and despite my hands being badly affected, I started genealogical research. I was quickly absorbed and distracted from the pain and fatigue for a time. Even though I made loads of typing mistakes because I had constant pins and needles in my hands and so could not feel things properly (still do just not as bad), I was so absorbed in my work I didn’t mind. My focus was on the hobby, less so on my hands.

I once heard a story of a person with Parkinson’s whose tremors stops when she picks up a camera to take pictures. There is a respite from the Parkinson’s symptoms for a time.

A colleague with Parkinson’s told me about how when she rides her bike, she is free of symptoms. She forgets she has Parkinson’s and values this sense of freedom. The cycling is also great exercise.

2. Remind you of abilities you still have

Being able to engage in research reminded me my brain was fine even though my body wasn’t. I could still do research and use my brain in a way which I valued.

3. Process of learning and getting better provides a sense of mastery

With many hobbies you learn even if you have been indulging in the hobby for many years. I’ve been doing genealogical research for 9 years now and I am often learning something new about my family or how to conduct the research so I achieve what I am aiming to. That process of improving is very satisfying.

4. Provide achievement

Hobbies enable you to achieve something of value to you whether that is drawing or painting a picture; completing a cross-stitch, book or bike ride; gardening; writing a poem or story; creating music; going for a walk; cooking a meal; winning a game; finding that one rare stamp to add to a collection, etc.

hobbies improve mental health

Hobbies can improve your mental health and quality of life.

 

5. Provide an opportunity to socialise with people

Some hobbies naturally lend themselves to being with other people and may even need others so you can engage in the hobby. Like a team sport. Being with others doing an activity you all have an interest in fosters a sense of belonging. This is hugely important as sometimes when living with a serious illness, you can feel very isolated.

I adore kayaking because it gets me out in nature, it gets me moving, it’s a mindfulness practice for me, it’s hugely relaxing, and most of the time I kayak with other people. I find paddling very therapeutic for my body and mind. As a hobby it ticks boxes of what is important to me.

6. Provide a safe way to deal with unpleasant feelings associated with the changes in your life so they do not end up dominating your life

This is important to do. It enables you to get in touch with the experience of your illness/condition/injury so you integrate it into the story of your life without it being ignored, shut away or owning you in an unhealthy way. I wrote about how you can do this here. 

7. Provide enjoyment

I enjoy genealogical research. I love the process of discovery it provides. I enjoy sharing what I learn with my family.

8. Reduce stress and provide relaxation

When we do something we enjoy that is just for us, we often relax. The stress leaves our bodies as we focus on our hobby. So when you feel stressed, indulging in your hobby is a brilliant antidote to it as @HannahEliza1 finds with playing the piano.

9. Provide meaning

Regarding genealogical research, I feel like I am the keeper of the family stories and it’s my job to record them and pass the on so current generations can do that too. That gives meaning to me and my life. It also allows me to live my value of the importance of family.

10. Restore a sense of normality to your life

Hobbies are part and parcel of life. Most people have them. So they bring a sense of normality. Although your life may have changed substantially due to a serious illness, hobbies can still be a part of it. They may be hobbies from pre-illness/injury days or new hobbies chosen due to the changes you’ve experienced because of your illness or injury.

Hobbies can provide all of this. And do you know what all this does?

 

Hobbies feed your self-worth

 

Those 10 things hobbies do for you are good for your psychological wellbeing. They improve your quality of life. They feed your sense of self-worth.

Hobbies allow you to be you, to do something for yourself, to express all the richness that is within you, and to feed that richness so you can keep expressing it.

So claim back time for your hobbies and interests. Your mental health and self-worth are too important. They matter because you matter.

hobbies improve mental health chronic illness

The value of hobbies to your mental health when living with serious illness or injury.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

Has a hobby helped you to deal with the impact of your illness or injury? Did you pick up any new hobbies as a result? Or are you trying to adapt a hobby so you can still indulge in it or searching for a new hobby to restore a sense of normality to your life? Share below as a comment and you may end up helping someone else.

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness, or are caring for someone who is and would like support to enhance your sense of emotional wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although I write this blog in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to share it with the world, share it using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

 

Uncovering the unconscious biases that can hinder an employee’s return to work after a serious health issue

Uncovering the unconscious biases that can hinder an employee’s return to work after a serious health issue

This post focuses on uncovering the unconscious biases which can interfere with an employee’s return to work after a serious health issue. It s the fifth and final post in this series for line managers who have a team member returning to work after a serious health issue, and are wondering how they can best support their employee. 

Rather than focus on HR policies and employment law, what I am sharing here are the subtle and often unseen aspects which can help the employee’s return to work or derail it. Knowing about them will enhance your ability to relate empathically with your employee and support them, which is a key ingredient for a working relationship built on trust. This in turn can enhance employee engagement and loyalty. The previous posts are here, here, here and here.

As part of supporting employees returning to work after a serious health issue, one of the topics I’ve written about has been how not to say the wrong thing. I’m continuing this theme but from the perspective of how the biases and assumptions we hold around health, illness and disability can impact how we treat people.

My starting point is to look at some of these most common assumptions we hold as a society. These are the messages we are surrounded by every day, which we absorb and can sometimes impact what we believe, assume, think, feel, do and say.

The aim is to deepen our awareness so we can make mindful choices regarding what we say and do when supporting a colleague returning to work after a serious health issue. Last week I shared two prevalent biases.

  1. Having had a serious illness or acquired a disability means you can no longer work
  2. For an illness/symptom to be valid, it must be visible.

This week, I’m sharing three more and offering an exercise to uncover the unconscious biases around health, illness and disability you may hold.

 

illness biases

Illness biases in our society. Drawn by B Babcock 2017.

 

As you read each bias, consider what could be the result if someone acted on them when supporting an employee returning to work after a serious health issue.

 

Unconscious Bias 3 – When you are ill, you must look ill. You cannot look or feel well.

 

This bias relates to the invisibility bias mentioned above and says, ‘You must be sneezing, blowing your nose, have a limb in a cast, stay in bed, be in a wheelchair, whatever. You can’t laugh or smile if you are depressed. You must give me a visible sign that you are really are ill. Only then will I believe you.’

Many illnesses, symptoms, and conditions are invisible like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.), Transverse Myelitis, and Multiple Sclerosis to name a few. And these conditions can fluctuate. There may be periods when the symptoms are very bad, and then they reduce or even disappear for a time. You can have a long-term condition punctuated by periods of wellness. And when you are in a bad patch, you can still look well.

Consider what it is like for the employee who has an invisible illness or disability who sees their employees roll their eyes when they leave work early because of symptoms, or the manager who asks more questions than of others who have been off sick.

 

Unconscious Bias 4 – You look well so you must have recovered or be recovering.

 

This bias says, ‘But if you are still ill, despite looking well, you must not be working hard enough at your recovery.’ Ach, that puts a ton of responsibility on a person and assumes a level of control that may not be possible.\

At work and elsewhere, this can lead to people giving the employee the quizzical look and possibly even saying something to others that the person looks well but is ‘supposed to be sick’. It can also lead to receiving a lot of advice regarding what you can do to recover.

When it comes to our bodies, we can directly control our breath, muscles and mind. We can influence other things, for example weight and body mass index through our diet and exercise. But there’s a lot going on in our bodies that we don’t see and cannot control.

 

Unconscious Bias 5 – Mental health issues aren’t real; people who have that are ‘soft’

 

The following example in the sport of cricket reminded me of this assumption. Jonathan Trott left England’s Ashes tour in 2014 because of a stress-related illness and took a leave of absence to focus on his health. ‘Michael Vaughan asserted that “both he and the public have been been ‘conned’ by Trott…”’ (Moss, 2014).

I don’t need to explain that further. The impact of being on the receiving end of that can be crushing. Having people say this about you can come across as if you do not know your own body and so are unable to evaluate your own experience.

Stigma around mental health issues unfortunately still exists in the workplace. Although there are initiatives encouraging Human Resources professionals to share their personal stories with mental health issues, ‘less than 10% of employees feel comfortable disclosing mental health problems…yet 78% of employers believe their staff are comfortable having mental health discussions at work’ (Gyton, 2017). There is an obvious disconnect.

What is it about mental health at work that isn’t working?

 

Perhaps it comes down to what Dr. Miller, policy advisor at the CIPD, said ‘A crucial missing link is often found in the relationship between line managers and their employees.’ An important link to this is the training line managers receive to manage and support staff with mental health problems. Dr. Miller said 22% of employers are investing in such training (Gyton, 2017).

There is the saying that people leave line mangers and not jobs. That line manager and employee relationship is so important. If you are a line manager supporting an employee with mental health or another health issue, one of the things you can do is develop your awareness of the assumptions you hold around health, illness and disability so you can make mindful choices going forward. Keep reading to find out how.

stigma of mental health at work

The stigma of mental health at work. Drawn by B Babcock 2017.

 

IMPORTANT TANGENT – MIND offers a course called Mental Health First Aid, which trains you in the signs of various mental health issues and appropriate ways of dealing with them. It’s very informative and helpful and I recommend it. Click here to learn more.

 

How to ensure you don’t act on unconscious biases when supporting colleagues returning to work

 

These 6 questions will help uncover unconscious and biases you may hold around health, illness and disability. This will enable you to make mindful choices on how you support an employee returning to work after a serious health issue. You can also book a session with me and we can do this together. Sometimes having an objective person listen can give you new insights.

The questions ask you to reflect on what it is like for you when you, and those around you, are ill, disabled, and in good health. The questions are repetitive, but it is important to consider them in the different situations to uncover any unconscious biases. Take the holistic approach used here and consider what you think, feel and actually do. You don’t have to do this all in one go. It may be helpful to write your responses.

 

Uncovering the unconscious biases – The 6 questions

 

1. When you are ill and/or disabled

What is that like for you? What do you think, feel and do? Do you continue going into work, work from home, or stay in bed? Something else?

What is it like for the people around you? Your family, friends, colleagues, clients? How do they respond to you when you are ill? How do you respond in turn?

2. When you are in good health

What is that like for you? Again, what do you think, feel and do?

What is it like for the people around you? How do they treat you? How do you treat them?

3. When a family member, friend or colleague is ill and/or disabled

What is that like for you? What do you think, feel and do? Do you look after/deal with them the same way you look after yourself when you are ill? Or differently?

4. When a family member, friend, colleague, client is in good health

What is that like for you? What do you think, feel and do? How do you treat them?

5. For each of the above questions, review your responses. Ask yourself,

What must be true about me (and others) for me to think, feel and act the way I do?

What do I have to believe?

What am I assuming of myself and my capabilities? What am I assuming of others?

6. Read through your beliefs and assumptions because they point to the biases you may hold.

The biases can be helpful or unhelpful and that may depend on the situation. Consider a real life situation (your own or another person’s situation) and how the biases can lead to action on your part which is helpful or not to the situation. With these new realisations, you can choose to do something different when that is appropriate.

 

unconscious biases

Uncovering your unconscious biases? Drawn by B Babcock 2017.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

What biases around health, illness and disability have you come across at work or elsewhere? Which ones did you find unhelpful or helpful? Feel free to share here and ensure examples cannot identify companies or individuals.

If you have an employee returning to work after long-term sick leave and would like support to ensure a smooth transition, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although these blogs are written in the context of living with the impact of a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think a colleague, friend or family member would benefit from reading it, or you just want to share it with the world, share this post using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

 

References

Moss, B., It takes strength to recognise your own mental ill-health, People Management, CIPD, 25-Mar-2014, Available http://www.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2014/03/25/it-takes-strength-to-recognise-your-own-mental-ill-health.aspx?utm_medium=email&utm_source=cipd&utm_campaign=pmdaily&utm_content=250314_comment_1

Gyton, G., Less than 10 per cent of employees feel comfortable disclosing mental health problems, People Management, CIPD, 20-Feb-2017, Available http://www2.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2017/02/20/less-than-10-per-cent-of-employees-feel-comfortable-disclosing-mental-health-problems.aspx

 

Unconscious biases can hinder an employee’s return to work after a serious health issue

Unconscious biases can hinder an employee’s return to work after a serious health issue

This post focuses on the unconscious biases which can interfere with an employee’s return to work after a serious health issue. This is the fourth post in a series for line managers who are supporting such employees, and are wondering how they can best do that. 

Rather than focus on HR policies and employment law, what I am sharing here are the subtle and often unseen aspects which can help the employee’s return to work or derail it. Knowing about them will enhance your ability to relate empathically with your employee and support them, which is a key ingredient for a working relationship built on trust. This in turn can enhance employee engagement and loyalty. The earlier posts are here, here and here

As part of supporting an employee returning to work after a serious health issue, one of the topics I’ve written about has been how not to say the wrong thing. I’m continuing this theme but from the perspective of how unconscious biases and assumptions we hold around health, illness and disability can impact how we treat people.

My starting point is to look at some of the most common unconscious biases we hold as a society. These messages surround us and can sometimes impact what we believe, think and say. The aim is to deepen our awareness to enable us to make mindful choices about what we say and do when supporting a colleague returning to work after a serious health issue.

This week I am sharing two prevalent biases. In two weeks, I’ll share three more and offer questions you can ask yourself to uncover the unconscious biases around health, illness and disability you may hold.

 

avoiding acting on unconscious biases

Don’t think I will put my foot in it today.

 

Unconscious Bias 1 – Having had a serious illness or acquired a disability means you can no longer work

 

Consider a man in his mid 40’s who works in a large organisation in a senior position and the organisation’s culture has a reputation for being demanding and stressful. He looks in good physical shape but unexpectedly has a serious heart attack.

Or a person has a car accident and is paralysed as a result.

A common assumption I’ve come across in this instance is the person needs to change their life completely including giving up work. This reminds me of the statistic that ‘42% of disabled people seeking work found the biggest barrier were misconceptions about what they can do’ (ACAS, 2016).

That is a key point. What do we assume of people’s abilities after they have experienced a serious health issue?

 

unconscious biases about disability in the workplace

Picture obtained from ACAS Twitter feed @acasorguk (14-Mar-2017). Myth statistics come from the report ‘Disability Discrimination: Key points for the Workplace’ published September 2016.

 

Although significant changes to one’s life may be needed, returning to work can be possible. With many health issues, people’s physical capabilities are affected temporarily (sometimes for several years) or permanently, but their cognitive capabilities are not. With other health issues, a person’s cognitive capabilities are impacted, but they can employ strategies to manage them so they can continue to work.

The return to work may take time. I’ve seen a gradual return take a year. Adaptations may be needed to physically change the workplace so it is accessible, to alter how things are done (adjusting hours, working from home, adjusting existing role, moving to a new role), or equipment may be needed to help the person do their job (e.g. voice to text software, standing desk).

There can also be assumptions related to specific illnesses, for example heart attacks which happen at an age you don’t expect it to.

  • Young people don’t get heart attacks. – They do. Strokes too. Many illnesses do not practice age discrimination.
  • The stress of the job caused the heart attack. – Not always. It might be a contributing factor, particularly if it has led to unhealthy eating and drinking habits and little or no exercise. The person’s medical history, family history, and any current medical issues which may have gone undiagnosed could also be contributing factors. But sometimes illnesses can unexpectedly happen and there is no known cause.

 

Unconscious Bias 2 – For an illness/symptom to be valid, it must be visible

 

This is a pervasive bias in our society. The impact of illnesses like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.), Transverse Myelitis, and Multiple Sclerosis for some people can be invisible. Sometimes you may hear people say, ‘Well, s/he looks well,’ in a quizzical tone of voice and look in the eye. I’ve had many people tell me the response to saying they have chronic fatigue is, ‘You never look tired,’ or ‘We are all fatigued.’

Imagine here that over and over again. You start to feel as if you have to prove that yes, you will do have a health issue. It can over time lead to a deterioration in working relationships.

As I wrote previously, one reason for unpleasant responses could be people experience anxiety (sometimes unknowingly) over not knowing how to respond. When you can see something, like a person on crutches, you have some ideas on how to respond, you open the door for them.

When you cannot see something, you can feel less clear on what is real or not, what is happening and what you could do in response. Many people like to know and feel certain because it gives them a sense of control, it is reassuring.

Educating colleagues so they understand the impact of the condition and that the person can look well on the outside, but inside feel very unwell, and how they can support the person and each other can help. This can enable the team to continue focusing on what they can all do and performing as a team rather than only focusing on what one person cannot do.

However, some people will not want to disclose information about their health issue and how they are affected. There can be many reasons for this, some which are a desire for privacy, to be seen as normal and just like everyone else, not wanting to respond to questions which may be felt to be too personal, not wanting to talk about it because it makes the health issue that much more real, or the person is tired of talking about it. Whatever is said, it must be agreed with the employee. And as the line manager, you can still promote the two-way street of support among all team members.

 

Team work sharing the workload

The ideal – supporting each other. Drawn by B Babcock 2017

 

This invisibility bias points to related assumptions in our society. But I will address them in two weeks. In the meantime, consider what can happen if someone acted on these assumptions when supporting an employee returning to work after a serious health issue.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

Have you seen these two unconscious biases in action in the workplace? Or others? What was the result? Feel free to share here. Just make sure examples cannot name companies or people.

If you have an employee returning to work after long-term sick leave and want some support to ensure a smooth transition, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although I write these blogs in the context of living with the impact of a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think a colleague, friend or family member would benefit from reading it, or you just want to share it with the world, share this post using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

 

References

Disability discrimination: Key points for the workplace, ACAS, September 2016 (Downloaded 14 March 2017 from www.acas.org.uk)

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