Part 3 how to survive work
how to protect yourself at work
Work is really stressful, sending an open house invitation to chaos, fear, anger and their BFF, anxiety. Only rich people still hold the sentimental idea that we are not suffering a mental health crisis at work. That’s why it’s sometimes so hard to work out the difference between privilege and low IQ.
I have only this morning been crying at my desk. I love a good blub but there’s a huge shame attached to showing your emotions at work. That, and the neon sign that seems to get lodged above your head flashing “really embarrassing, run”.
So how to protect yourself at work on the off-chance that you don’t have to be mad to work here but it’s becoming extremely likely?
The short version of how to survive work is
- don’t pretend everything is OK when it’s not
- don’t stay calm and carry on
- don’t be brilliant
- don’t go it alone
Let me explain
Don’t pretend everything is OK when its not.
Secret Eaters, a Ch4 programme about overeating, is deep stuff. It should be wrong on every level – morbidly obese families and couples defiantly stating that they don’t eat enough to feed a small kitten and can’t figure out why they are having to order pants from the US. What follows is then 45 minutes of humiliating secret filming of what people are really shoving into their bodies. Sugar, lard, booze and car parts. Mechanical chomping in front of the telly a profound commentary on UK home life.
A few weeks ago a mother responsible for feeding a massive family saw herself secretly filmed consuming enough fast food for four in one sitting, topped up with 12, yes 12 pints of cider a day. As the footage was being shown I hid behind my hands and started whimpering, my own sense of pride scuttling into a corner at how she bear the secret footage. True, she looked devastated but then she just said “well, it’s where I am and now I’ve got to get myself out of this. You’d better help me.”
Silence. Sound of old fruit and fridges being hurled from the gallery? No my friend, that is the sound of awe and me sobbing gently at the pure beauty of the woman.
You just need to start where you are, rather than where you’d like to be.
Don’t stay calm and carry on
The trouble with anger is that it’s an ugly emotion. When you are going through the process of redundancy probably the most consistent piece of “advice” offered is don’t, whatever you do, get angry. When you are angry this is less helpful than you imagine, underlining the profound difference between advice and help. Ultimately if you’re angry you’re not going to be able to maintain the lotus position.
So given that there is a lot of anger around at work, what could be a healthy attitude towards it? It might lie in the understanding that anger is necessary to the process of change. The energy and focus that you have when you are angry is an important motivator in challenging things that we think are wrong. Not being able to direct our anger at the right things is one of the most important reasons why some people experience depression and others don’t. Depression is a numbing and dumbing process, to try to avoid feelings of sadness and anger.
So this is why you need to get angry, really angry. Given that you’re probably rubbish at getting angry this will require some intensive training. Find a safe place where you can scream without being arrested and just let it go man, let it go.
Don’t be brilliant
That sounds almost like failure doesn’t it? Not being brilliant. Although agreeably not a great interview strategy why is it so hard to admit to being ordinary?
Essentially we’ve been living in an economy where you’re either fantastic or rubbish and if you’re not entirely fantastic then it must mean that you are entirely rubbish. There is no other option currently available; computer says no.
Being “fantastic” is literally a fantasy and it obscures the very real possibility that being ordinary is being human, and that is quite enough. These obvious facts of life are painful to accept because it hurts to lose our dreams, no matter if they are actually dangerous delusions that stop us from living in the real world. Unattractive as it might seem, the reality is that now the bubble has burst and we have our feet firmly on the ground again. We have lost our superpowers and now have to rely on our ordinary human powers.
Just be yourself.
Don’t go it alone
The basic facts of life are that we are all dependent on other people for survival, we are not the centre of the entire universe and we all die. Don’t panic, we’re not doing death right now rather our national interest in what has become known as “social capital”. For the non-capitalists amongst you that means relationships-with-other-people.
There is something deeply anti-relationship about many people’s reactions to threat, often a very real sense of ‘fight or flight’. Adrenaline shoots through our veins and fists start forming. At this point if your sense of being rooted in your workplace or your relationships is weak, the obvious reaction is to run and head straight for a psychic bunker.
Do not disturb.
All well and good but what happens when the rations run out and you have to poke your head out? What we know is that being resilient means getting help from other human beings. From the lady who sits next to you and always asks you how you are to the guy in accounts that is your union rep. You literally do not stand a chance if you don’t get over yourself and learn to rely on the people around you.
Yup, if you want to survive work it does all come down to love. If you are struggling to survive work this week and you feel like packing your psychic bags, don’t. Instead, take the risk and tell someone that you need their help.
Surviving Work offers free and confidential resources for people who want to become more resilient either in or out of work. We have just set up the Surviving Work Library, a free resource by the real experts, people like yourself who are actually surviving work. There are podcasts, stories and mercifully short guides on how to survive work. All totally and utterly free and anonymous. We are not purveyors of magic solutions. Nor do we promise to make you thinner or richer. But we will help you survive work