My-E-Health® recently had the privilege to talk to one of our clients, Daniel, about his experience of our program — and he's the one who asked the rhetorical questions above.
In May 2019, Daniel was near burnout, he suffered long-term stress and he was not happy inside. He says straight out that our program helped change his life and saved him from burnout. As such, his life is now much improved and at the end of the challenging year 2020, Daniel was in control and his stress levels were down.
In addition, his business got to keep a key employee and avoid the financial costs associated with burnout.
At My-E-Health®, we're absolutely thrilled for Daniel. We want to tell his story as we believe that many of you will be able to relate to his experience, which he generously shared with us in a very pragmatic and down-to-earth way.
Essentially, we take away three key points from his insights:
- being aware of your mental stress, and understanding psychology is not always enough to help yourself break the vicious cycle (some help is needed)
- a little bit goes a long way in terms of intervention (small changes in your every-day life can make a big difference and they don't have to take a lot of time)
- if you learn to communicate with or listen to your internal signals you can learn to manage the chaotic external environment
The brain that never rests, the mind that never gets a break, the constant chatter just keeps on going...
Many of us know what it's like to be constantly “on”, always busy – too busy and feeling the pressure of it but unable to stop the wheels from spinning and the thoughts in your head. This situation is so familiar it's almost second nature to us to live our days feeling out of control.
Are you busy? Our guess is — of course you are.
So, is this an unavoidable part of contemporary life for all of us? Is it real or do we create it? Is it a personality type?
Well, perhaps it's a bit of everything, which we see in this case.
Daniel is highly educated and has a PhD in a science-based faculty. He works as a consultant providing education, leadership- and management training world-wide. He has family and caring responsibilities — married with three children, and is involved in sports that require both endurance and highly technical skills. He's committed to continuous self-development and learning, reads a lot and studies alongside his full-time work and other responsibilities.
As far as personality goes, Daniel is a very analytical person, guided by reason and rationality, with a need to understand the logic behind a concept before believing in it, and he tends to think through the details of most things. This is great and a particularly powerful asset in his work and to his business but the flipside is that his mind is constantly busying itself with analysis, questioning, and often — worry. You know, when you think about everything all the time. And overthink things.
Daniel said he was “thinking all the time” and that he never got a break.
...and the business that never stops
Working as a consultant is rewarding thanks to the constructive challenges and opportunities to grow but it's also stressful as you must constantly meet client expectations and deliver results. Financially, it's a simple but tough reality — if you bring in business that pays, you'll get paid but if you don't, you won't get paid.
The reality is that even if you work very hard and do things right, you're not in control over the workload, the economic cycle or the work environment generally.
Why this high-performing person had a problem
We wouldn't be talking about Daniel unless there was a health problem but you might be asking yourself, what was the problem? Seeing his qualifications and achievements, it makes you wonder.
When Daniel started with My-E-Health®, his assessments revealed a High Risk for Burnout — in the orange nearing the red zone, just one step from Burnout. He was stressed, suffered from anxiety and lived his life under constant time pressure. The to-do-list never ended and even of it had, Daniel's self-care would be the last thing on his list. Since he kept prioritizing new assignments over his own wellbeing, it was almost impossible to recharge his own batteries. It was just a matter of time before something broke.
Everyday felt like a marathon run at sprint pace — or so it felt anyway.
In addition to current stress factors, Daniel also lived with what he calls “ghosts in his mind”. These “ghosts” were events from his past that still affected him, they made him sad, stressed and even caused anxiety from day to today. Many of us will recognize ourselves in this and we know that whilst these events, affliction or people were in our past, they are very real to us, even though they are blind spots to others. They're like constant and unwanted companions nagging in the background and consuming our energy.
For Daniel, reconciliation with his past created mental obstacles in the present. They prevented him from appreciating and being grateful for what he had accomplished and for life in the present. Even though he knew they were no longer relevant in his life, he couldn't free himself the burden.
Caring for people means caring for business
Daniel is fortunate in that he works for a business that actively cares about its employees. He tells us the business incorporates humanism, wellbeing and care for each other in its core values — for both financial reasons and for supporting people in achieving their best performance and staying healthy.
The business knows that proactive healthcare pays off thanks to reduced sick leave, reduced stress and increased productivity.
The organization structure is flat and there are no managers. Instead, the colleagues jointly run the business in a self-managed, co-operative system. In terms of company wellbeing and employee care, this means that colleagues look after each other, talk openly about health and wellness, give support where needed and aim to solve any issues together. There's one nominated person in the business that takes overall responsibility for the wellness strategy.
Before working with My-E-Health®, the business measured wellbeing and stress levels through regular polls and questionnaires — a system they had invented themselves. Daniel kept scoring high on stress levels and anxiety over an extended period. He knew he had some issues to deal with, but whilst he was aware, he was unable to change the situation. He worked with life coaches and saw a counsellors, on an off over a twelve year period, but none of these initiatives made any real difference. Eventually, one of his colleagues told him that the status quo was unsustainable.
It was time to take action.
The business decided it needed a more systematic approach for their health and wellness program. They needed to help their high-performing consultants cope with the stress that's inevitable in their profession — uncertainty, high demands and the need to always be on top of your game.
The business found My-E-Health® and got started. After completing the My-E-Health Empowerment for Participation batch of assessments, it became clear to Daniel that something had to be done to prevent himself from mental health exhaustion or burning out.
The way forward – get help, relevant help
Daniel started attending My-E-Health's mixed methods CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) with the aim of developing strategies for coping with his daily stress, his workload and for learning to live with those events from the past that caused the debilitating sadness.
He attended seven intensive sessions (varying sometimes from three to four-hours length per session) providing a “deep dive” into the various links, associations and topics, which developed helped him to cope during the long therapy sessions with the counsellor. Between sessions, he kept working on his recovery and training his mind doing “homework” that followed each session.
The key thing for Daniel was to achieve an intellectual understanding of relationships and how various emotions and psychological responses linked together. His analytical mind needed answers and clarity. Once he could relate to the concepts, they became his tools for stopping his runaway thoughts and negative emotions.
With the understanding why he felt the way he did, the process of change could take place. Daniel says that nothing really changed as far as anyone could see. He seemed the same to the outside world, his life didn't change and his responsibilities remained unchanged.
So, what did change? Well, Daniel says it was all on the inside. It was all in his mind and he realized that those obstacles he felt were both constructs from the past metamorphosized and projected into various modern challenges. This understanding and acceptance allowed him to take control and get back into the driver's seat.
So far, so good. But a complex challenge needed more than one approach. Daniel also needed to quiet his mind and give his constantly super-active brain a rest.
A little bit goes a long way
We sometimes find that people believe that to make real and lasting improvements to your health, including your mental health, you must make drastic and huge changes. And for many that are stressed or suffer burnout, adding things like meditation or mindfulness practice can feel like just another chore to add to the list.
Daniel's experience shows that in fact, the opposite is true.
Initially skeptical, Daniel agreed with his counsellor at My E-Health to work with one of their mindfulness instructors. He had worked with coaches before but not really seen any changes so you can understand his reservations. In addition, with an already full schedule, how would he fit in even more? Plus, he needed to actually prioritize himself, which was one of his big obstacles in life.
But sometimes you just have to trust the process. So, Daniel attended two sessions with the mindfulness practitioner and received exercises to do at times that suited him. The exercises included mental body scans where you focus on different body parts, one at the time, which assists with slowing down the mind and create a better connection with yourself. Daniel also practiced mindful breathing, mindful walks, mindful eating and the simplicity of being in the here and now.
Daniel learned to incorporate mindfulness into daily life without making any big changes or taking a lot of time for it. He might take a two-minute break, or simply stop himself in whatever he was doing and focus mindfully on it — easy techniques that simply fit into his day and required little effort.
First, it's hard, then gets easier, then it becomes a habit and with time it becomes a part of you.
The change was all on the inside and that changed everything
Daniel says, what made the difference was that he learned to stop the continuous chatter in his mind and from constantly thinking all the time. Daniel's change process happened from mid-2019 to late 2020. During this time his My-E-Health® assessments showed that his stress levels were steadily going down and he was no longer at Risk of Burnout.
He was in the process of taking control over his emotions whilst his life and work went on — unchanged. He started feeling completely different. Calm and in control. Even when his work almost completely died down during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic around August 2020, which meant he had no income, he managed to keep his stress levels under control. Later, when business resumed and his normal workload more than doubled into crazy levels of busyness, the same thing — he was in control and his EFP quarterly assessments only showed a slight increase in stress and anxiety.
No one controls the economic cycles. No one counts on a pandemic. Nor cannot change what happened in the past. But with the relevant psychological support and the necessary coping skills, you can empower and manage your ability to adapt to a changing environment.
Note: the quotes and testimonial in this text are actual but we have changed the participant's name to ensure anonymity.