Hello and welcome. My name is Leah Dugan. I’m a recruiter here at Hirewell and a member of DEI education and training subcommittee. And we are really excited today to welcome Sarah Buino to have her with us.
Sarah is a therapist, teacher, speaker, and founder of Head Heart Therapy Incorporated, and just an overall stellar human being. We’re really pleased to have her with us for our second diversity equity and inclusion event. And she’s going to be talking with us today about mental health in the workplace.
So really important topic, very timely topic as it is mental health awareness month this month in May. So without further ado, I think I will turn it over to you, Sarah.
Awesome. Thank you so much! And thank you everybody for being here. So as Leah said, I am a therapist. I’m also a business owner. I own and run my practice called Head Heart Therapy.
And so I am speaking today, not only as a mental health practitioner but also somebody who really tries to foster mental health in my own workplace. So if there are any managers listening today, I will be specifically giving some little tidbits for you as well as we go through this. Also just to note, one of the trainings that I was a part of was Brene Brown certified daring way facilitator training back in 2012, I think it was.
And so I’ll be utilizing some of that information. I know folks on on here probably have heard of Brene Brown since she is pretty popular these days. So you can go to the what is mental health slide for me.
Perfect. Okay. So what is mental health is a really important question and it’s a term that we throw around a lot, but don’t necessarily define very often. So I looked up the definition from the world health organization and they say that mental health is a state of wellbeing where a person realizes their ability to cope with life stressors, work productively and fruitfully and make contributions to the community.
So one thing I want to really distinguish with folks is the difference between being happy and having good mental health. So you’ll note in the description here, it says a state of wellbeing where a person realizes their ability to cope with life stressors. So one of the things I hear over and over from clients, and even I find myself falling into this trap sometimes is, you know, I just want to feel better, right?
If I have anxiety, I want to come to therapy and I want to not feel anxiety. But unfortunately that’s not really what therapy is. Therapy isn’t necessarily a space where we get free of all of life’s worries, sadness and problems. It’s just where we learn particular coping skills. And the way that I define happiness as this difference between coping, happiness is really linked to experiences or relationships,
right? I used to say when I worked in an addiction treatment center, that happiness is like birthdays and Christmas and going on vacation and going on a really great date or something like that. Those are things that you know, kind of really lift us up but contentment is more of what we’re shooting for in the mental health realm is just this sort of being able to be okay with what is, regardless of what’s going on externally, which obviously at any given time can be a challenge.
And especially right now. And then here, I also want to mention that mental health is what helps us essentially relate to other people and experience that happiness and maintain connection, because we know that one of the most important factors in someone who reports themselves to be happy and content and enjoying life is that they have really fruitful relationships.
So next slide please.
Where are we now? We’re struggling. We are on the struggle bus friends. And so if you have found yourself having issues related to the pandemic or not related to the pandemic, just in general, you’re not alone. I listened to a webinar done by the Kennedy forum, which they’re an advocacy organization and like to support a lot of mental health initiatives.
And they shared the statistics of the percentage of people who are reporting, being unwell right now, which that isn’t very clearly defined, but essentially 25% of the gen Z population that they surveyed said that they feel unwell, and millennials 13%, baby boomers 8%, who knows what happened in gen X.
I am a gen X-er. I keep joking how gen X-ers are like not showing up in the world right now somehow and this is yet kind of another illustration of that. So there are so many folks who are really struggling right now and the thing that I also found super interesting from this Kennedy forum webinar was that they talked about how millennials and gen Z have grown up in trauma.
It started with 9/11. We have had increased school shootings. We had the recession and then obviously we have the pandemic. So if you’re a person who was born into and continues to live in a world impacted by global traumas, that is going to impact the way that you interact with other people, the way that you interact with corporations, the expectations that you have for the world.
And so that’s just really important to note that we’re all living through trauma in this moment. So this data is from last year from the CDC. And I’m curious to see how these numbers are going to shift. During late June 40% of adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use, and that’s a pretty substantial portion. Generally about seven to 10% of the population could be diagnosable with a substance use disorder.
And so shooting this up from seven and 10% to 40% is quite serious. So there has been so much going on and I don’t know that as a society we’ve quite talked enough about how this is really impacting our relationships at home and then of course, how that is going to impact the way that we show up in the workplace.
Thank you. So I found this image and it just has a bunch of different disorders that might not be visible, right? So when we’re interacting with people in the workplace or you know, even the people that you see at Starbucks when you get your coffee in the morning or whatnot, we have no idea what’s going on internally for people.
I’m training in this trauma modality called norm neuro effective relational model. And it really focuses on curiosity about a person’s inner experience. And so that’s something that I’d love to offer to you all today is instead of assuming that we know what’s going on with somebody that we’re working with or have a relationship with of any sort, that we really just get curious and wonder what might it be like to be inside that person’s brain, inside that person’s body, inside that person’s experiences. Next.
I want to talk about vulnerability a little bit, because if you are someone who recognizes yourself in any, whether it’s actually a mental health disorder or just somebody who experiences times of struggle inherent in that is vulnerability. And though the stigma has shifted a lot in the past however many years, I hear now a lot more folks are waving the flag that they go to therapy and they are happy to talk about, “This is what my therapist said” which is amazing and incredible, but it hasn’t completely translated to a cultural understanding that vulnerability is actually a strength and not a weakness.
So these definitions actually come directly from Brene Brown and she defines weakness as being faulty, flawed or defective or deficient. And I don’t know about you, but that is not a way I would like to describe myself, even when I’m in times of struggle. That’s not necessarily the way that I would like to categorize myself.
Vulnerability on the other hand is uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. So when you think about that, you know, a lot of times people will tell me that vulnerability is a bad word. It’s negative. So that vulnerability it’s something bad, it’s something to be avoided.
But in this definition here, we see that it’s uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. Those aren’t negative words. There’s nothing wrong with uncertainty. It’s uncomfortable for sure, but there’s nothing bad or wrong about it. And same with risk and emotional exposure. For instance, I have a client right now who is dating for the first time after a divorce.
And we continue to talk about the vulnerability inherent in dating, right. And there’s nothing bad about it. It’s just an uncomfortable feeling and often we don’t like it and we want to avoid it, but it’s actually really crucial to mental health because through vulnerability is where we begin talking about what’s going on.
And we begin normalizing right? On social media there’s all this like normalize this, normalize that, we have to talk about it. And so I really like to think about professional vulnerability in my field, vulnerability is obviously seen as a strength. And so I can go around sharing what happens for me internally, what my mental health struggles are.
And I don’t tell everybody all the details about my story, but I am happy to share that I’m a person who struggles with depression, anxiety, and trauma, and how that impacts the way that I show up in my workplace, how I show up in my relationships. And as a leader, I think it’s so important to model that vulnerability, right?
Like I’m not going to overshare. I’m only going to share the intimate details with my therapist, other people in my helping team, my husband and my best friends. Everybody else is going to get this kind of like professional level where I’m happy to share that I’m struggling with this, but not going into all of the tiny little details.
So if you are somebody who is in any sort of leadership role in your organization, I really encourage you to think about what might professional vulnerability look like in my role and how can I model this for my staff? Because we want our staff to be able to come to us and share what’s happening, but they’re not going to be willing to do that unless we’re willing to model that.
So we’re going to go into some specific invisible challenges, mental health disorders, and I’m not going to spend all of our time in the struggle. I’m also going to share some things that we can do in order to foster connection and to help us essentially move through that. But I wanted to share just kind of the common ones.
So depression, anxiety here. I have listed the symptoms from the diagnostic statistical manual. So the DSM is what we call it in my field and it is essentially the Bible of diagnoses. And if you are a person in therapy, using insurance, unfortunately we have to put people into boxes and little labels and so this is the way we do that, is we look at the different symptoms. So here we have depression, meaning depressed mood, loss of pleasure, weight loss or gain, sleep problems. So it can be sleeping too much or not sleeping, fatigue, fidgety, or feeling slowed down, inappropriate guilt or feeling worthless, decreased concentration or suicidal thoughts.
So as you can see here, there’s a lot of weight, it could be weight loss or weight gain. It could be sleeping too much or sleeping not enough, feeling fidgety or slowed down. There are a lot of opposites here. So I know that in the world we kind of generally throw around terms like, “Oh, I’m feeling depressed.”
So I just want to note that there really is like a very specific clinical diagnosis that it helps to be making in relationship with a professional. But if you see yourself in any of these symptoms, I’m going to be sharing at the end ways that you can ask for help and support. And so I just encourage you to really be thinking, how does this apply to me and how might I ask for help?
So anxiety being next. So this can look like restlessness or fatigue, trouble concentrating irritability, muscle tension, sleep problems. I often actually hear people, people may come into therapy and they say, “Oh, I have ADHD” and it turns out actually they don’t have ADHD, they have anxiety because difficulty concentrating is a product of anxiety.
I actually, I have a friend who’s not in the mental health field and he was convinced that he had ADHD, went to see a psychiatrist, got himself some Ritalin, and that made his anxiety go so out of control. And he was like, “Oh, maybe I don’t actually have ADHD.” So if concentration is something that shows up for you, that’s just something to really think about.
Like, is this a product of ADHD or is this actually a problem of anxiety? And next slide, please.
Addiction and substance use disorders. So this is my specialty. This is what I spend a lot of time- I have spent a lot of time in my career working with and again, there is substance use disorders are on a spectrum and we can have mild symptoms and we can have severe symptoms and we can also be abusing substances and not necessarily have a substance use disorder.
So, the general rule of thumb in terms of drinking is for men, it’s no more than I think seven drinks in a sitting and no more than 10 drinks in a week- something like that. And for women, it’s no more than seven drinks in a week, no more than four in a sitting. So that’s just one thing to think about with alcohol.
And as I showed in the slide earlier, a lot of folks are drinking more and turning to that because there’s been so much stress during the pandemic. So just to share some of these symptoms here, taking more of the substance than is intended, unaccessible attempts to quit, lots of time spent either getting, using, or recovering from cravings to use the substance gets in the way of what you want to do in your life, cause relationship issues and so on and so forth. And then trauma- oh, actually one thing I wanted to note with drug and alcohol use, so withdrawing from drug and alcohol use can be deadly if it’s alcohol or benzodiazepines, which like Xanax or- I can’t think of other benzos right now, but Xanax things that are in that category, you can actually die from withdrawal if that’s something if you’re tissue dependent, which essentially means you are physically dependent on it.
And so if you know anybody who’s struggling with alcohol use or you might be yourself, make sure that you get assessed by a physician because withdrawal often you might need some sort of support in order to not experience seizures and then have it be potentially fatal. So just something to keep in mind, if you ever know
someone who is struggling with substance use or you yourself are. And then trauma. So this is the diagnosis criteria for PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. What we’re finding in the field of mental health is that post-traumatic stress disorder is only one in a huge spectrum of trauma disorders. And in fact, those of us who specialize in trauma actually believe that addiction, depression, anxiety, and basically everything else in the DSM is actually a product of trauma.
And I’ll go into that in more detail in a little bit, but one thing I want to say about trauma too, is that if you’re a person who has any sort of marginalized identity, whether you’re a person of color or LGBT, or something like that, microaggressions are also part of trauma, microaggressions and overt threats, right?
Cause some workplaces actually aren’t safe at all. And there might be overt threats happening, but even the microaggressions, when somebody is not intending harm, the accumulation of those microaggressions is actually trauma. And there’s a whole sect of racialized trauma that might the executive director of my practice does a lot of training around that.
So just something to consider there. Next slide, please.
Adverse childhood experiences. So these are things that we would experience in our home growing up early in life and if we are somebody who has experienced a number of these adverse childhood experiences, that makes us more susceptible to both physical and mental health issues later in life and the trauma in the communities that are happening outside the home,
right? So this is basically just kind of on the micro level, like what is happening person to person inside the family. But we also know what is happening in the community, what’s happening in the larger culture, right? So everything right now that is happening in the mental health field, we’re talking about what’s going to happen to the children who are being born right now.
How was the trauma of the pandemic going to impact them and their mental health moving forward? Next slide please.
So if you’re a person who has, we call them ACEs. A lot of ACEs, this is the behavior and mental health issues that can- mental and physical health issues that can show up later in life. So we see here at the top right one of the behaviors is missed work. So we know folks who struggle with mental health issues, trauma, substance abuse, often have- they miss more work days than people who report not struggling with those things.
Then you see here all the physical and mental health issues. And one thing that is not listed on here are chronic illnesses and autoimmune disorders. And we know for a fact, there are tons of studies that link early childhood trauma to chronic health issues. So I want to answer the question here.
So Stefan, says, why do definitions for substance addiction differ between males and females? I’d be curious to hear more about that. It’s a metabolism thing and people who are assigned female at birth, people who are assigned male at birth body composition is different in terms of water and body fat.
And so that has to do with how you metabolize drugs and alcohol. So thank you for that question. Next slide please.
Okay. So eight areas of wellness. So SAMHSA is the- I’m going to test myself for your substance abuse and mental health, something, something, I don’t remember the last two, but SAMHSA, essentially, it’s an organization that sets out sort of expectations for the mental health field and it gives a lot of suggestions for how folks can increase mental health and reduce substance use and other mental illnesses.
So they put together this eight areas of wellness and I really love this here because I think that this actually encapsulates every portion of our lives. I think in America, we are so focused on job success, and financial success and yeah, we like to have friends and yeah, we understand we’re supposed to do things for our emotions, but I think we can really sometimes neglect the spiritual and in our environment.
I know for me, one of the things that I continue to struggle with is in financial wellness. One of the recommendations is to really like, have hands on with your finances and I’m somebody who much to my husband’s chagrin will bury my head in the sand and just be like, “Oh, there’s money in there.
I don’t know what to do.” Which actually increases my anxiety and makes it harder for me to settle. So I think it’s kind of interesting how that affects the different areas. I really like how these are intertwined here. I know for me, physical, I have really been struggling to work out recently. Some of it is like, you know, I’m needing to go to physical therapy and do some work with some pain but I’m just really struggling to move my body right now.
And I know that that impacts my emotional health, my social wellbeing. You know, I sit all day long for a living so if I move more often, it’s going to actually make me more comfortable while I’m sitting.
Okay. So how do mental health challenges show up at work? These are not hard and fast rules necessarily but if you are seeing some of these things show up for yourself, your coworkers, people that are working for you, this might clue you into to ask some deeper questions. So for depression, you know, somebody might really struggle with missing work, getting up for work, right?
And showing up for appointments, irritability, just kind of really being short, having trouble concentrating. That’s a huge symptom of depression. So I know sometimes when I’m in the midst of a depressive episode, I have all these emails, I have all these things to do on my screen, but it’s really hard for me to focus in and accomplish tasks.
So that’s something to look for with depression. And then anxiety, this can manifest as perfectionism, which I like to talk about perfectionism, not necessarily as needing everything to be perfect, but really thinking of it more as not good enough as them. So if you’re a person who struggles with feeling good enough or feels like the product that you’re putting out for work is good enough,
I would put that in the category of perfectionism because it’s not necessarily about meeting somebody else’s standards. Often, it’s our own internal standards that we’re setting too high, or we set them at a normal place and then we think, “Oh, I achieved that. So I’ve got to do the next thing” that all falls under anxiety.
And then procrastination. So if you’re a perfectionist or not good enoughist, you might struggle to accomplish tasks because you’re trying so hard to make it look exactly the way that you want it to look. And so procrastination can come into play with anxiety disorders or needing constant reassurance. So I’ve had staff members before that continue to come back to me over and over, like needing me to tell them that they’re doing a great job.
I shouldn’t have to constantly be telling my employees they’re doing a great job. Obviously I give them pats on the back all the time. But if you’re finding yourself or someone that you’re working with is needing this constant reassurance, that’s a good clue that there’s something going on internally where they’re not able to give that to themselves, or they’re not believing it when it’s coming from the outside.
And then addiction and substance use disorders. So addiction, it looks really unpredictable if you’re a person who is depending on somebody that has a substance use disorder, and that can be really frustrating, especially when we’re in the workplace and there are things that need to get done.
So it can look like not showing up for work. It can look like needing constant reassurance, right? So it can be this all of the above that I already talked about. And I saw Stefan’s question here, wanted to answer it in this moment. So for the mental side of addiction, should the body composition really matter?
So what I was talking about in terms of what is considered normal for drinking is from a health standpoint. And so that doesn’t necessarily relate to whether or not somebody has a substance use disorder. So the diagnostic criteria for the DSM actually don’t have anything to do with how much somebody is drinking because one person could be drinking more than what is the healthy recommended amount, but not actually qualify for substance use disorder. So those are two different things. Then I see here, Narissa. I hope I’m pronouncing that right. I think we’re sharing from the last slide that you’re focusing more on kids’ mental health and all the changes of virtual learning.
And I hear this a lot from parents right now. Not feeling like you should be focusing on yourself. So, one thing we talk about in my field in particular is if I, as a therapist, I’m not taking good care of myself, I might not be able to take care of my clients as much. So I always say that to parents as well,
right. We really, and it’s so hard. This is the hardest I- hats off to any parent who’s doing it. So I definitely don’t want to be judging anyone, but taking care of ourselves really, really does need to be a priority so that we’re able to be better parents, better friends, better partners, XYZ. So thank you for sharing that.
And then last here on this slide, so trauma, the way that trauma shows up at work could literally be any or all of these. And as I said before, trauma actually begets depression, anxiety, addiction, all of these things. So just something to keep in mind. Next slide please.
So I hear a lot from people that they believe that emotions are not productive and so I wanted to give a little bit of time to talk about what emotions actually are and why it’s important that we understand what they are and understand how they’re working in our lives because I think that a lot of people are actually walking around being ruled by their emotions and they have no idea that that’s actually happening.
So whether or not you were a person who considers yourself struggling with mental health issues, you have emotions, guess what? Every human has emotions. And so this next part will hopefully be something helpful for you. So there is a, I think she’s a neuro- neurobiologist. I can’t remember. I don’t know what all these brain people do, but this woman named Lisa Feldman Barrett wrote a book called how emotions are made. It’s a really good book. She is an excellent author and I actually got the opportunity to interview her for a podcast called transforming trauma.
So if you want to hear her talk about the brain and how it relates to emotions, I highly suggest it. And this blog here that I pulled this from was really working from her book. And so it talks about the brain basically makes up stories based on our bodily sensations and our past experience and current information.
So if you want to think of it like an equation, you have sensation, past experience, current information, and then the brain just kinds of makes up a story. So for example, if you want to think about say you’re on a team zoom meeting and you say something to the whole team and then you see your boss’ little box in the corner and they’re frowning. The boss is frowning, what stories might you begin to make up based on what just happened,
right? So your past experience is really going to color this, right? So you may have the body sensation, you might feel heat, right? Some people might feel embarrassed or they might feel ashamed. And so heat really comes up. So you’re tuning into that bodily sensation then you know by past experience, has your boss been unhappy with your work before?
Have they criticized you before? Or do you have a boss that’s actually been really supportive and really cares about you? So based on all of that and what just happened with them frowning, you might create a story about what’s going on and that’s what’s going on with our emotions, right? So if the story you’re telling yourself is that your boss thinks you’re an idiot,
you may feel shame. You may feel hurt. You may feel angry. If you are telling yourself the story that, “Oh, my boss is just having a bad day or that frown had nothing to do with me” then you may feel a more neutral, or you may not have any emotions at all as related to that. So you can see the way these components come together to influence the way that we think and feel, and then ultimately behave.
Next slide please.
So why should we care? Is because emotions impact our relationships and relationships impact our wellbeing at work and home. So if we use this story of seeing your boss frown on the zoom meeting, if we use that as an example, how might you act in response to, if you’re telling yourself the story that your boss is upset with you or your boss thinks you’re an idiot, how might you act in the next meeting?
Would you be angry, right? Would you be passive aggressive? Maybe you will be short. If you’re one of those people who are like, you know is something wrong, nothing I’m fine. And not actually talking about what’s happening for you. So again, just kind of a nod to employers and bosses and managers that in your work culture, are you modeling that people can come to you?
Can people be angry with you? I think as a manager, one thing that I’ve learned is it’s so important to be able to tolerate my staff being mad at me and truthfully it’s one of the hardest things that I’ve had to do but has been super important because if a staff person can come and tell me that they’re angry with me and we can actually talk about what’s happening instead of wasting a lot of time dancing around the issue.
Next slide please. How do we recognize our emotions? This is a question that I get often from clients and folks that I’ve worked with. So you can do a whole number of things. I really liked this blog here, if you want to find this little blog and follow along with it, but first you can examine the physical sensations.
And this seems to be one of the hardest things in our culture, because this is not something that we’re generally taught to do. It’s not something that’s encouraged but in the mental health field, we recognize that there is no- there’s no mind body separation. The whole like mind, body movement in the field
it’s just kind of dumb because we shouldn’t have ever separated them in the first place. So we really should be tuning into what’s going on internally in order to help us understand what’s happening in our minds. So we can examine the physical sensations, then identify what we’re feeling, right? How often do we stop and think, “Oh, I’m feeling angry right now.”
This is something that my husband really struggles with identifying his emotions and so something that we tried to do on the regular is kind of stop and be like, “Okay, I’m sensing some things, right? Like you’re getting worked up or you’re raising your voice or whatever it is, what are you actually feeling right now?”
And most of the time, because I’m very blessed, my husband is amazing and we have a lovely relationship. Most of the time, it’s something else that’s going on, right. He’s mad. It’s something that happened at work. He has a client that’s making him upset. And so he can notice for himself like, “Oh, I’m really angry at my boss or really angry at this other person.
And that’s coloring the way that I show up with you.” Notice judgments that we have. So emotions themselves aren’t a problem, it’s the behavior that we engage in based on the emotions and or the way that we judge ourselves for having those emotions. So one of the cute things that keeps coming up for a couple of my clients is they’ll have an emotion, whether it be anger or sadness, and then they’ll immediately start judging themselves and then they’ll start judging themselves for judging themselves,
right? So we just want to notice judgment, right? We don’t necessarily need to try to push it away because judging is just part of the way that the human brain works. And so we don’t want to judge ourselves for judging ourselves. We want to just notice, “Oh, I’m having a judgment about this right now.
Like, I shouldn’t feel depressed or I shouldn’t feel angry or whatever” but what I like to say is that emotions are always right, because it’s your experience and nobody can take that from you. It’s only the behavior that can be in question. So, and then the other things here you can do to help recognize emotions, be still, be quiet.
I am an avid meditator and my life has changed significantly since I began meditating regularly five years ago. So I’m a huge proponent of meditation. We can write. We can talk to somebody, whether it be a mental health professional or even just talking to a friend can be good because when we’re just going over stuff in our heads and not putting it outside of ourselves and not getting that perspective from somebody else who can reflect back what we’re saying, we’re missing a big piece to the game.
We can also listen to music. Music is empathy. So why do we love to listen to sad songs? Because they mirror back what we have experienced. So listening to music is a really excellent way to get more in tune with your emotions. Also practicing daily reflection. So can you set aside if maybe you don’t want to meditate and that’s fine.
I’m not the boss of you. I’m not gonna make you do it, but can you set aside five minutes in the morning to just sort of reflect what does my day look like? What happened yesterday? Take a daily inventory of what’s happening because we know that the more mindful we are, the more agency we feel in being able to feel like we are an actor in our lives instead of we’re just kind of being tossed about by what’s happening in the world. Next slide, please.
So I love this image because it shows the way that heat manifests in the body in terms of different emotions. So if you’re a person who really struggles to identify what it is that you’re feeling start with temperature, and you can see here all of the different emotions and how they manifest in terms of heat or cold in the body.
So the other thing that’s really important to notice here is that there are some emotions that show up with kind of similar heat profiles but again, this goes back to the story that we tell ourselves. So on the right hand side, you see surprise and then shame underneath. So those two heat maps look pretty similar.
There’s just a little more yellow in the eyes. Like Shane kind of looks like Spiderman, right? But it’s pretty much the same heat and cold profile, but what’s the difference between shame and surprise. The story that we tell ourselves, right? Because whatever physical sensations are happening as a result that create that shame, that create that surprise.
We are telling ourselves the story that then kind of dictates what we do next with that information. So again, go back to body sensations, temperature, heat, cold, when you’re trying to locate your emotions. Next slide please. So we’re not going to do this exercise today since I can’t have you unmute yourselves and chat with me, but something to think about, how do you recognize the emotions of other people?
Because we need to first recognize emotions in ourselves, but we also, in order to be adequate employees in the workplace, we have to be able to recognize them in other folks. So it’s just something to think about later, right? When you see somebody making a face, what are you telling yourself your emotion is?
What are you telling yourself their emotion is? And how accurate are you at tracking the emotions that other people are experiencing? Next slide please.
So that leads to empathy. And this is a little cartoon created based on one of Brene Brown’s talks that we’ll play real quick.
So what is empathy? And why is it very different than sympathy? Empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection. Empathy it’s very interesting. Theresa Wiseman is a nursing scholar who studied professions, very diverse professions, where empathy is relevant and came up with four qualities of empathy. Perspective taking, the ability to take the perspective of another person or recognize their perspective as their truth.
Staying out of judgment, not easy when you enjoy it as much as most of us do. Recognizing emotion in other people and then communicating that. Empathy is feeling with people. And to me, I always think of empathy as this kind of sacred space when someone’s kind of in a deep hole and they shout out from the bottom and they say, “I’m stuck, it’s dark, I’m overwhelmed.”
And then we look and we say, “Hey, calm down. I know what it’s like down here and you’re not alone.” Sympathy is “Oh, it’s bad. Uh huh. Uh, no you want a sandwhich? Empathy is a choice and it’s a vulnerable choice because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.
Rarely if ever, does does an empathic response begin with at least “I had-” yeah. And we do it all the time because you know what? Someone just shared something with us that’s incredibly painful and we’re trying to silver lining it. I don’t think that’s a verb, but I’m using it as one. We’re trying to put the silver lining around it.
“So I had a miscarriage.” “At least you know you can get pregnant.” “I think my marriage is falling apart.” “At least you have a marriage.”
“John’s getting kicked out of school.” “At least Sarah is an A student” but one of the things we do sometimes in the face of very difficult conversations is we try to make things better. If I share something with you that’s very difficult, I’d rather you say, “I don’t even know what to say right now. I’m just so glad you told me” because the truth is rarely can a response make something better.
What makes something better is connection. You can stop it there and go to the next slide, please. So empathy is crucial in relationships, and I keep saying the word relationship today, and I don’t know how often we really consider our work, coworkers and our bosses, we consider those relationships but it’s so important to be able to again, locate our own emotions and know what’s happening with other people in order to really be able to communicate in an efficient way.
So just to go over these again a little bit, staying out of judgment, right? So I talked earlier about judgment is a normal human experience. It’s something that we all do. So I like to think about, can I choose to put that judgment to the side, right? If somebody is not performing a task as quickly as I would like them to, the judgment might be, “Oh, they’re not smart enough to get this done or they’re lazy or something like that.”
But I try to actually put that judgment to the side and just meet people where they are instead of sticking with that judgment, which then colors the way that I communicate. Perspective taking, so that would be putting myself in the other person’s shoes, right? But not me and the other person’s shoes.
It’s really putting yourself in the position of that person. If you had had all of the life experiences that that person has had. In my field, I really talk about empathy. Empathy should be assumed. We should really be able to find like, if I’m struggling to have empathy with somebody, that means I need to do a better job of taking the perspective of that person because people act the way they do because of trauma, because of mental illness, because of all sorts of things that get in the way. And again, that helps me stay out of judgment. Recognize the emotion that somebody might be experiencing and then communicating the understanding of that emotion. So if we go to the next slide, I can illustrate that a little bit more clearly.
So a way that you might consider communicating with somebody else is saying like, “Oh, you seem to be angry. Is that right?” Again, at the beginning, I said to think about being curious about what another person’s experience is instead of assuming it. So you could also say something like, “I can try to assume what’s happening for you right now, but I would rather you tell me what you’re feeling” or “I can only imagine how you must be feeling right now.”
These things create space for somebody to tell us what they’re experiencing instead of us putting it on them. Now, a lot of people, especially from the corporate world will tell me “Well oh, by spending all my time talking about emotions, we’re never going to get anything done” but in fact, emotions are what get in the way of productivity
if they’re not dealt with in a healthy and direct way. So considering communicating with empathy while it might seem a little woo, woo, and fluffy, is actually going to lead to people being more happy, well adjusted, and then potentially productive in the workplace. Next slide.
So in the workplace, we have boundaries, right? There- in the way that Brene Brown defines boundaries is what’s okay and what’s not okay. And in the workplace there are certain milestones people need to meet. There are projects that need to be done. There are deadlines. And so being empathetic with somebody doesn’t mean that we don’t hold them accountable.
In fact, just this morning I said when I came on the call, I was being a big old boss today because I had to hold one of my staff accountable to their certain measures that we have to have in order to keep the business running and this person wasn’t meeting those measures. And so the boundary is, I need you to do- if you’re an employee and you’re getting the benefits of a full-time employee, I need you to do X, Y, Z.
And if you’re not doing that there needs to be some accountability. So we put a performance improvement plan in place and the initial reaction from him was feeling hurt, like I didn’t care about him anymore. And so I spent a lot of time talking about “Well tell me what you think that I think of you.”
And he was able to say, “I actually think you really care about me. And I think that you think I’m a good therapist” and so this doesn’t make sense to me. And so we just had to kind of talk about the experience of needing to hold somebody accountable and as I was sharing what was happening for me and what my responsibilities are as a boss, he was then able to recognize like, “Oh no, you actually, you do still care about me.
Like you can hold me accountable and care.” So that leads to the next piece of integrity. So if we have boundaries, integrity, and generosity, communication is going to go a lot better. So integrity would be acting with honor and truthfulness. So my staff hopefully know that I act with integrity. And so that is, they can have faith that I am going to show up in a place of integrity.
And that’s what I ask of my staff to do as well, is to continue to act with honor and truthfulness so that we can meet each other in the same place and then generosity, assuming positive intent. So we don’t want to just blanketly assume positive intent from everyone because not everybody is acting in that way, but if you have a relationship with somebody and you can probably guess that they’re not doing something intentionally to hurt you, right?
That’s one thing that I hear people, clients might say like, “Oh, so-and-so is out to get me” are they really out to get you or are they just prioritizing their own needs? And it happens to intersect with what it is that you want for yourself? So if you have a relationship with someone, can you assume that there is no negative intent that they’re actually just, they’re trying to do the best they can.
So this is sort of wrapping things up. And I just, I want to note that the things that I talked about today are pretty much on the microcosm of how we can deal with mental health issues in the workplace. There are bigger community and larger social issues that impact our wellness, especially that are happening right now.
I know one of the things that has come up especially this week after the CDCs new recommendation that vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks anymore is now there’s a mass return to work and we’re not ready for it. Psychologically we still feel like we need to protect ourselves and so I’m hearing a ton of a big spike in anxiety this week because of what’s happening on the outside.
So I just want to note that too, is that you can do everything you can to take care of yourselves and sometimes there are bigger forces at play, but if you do have mental health issues, I want to encourage you to really treat it like a chronic illness instead of just assuming that accommodations will be made,
right? We have to take care of ourselves. If we are not doing the steps that we need to do to take care of ourselves, we can’t expect other people, especially the workplace to do that for us. So next slide.
So if anything I have said today sparks a desire for help for you or for somebody else, this is what I suggest. So some larger organizations have an employee assistance program. So if you work for a large corporation that has an HR department, chances are, you probably have an EAP and you can go to HR and just say, “Hey, do I have any free sessions?”
So sometimes you get those sessions covered by a therapist, it’s like usually maybe five to eight sessions that will get covered and that’s outside of your insurance plan that pays the therapist directly. So you check that out first. If you want to find a therapist, you can look on inclusive therapist network that specifically specializes in therapists who center social justice and equality in their work.
You can also look at therapy done or psychology today. I will warn you that therapists are full. Everybody is seeking services right now and so wait lists are long. So if you have any indication that you might need support, I would suggest reaching out now because it’s going to take awhile to find a provider.
There’s also peer support groups like NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Health. So they are really a peer support organization that really focuses on mental wellness. 12 step programs, if you’re somebody who struggles with any addiction. So there’s of course, alcoholics anonymous, narcotics anonymous, there’s Al-Anon for people who are loved ones of folks with addiction, there is workaholics anonymous, there’s Overeaters anonymous, there’s all sorts of 12 step programs that you can tap into that are all free.
And they’re all online right now. So now is a good time to start because you can just log in and be completely anonymous. And then I’ve got a couple suicide prevention, domestic violence hotline, and sexual assault hotline. If you’re struggling with any of those issues, you can call those and those are absolutely free.
So that’s all I’ve got for y’all today.
Well, thank you so much Sarah. If you have any questions, obviously feel free to reach out directly, to myself or Sarah.
And I just wanted to thank you so much for joining us. This was really amazing, really helpful. I got a lot out of it, so hopefully everyone else did.
Robyn, if you want to go to the last slide, it’s got my contact info on there if people wanted to either follow my social media or listen to the podcast that I have, or if you want to try to find a therapist in my practice, I’m not accepting clients right now, but I have therapists who are at my practice.
Wonderful. Well, thanks everyone for joining us. We should have something for pride month next month. So we’ll be all over social media when we’re ready to roll that out. And again, thank you Sarah so much for joining us today.