Wherever people work closely together, emotions can flare up. That’s normal. However, it is not always easy to deal with your own emotions or those of others. These 5 tips will help you prevent the situation from escalating and help you regain control.
1. Make room for emotions
What do you do when a colleague suddenly starts crying? We usually don’t know how to handle other people’s emotions, especially at work. We often tend to respond right away by offering advice or minimizing the problem. That’s only human, but it’s not the right response. It is much better to make room for what’s happening. Listen to what is going on and wait a moment. Let the person in question catch their breath. Confirm that you understand that it is difficult (e.g., “That sounds difficult”). After that, you can start to gently probe and ask your colleague some questions. Have they experienced something similar before? What was the solution then? Is that also possible now?
2. Everyone is entitled to 1 meltdown per month
Emotions in the workplace are perfectly normal. So just let them in. It’s good when people express themselves instead of bottling everything up. On average, one crying meltdown per month is perfectly normal – nothing to worry about. Even two is okay. Do you recognize a certain pattern? In that case, the cause may be addressed by ensuring that the colleague in question gains more self-confidence by, for example, a mentor, a buddy, a training course or other support. Or maybe the context has changed the colleague is no longer the right person in the right place.
3. Make a list of pros and cons
Is something bothering you? Write down a list of everything that is making you feel stressed or unhappy. Then write down something positive next to each point, such as things that are currently going well. That helps to put everything into perspective. You are probably feeling a lot better already. Finally, name one step you can take to improve the situation. That will be your action point and your way to solve this.
4. Write down worrying thoughts
Take that same list and note point by point what you can do about the negative items. Then schedule these activities in your calendar. By putting everyting on paper, you can literally get your worried thoughts out of your head. When you worry, it means that your mind does not want you to forget something, so you keep coming back to it. By putting it on paper and then getting to work on it, you take the anxiety out of your head. It’s as simple as that.
5. Finish the week off with a “crap session”
We don’t like to look at the negative aspects of our life. Ideally, we would like everything to be positive all the time. However, you cannot have positive emotions if you do not allow space for the negative ones too. There are two sides to every coin. To make room for the negative, you can end the week with a 15-minute crap session. Discard anything negative (by noting it down, for instance) and then finish the week. The following Monday, you can then use the first 15 minutes of your working day to prepare your schedule. What do you want to start with? What will you focus on? What will you avoid? This way, you also create space in your head, and you do not feel that continuous pressure and urgency.
6. Communicate openly and inviting
Do you know what you are worth and what you want? Then talk about it in such a way that people naturally grant it to you. Don’t wait obsequiously until it’s your moment. Seize the moment! But don’t claim this position in a dominant manner either. Somewhere in between is perfect. Try to find a neutral, inviting attitude. You will notice that this way of communicating attracts people who will help you to get closer to achieving your goal.
7. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
The problem today is that we take ourselves too seriously. This is reinforced by the illusion of perfection created by (social) media. The reality? Life is more doom and gloom than celebration. The trick is to celebrate during the doom and gloom. Is something not working? Think of it as a monopoly game: go back to start and try again. Does this approach work? Make it a ritual. It doesn’t work? Try something different. And embrace the process. Because in the end it is the process that matters, not the result.
It is perhaps the greatest challenge for working people: maintaining the balance between professional and private life. To get and keep this balance healthy, it is important to be aware of the pitfalls. And there are many. In this blog, we will discuss the three most important ones. We also give another golden tip to help you determine for yourself whether you are still OK.
Pitfall 1: being overwhelmed because of lack of structure
We are inundated daily with information, tasks, and other people’s expectations. There is often a lack of habits, structure, planning, and communication. Consequence: things go wrong. Because everyone walks around with different expectations. And if no clear agreements are made within a solid structure, this can be a recipe for disaster. So, make sure there is enough structure and planning so that misunderstandings (and the consequences of these) do not stand a chance.
Pitfall 2: Staying in your comfort zone for too long
Staying in your comfort zone is human. It gives you the illusion of peace and control. But if you stay there too long, everything becomes boring and predictable. You may start projecting this feeling onto other aspects of your life, such as your relationship. So don’t make it too easy for yourself. And regularly take yourself out of your comfort zone by doing something less familiar, for example. Compare it to juggling: dropping the ball every now and then is part of the process and keeps you on your toes.
Pitfall 3: not enough self-care
Self-care means paying sufficient attention to sleep, nutrition, exercise and leisure. The latter is especially important because it is your recovery time. Make sure you get a healthy mix of exercise and time to literally do nothing. Thirty minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day ensures that substances associated with stress are reduced in the brain. But also just doing nothing and watching the grass grow is extremely beneficial. Nowadays, we don’t do this nearly often enough because we are all constantly focusing on our smart devices. However, it is an excellent way to clear your head.
Top tip: check in with yourself
How do you keep track of yourself to avoid slipping into an unhealthy work-life balance or an overly stressful work situation without noticing it? Simple: schedule fifteen minutes for yourself on the 1st day of each month. Start with the ideal quadrant exercise and see if you are still doing the right things to achieve the right level of satisfaction.
Then check your stress level. A good way of doing this is by calculating your APGAR score. This is a number from 1 to 10 that is used in neonatology to assess the health of newborn babies.
You can use an alternative Apgar test to determine whether you are experiencing toxic stress. You can keep track of your stress levels by answering the questions below. If you answer “yes” to more than 2 of the 5 questions, it is time to act. Try to figure out what it is that throws you off balance and talk about it with your supervisor.
Appearance: Is there a sudden change in your appearance, weight, sleeping pattern, or substance use?
Performance: Do you feel like you are suddenly over or underperforming?
Growth tension: Can and do you want to take in new information?
Affect control: Can you control your emotions and frustrations?
Relationships: Is there a sudden noticeable change in social interactions?
Note: this test has no diagnostic value. It is only a tool to help you recognize in time that you are possibly overstepping your boundaries.
Can you make your job more enjoyable? Yes, you can! We refer to this as jobcrafting. All you need is a pen and paper as well as a clear view of your tasks and responsibilities. Let’s get started!
The ideal quadrant
In order to get started with jobcrafting, you must first determine your ‘ideal quadrant’.
Take a look at your job description and answer the following questions:
Which tasks do you enjoy? Or don’t enjoy?
What do you feel competent in? Or not competent?
Plot these two parameters on a four-quadrant diagram. The quadrant containing both ‘tasks you like doing’ and ‘tasks in which you feel competent’ is your ideal quadrant. In an ideal world, 85% of your tasks would be in this one. Is this not the case? Then you can start jobcrafting.
Time to negotiate!
The least ideal quadrant is the combination of ‘not competent’ + ‘no desire’. These tasks cost you a lot of energy. If you have too many of them, it can lead to pathogenic stress. These tasks should be negotiated with your supervisor and teammates. Maybe a colleague can take over or you can swap tasks? Or are you simply no longer the right person in the right place? In any case, you should preferably have as few tasks as possible in this quadrant.
Get out of your comfort zone
There are usually many tasks in this quadrant, and this makes sense. You start your job based on several skills and things you can do well. The environment expects you to do keep on doing this, but it does not give you any energy. In other words, you are in your comfort zone and experience little challenge. This is a pitfall for stress-related problems. You can solve this by organising your work differently or adjusting the context. Change your workplace, for example. Or do a task together with a colleague. These do not have to be major changes. Play with it and experiment.
For the tasks in this quadrant, the solution is simple: take training courses, ask for explanation, train yourself, and, in other words, ensure that you do become competent for these tasks. It is a good rule to spend 10% of your working time developing new skills within the same responsibility. It’s a good way to stimulate job satisfaction. Knowing that people tend to hold on to fixed habits, it is good to encourage yourself to take up these 10% challenges.
How do you keep your work exciting in the long run?
In the long run, it is wise to keep looking for ways to make your job a little more challenging for yourself. Do take your family situation into account, however. And take things step by step. Your energy level should not be impacted. You can compare your energy to a bowl full of sweets. If you take out too many sweets, the bowl is empty. Make sure you always have some sweets left. This is a balancing act. Again, 90% versus 10% is a good ratio: 90% satisfaction/stability versus 10% splurge/challenge. This relationship can also be applied to life in general as well as to relationships.
Job satisfaction. It has become a catch-all term. And everyone interprets it differently. For some, it is euphoric happiness while for others, it is simply being content. There are also many theories about it.
Job satisfaction: what is it?
In short, job satisfaction can be reduced to 3 aspects:
Faith in yourself and what you are worth (depends on your talents and skills)
Faith in the environment and in the world (depends on the connection you feel)
Trust that you can mould the world in such a way that you are seen and recognised (strongly linked to the meaning that you experience in your job).
If these three elements are sufficiently and evenly present, we can speak of job satisfaction.
In all this, the context is also quite important. What kind of environment do you need to feel comfortable? And when are your talents revealed in the best light?
Job satisfaction: a shared responsibility
Today, too much of the responsibility for job satisfaction lies with the employees themselves. At the same time, it is an illusion that the employer controls the happiness of their employees. Conclusion: job satisfaction is a shared responsibility of employers and employees.
This means that employers have a duty to create an environment in which every employee can reach their full potential and become the best version of themselves. What this environment looks like depends on your company’s strategy, market position and drivers. It is always possible to create the ideal conditions for job satisfaction. But it requires a certain amount of organisation and an open mind. Ideally, as a company, you should offer some kind of menu from which your employees can choose.
It is up to the employees to find out for themselves what makes them happy at work (see also next point) and to pick from this menu. If flexibility in the form of remote working is an option, it goes without saying that employees should not abuse it. An extensive menu offering healthy choices is an excellent basis for a pleasant and dynamic working atmosphere.
How can you discover what gives you job satisfaction?
In order to know what can bring you job satisfaction, you must first determine for yourself where you want to go. What is your goal? This could be a particular job or a specific company you would like to work for. Or skills you would like to develop further. A goal gives you direction and focus and is a prerequisite for job satisfaction.
When it comes to job satisfaction, we often look at the talents and skills that someone has and focus strongly on these insights. That in itself is not wrong. But it does not provide enough information if that goal is not clear. Only when your goal is clearly defined can you evaluate whether you are doing well and whether you are able to use your talents sufficiently.
You can determine this goal for yourself by asking yourself the question: ‘What would I still like to do in my life?’ You must first think about it regardless of all the possible limitations (such as time, budget, and family situation). You must then make a distinction between what is feasible in the short term and what needs more time. Finally, you must feel what appeals to you the most. That is your starting point.
What if your job just doesn’t allow for job satisfaction?
It is perfectly possible that within the boundaries of your job, there are few or no elements that can provide job satisfaction. Nevertheless, it is still possible to experience job satisfaction in such a context. How? By considering job satisfaction as the sum of several factors. Maybe the job itself is not much fun, but still gives you the opportunity to make your personal dreams come true. Or maybe you don’t like the tasks you have to perform, but you work in a pleasant team with nice colleagues. Conclusion: job satisfaction is much broader than the job itself. By putting this into perspective, you can make it a lot easier to actually enjoy your job.
Make sure that it’s not a lonely Christmas – for yourself and for others
The corona measures currently in place mean that we are cut off from all meaningful social contact. This can make us feel lonely, which impacts on our resilience. While the festive season is traditionally a time for being together, the end of 2020 threatens to shine the spotlight on our loneliness. Rather than giving in to this feeling, let’s make sure that we have a warm festive season, and keep those we hold dear close.
Loss of resilience
The second lockdown is possibly having even more of an impact than the first, and is sapping the last bit of resilience that we had. The most recent health survey shows that one in five people are prone to depressive thoughts, and almost a quarter are suffering from anxiety. While 35% of the respondents were dissatisfied with the level of social contact in September, this has now grown to 65%.
And, to top this off, we can’t celebrate a normal Christmas, the most important social occasion that we love so much, putting extra pressure on our resilience.
Social relationships are the glue that hold society together
We flourish thanks to our social contacts. Maintaining and preserving our social relationships are important for our sense of well-being. Contact with our families, but happenstance meetings too, ensure that we feel connected to the group, that we feel secure, and that we can motivate ourselves to make extraordinary efforts for others – in this case to comply with the measures in place and help to ‘flatten the curve’.
Of course, loneliness was a problem before corona, but these are just the right conditions that this ugly beast needs to thrive. And this is not without risk: loneliness contributes to the loss of that o so important resilience and functionality and leads to emotional problems.
Our young people in particular need their social contacts and are entitled to their social experimental phase. After all, it is in this important phase that they form their identity and become ready to contribute to society as future adults. This social experimentation phase has been taken from them for many months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Even worse, when our young people display natural behaviour, we wag our finger.
While the coronavirus pandemic has put pressure on our basic need for social contact for many months, we will feel this all the more keenly at Christmas. We all know the rules – or at least we should do by now: a family can have one ‘cuddle contact’ and a single person can have two. That’s the theory, but what does it look like in practice? What if those two cuddle contacts are invited to visit their own families? That means you celebrate Christmas alone.
It is therefore more important than ever to develop an inspiring and engaging narrative, to get through this abnormal festive season in the most resilient way we can. The constant focus on the restrictions to our freedom is demotivating, while an inspiring objective can achieve the opposite. We need to shift the mindset from restriction to a positive message. Covid-19 has pushed us into a dark tunnel, of which we cannot yet see the end. We lack perspective and control, which is why we need to make sure that we don’t give up, but that we create our own perspective in which we can take control. In other words, we need to use our resilience to make it through the corona tunnel and out the other side.
The warmest Christmas
So, what do I propose? We have seen that this pandemic does not follow statistical models. In that case, let’s play the humanity card and form a team of 11 million, in which no-one gets left out.
To start with, a certain responsibility for this lies with our public services and government bodies. For them the task to provide the population with the tips & tricks that they need, inspiring narratives and distractions from the sometimes-hard reality. The live show ‘Christmas with 11 million’, put together by the normally competing channels Eén, VTM, VIER, La Une and RTL-TVI, is a step in the right direction to unite and motivate the population in this period. We can all build on the feeling of togetherness that this creates, for example by enjoying the programme with family and friends using online tools such as Watchparty.
We also need to organise alternative routes for our single people, our young people and anyone who needs a little relief from the family. An example could be to organise a walk or a torchlight procession on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day (taking the corona measures into account).
Above all, we need to take care of ourselves and each other. Doing something for someone else can contribute to our own happiness. Perhaps we could use the time that we normally spend eating and drinking on Christmas Day to help out in an old people’s home. Or we could talk to someone on the phone who is going through a difficult time or feeling lonely. It’s not much, but it can make a world of difference. Why not give a flower or a home-made meal to someone who is alone this festive season, or post a card through their letter box? However small the gesture, it helps people to feel less alone. However, it is also important to recognise the tipping point in other people, and to make sure that they get the right help when necessary.
And so we can be part of a larger whole, do something meaningful and help others to have a warm Christmas. Perhaps the warmest Christmas ever?
Once again, difficult decisions have been made. A new Corona-wave is flooding us. Once again, we are facing an uncertain time and we don’t know when it will be over. This is a huge challenge for our well-being and functioning.
Na de lockdown, waar medici ons gedrag bepaalden om de curve van COVID-19 te controleren, zijn wij aan zet. We krijgen meer bewegingsvrijheid en daarmee ook direct de verantwoordelijkheid om de curve verder controleerbaar te houden. Hoelang? Dat weet niemand. Het is dus vrijheid met randvoorwaarden. Het nieuwe normaal. Het is dus in ons allerbelang dat we enkele rituelen installeren
In a few months time the current global lockdown due to the coronavirus is going to result into a massive outbreak of burnouts and stress related disorders, says professor Doctor Elke van Hoof of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium. Half of the world population could be impacted. This is going to come at another great cost, and the world needs to get ready for this next wave now.
BY JOPIE WITZAND
The groups most at risk are women, families with young children, healthworkers, the elderly and those who have a very limited social network. They could suffer from stress, anxiety, anger, irritability, emotional, insomnia, exhaustion, depression, alcohol abuse, self-medication, long-lasting “avoidance” behaviour and post-traumatic stress symptoms. The list is endless and it is going to involve a lot of people.
Professor Dr Elke Van Hoof is a professor in health psychology and primary care psychology at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and serves as an expert for the Superior Health Council of Belgium and the European Parliament.
She bases her predictions on studies and examples of how people respond to extreme situations, ranging from absenteeism in military units after deployment in risk areas, companies that were close to Ground Zero in 9/11 and medical professionals in regions with outbreaks of Ebola, SARS and MERS.
Elke van Hoof says that in China these expected mental health effects are already being reported in the first research papers about the lockdown, and states that the world needs to prepare for this Corona PTSD pandemic.
Billions of people across the globe are currently under some form of government-mandated lockdown. The aim is to curb the spread of the coronavirus and prevent health systems from being overrun. But forcing people to stay at home for weeks or months on end is resulting in unprecedented economic shocks to societies around the world. With unemployment figures accelerating, so too is the debate about how and when to end the lockdowns. Several reports have concluded that social distancing measures can only be withdrawn completely once a vaccine against Covid-19 has been developed and deployed. So, until then how do policymakers balance protecting the health and wealth of citizens? Paul Henley and a panel of expert guests discuss the practicalities of getting people back to work before a vaccine arrives. Widespread electronic tracing of our movements is key to restoring our freedoms, but can that testing capacity be met and will people balk at having their movements tracked? And, in this strange new world, which parts of society will be the first to return to some semblance of normality, which might follow, and which will be transformed beyond recognition?
While we’re treating the COVID19 pandemic, we are creating a second epidemic – which we’re ignoring
Anxiety, stress and PTSD will cause a spike in absenteeism and burnout three to six months after the lockdown ends
With some 2.6 billion people around the world in some kind of lockdown, we are conducting what is arguably the largest psychological experiment ever. Unfortunately, we already know what it will result in: a second epidemic of burnouts and stress-related absenteeism for the second half of 2020. We are late to address the psychological side of this pandemic, but it’s never too late to act.
Author: Prof. Dr. Elke Van Hoof, trauma psychologist
In that second triage post, victims and witnesses who were not physically harmed receive first psychological help and are checked for signs that they need further post-traumatic treatment. In those situations, the World Health Organization recommends protocols like R-TEP (Recent Traumatic Episode Protocol) and G-TEP (Group Traumatic Episode Protocol).
Since France led the way more than twenty years ago, international playbooks for disaster response increasingly call for this approach of building “two tents”: one for the wounded and one to treat the invisible, psychological wounds of trauma.
But we’re not setting up the “second tent” for psychological help, and we will pay the price within three to six months after we come out of this unprecedented lockdown, at a time when we will need all able bodies to help the world economy recover.
And unfortunately, we already have a good idea of what it will result in.
In late February 2020, right before European countries mandated various forms of lockdowns, The Lancet published a review of 24 studies documenting the psychological impact of quarantine*. The findings offer a glimpse of what is brewing in hundreds of millions of households around the world.
In short, and perhaps unsurprisingly, people who are quarantined are very likely to develop a wide range of symptoms of psychological stress and disorder, including low mood, insomnia, stress, anxiety, anger, irritability, emotional exhaustion, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Low mood and irritability specifically stand out as being very common, the study notes.
In China, these expected mental health effects are already being reported in the first research papers about the lockdown.
In cases where parents were quarantined with children, the mental health toll became even steeper. In one study, no less than 28 percent of quarantined parents warranted a diagnosis of “trauma-related mental health disorder”. (Jokes on the internet are already suggesting that any babyboom resulting from the lockdown will consist entirely of first-born children.)
In hospital staff that was quarantined, almost 10 percent reported “high depressive symptoms” up to three years after being quarantined. Another study reporting on long-term effects of SARS quarantine among health-care workers found long-term risk for alcohol abuse, self medication and long-lasting “avoidance” behavior. Meaning: years after being quarantined, some hospital workers still avoided being in close contact with patients by simply not showing up for work.
Reasons for stress abound in lockdown: there is risk of infection, fear of becoming sick, of losing loved ones, as well as the prospect of financial hardship. All these stressors, and many more, are present in this current pandemic.
The second epidemic – and setting up “the second tent” online
Already, we see a sharp increase in absenteeism in countries that went into lockdown. People are afraid to catch COVID19 on the workfloor, and avoid work.
But we will see a second wave of impact in three to six months. Just when we need all able bodies to repair the economy, we can expect a second, sharp spike in absenteeism and burnout.
We know this from many examples, ranging from absenteeism in military units after deployment in risk areas, companies that were close to Ground Zero in 9/11 and medical professionals in regions with outbreaks of ebola, SARS and MERS.
In our own research we can see resilience in the (Belgian) population sliding as we go into the third week of the lockdown.
Right before the lockdown, we conducted a benchmark survey among a representative sample of the Belgian population. In that survey, we saw that 32% of the population could be classified as highly resilient (“green”). Only 15 percent of the population indicated toxic levels of stress (“red”).
In our most recent survey after two weeks of lockdown, the green portion shrunk to 25% of the population. The “red” part of the population increased by 10 percentage points to fully 25% of the population.
These are the people at high risk for long-term absenteeism from work due to illness and burnout. Even if they stay at work, research from Eurofound reported a loss of productivity of 35% for these workers.
In general, we know that the at-risk groups for long-term mental health issues will be the health care workers who are in the front line of this war on the corona virus, young people (< 30) and children, the elderly and those in precarious situations, such als mental illness, disabilities and poverty.
Actually, all this should surprise no one, as the insights on the long-term damage of disasters have been accepted in the field of trauma psychology for decades.
Source: Beverly Raphael (1986). When disaster strikes.
But while the insights are not new, the sheer scale of these lockdowns is. This time, ground zero is not a quarantined village or town or region. Today, a third of the global population is dealing with these intense stressors.
We need to act now to mitigate the toxic effects of this lockdown.
What governments and NGOs can and should do today
It helps that there is broad consensus among academics about the psychological care following disasters and major incidents.
A few rules of thumb:
Make sure self-help interventions are in place that can address the needs of large affected populations
Educate people about the expected psychological impact and reactions to trauma if they are interested in receiving it. Make sure people understand that a psychological reaction is normal.
Launch a specific website to address psychosocial issues.
Make sure that people with acute issues can find the help that they need
In Belgium, we recently launched “Everyone OK”, an online tool that tries to offer help to the affected population. Using existing protocols and interventions, we launched our digital self-help tool in as little as two weeks.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel.
When it comes to offering psychological support to their populations, most countries are late to react – as they were to the novel coronavirus. But better late than never.
Brooks et al. (2020) The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. Lancet; 395: 912–20
IASC (2020) Briefing note on addressing mental health and psychosocial aspects of COVID-19 Outbreak- Version 1.1
Jalloh MF, Li W, Bunnell RE, et al. (2018) Impact of Ebola experiences and risk perceptions on mental health in Sierra Leone, July 2015. BMJ Glob Health;3
Jones, David. (2020). History in a Crisis — Lessons for Covid-19. New England Journal of Medicine. 10
Qiu J, Shen B, Zhao M, et al. A nationwide survey of psychological distress among Chinese people in the COVID-19 epidemic: implications and policy recommendations. General Psychiatry 2020; 33
WHO (2020) Mental Health and Psychosocial Considerations During COVID-19 Outbreak
Prof. Dr. Elke Van Hoof is a clinical psychologist and an authority in the fields of stress, burn-out and trauma. She is a professor in health psychology and primary care psychology at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and serves as an expert for the Superior Health Council of Belgium and the European Parliament. She is the founder of Ally Institute.
(* We use “quarantine” and “lockdown” interchangeably here, as they both refer to the “restriction of movement of people who have potentially been exposed to a contagious disease”. This is different from “isolation”, which is the separation of people who have been diagnosed).