For a long time work has been regarded as an important part of our identity – ‘who I am’ is often determined by my job. If I like my job then it is likely that I will feel good about myself. Feeling good about oneself leads to good mental health.
Some of the benefits of working include: structure for the day, interaction with people outside of family, being part of a team, and discipline (enforced activity).
Job loss can result in a significant deterioration in wellbeing which is turned around when another job is found. Being satisfactorily employed enhances psychological growth and self-esteem.
However overemployment (working long hours) couples with job insecurity can cause depression, anxiety, lead to heart attacks, and/or organisational problems such as workplace bullying or violence, or accidents. Jobs with high demands and low support from supervisors and/or co-workers carry the highest risk for psychological or physical disorders.
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Two ways people tend to cope with the stressors of work
I want to suggest that there are two ways to cope with the stressors of work:
- Being problem-focused
- Being emotion-focused.
With problem-focused coping, the person deals with their stressors by finding a solution to the problem. If they were emotion-focused, they would try to deal with their feelings and reactions to the problem and most likely avoid and be unable to solve the problem.
When someone comes to see me they are in the emotion-focused position. They feel like a failure, think they are a failure, and their actions demonstrate they are a failure. Sometimes suicide is the only option they can see. For others getting drunk, a one night stand or binge eating is how they choose to end their emotional pain.
The problem with these ways of coping is that they lead to more pain which in turn reinforces their negative feelings and thoughts of failure. The image I use is that they are like the hamster spinning a wheel …. spinning all day but not actually getting anywhere.
What can be done? Plenty
The way around it is to first understand that what they are is normal – that is, their thoughts and feelings are the result of the path they have been travelling. Secondly (this can take a while), they need to make a conscious decision to do things differently and, thirdly, keep doing things differently.
Some common things I ask people to try to do in their life differently are: building a sandcastle, having a long bath (not shower), take off your work shoes before driving home, and listening to music. Doing (legal) stuff that makes you feel good and relaxed.
Build a sandcastle? Try it – it works!
This article is based on the author’s interpretation of Mental health: overemployment, underemployment, unemployment and healthy jobs. Retrieved 10th August 2015 http://www.unisanet.unisa.edu.au/staff/maureendollard/Dollard-Winefield-2002.pdf