Life is full of pressures. Some are good for us, some are not. Some pressures drive us, some drain our batteries. But let me start at the very beginning…
I guess it all started sometime 8-9 years ago, when co-running a design driven consultancy in London. From one moment to the next, (literally walking down the street here on a Saturday afternoon), I thought I was having a heart attack. I was in my early thirties, recklessly living out my ambitions like any immortal. I didn’t die (hence I can write this), but I did discover that my body and mind where telling me to slow down. I had crossed an invisible threshold, and was now only an instant away from my next stress induced panic attack. Something was very wrong with the life I was pursuing.
I spent the following months rebalancing myself. Doing yoga, meditating, catching up on sleep and refocusing my priorities and values. My body and mind still felt weak, but I was deeply grateful for the wake up call.
Years later reflecting back on the experience, I remember being surprised about how “it” came out of the blue — where did it come from, and why didn’t I sense it coming? I remember keeping it to myself, and more so the embarrassment of talking about it — even years later… to colleagues, family and my closest friends.
“…and more so the embarrassment of talking about it - even years later…”
Living in a happy nation
Wind that tape forwards 9 years, and today I live in Copenhagen with my wife and two young boys. I am today slightly wiser, and now well aware that “it” was connected to living a stress inducing life. As a result, I’ve chosen to relocate my life to a capital that mirrors the values I want to live by — and placed within a country ranking nr 2 on the “happy nations list”.
Last summer reading a book on lethal leadership (avialable in danish), it struck me hard that within this safehaven of happiness, we annually have a staggering 1400 deaths directly linked to work-related stress. Perhaps a rather abstract number for you reading this — yet it hits home harder, when realising work-stress takes a toll on human life that is 7x higher than that of traffic incidents. :(
In the same year stumbling across these numbers, I had sadly begun to experience close colleagues and friends dropping like flies to stress related symptoms — once again as a bolt of lightning from a blue sky. Now in the form of emotional break downs, long term sick leaves, and even quitting good jobs over night. Curiously, in the prior three years I recall only one person being away on sick-leave — and that due to a poor back…
Numbers do the talking
I began to realise, that in general something wasn’t quite right with the state of work. As I started diving further into the numbers, I discovered that things where even worse than I’d even imagined. Over 1/3 of the danish workforce (remember we’re nr 2 on the happy-list!) generally experience themselves as “very stressed at work”. Add to this, that at all times there are 35k Danes taking stress-related sick-leave from work, and work-related stress is costing danish society an astounding 27 Billion DKR annually — ouch! (I can only imagine what the global numbers might look like, and then add in the element of human despair, misery and suffering…)
OK — it was becoming pretty clear to me that there is a wicked problem in play here. And evidence was also telling me, that just maybe, I wasn’t the only person in this world challenged by work-induced stress? Which made we curios about a couple of things:
Where did my stress come from in the first place?
Why didn’t I see it coming, and why did it hit me like a bus?
Why did stress in particular hit me?
Why didn’t I get external help before, during and afterwards?
“…and would it be possible to help others avoid what I so painfully had gone through?”
Too shy to say
On the surface these are simple questions. Diving deeper into the space over the recent year, I have come to realise that the real challenge is not stress itself, but more so helping people “help themselves”. The reason being, that we today live in a society that stigmatises “mental instability”. That we live in a world, where you and me are shy to admit that work-related stress is a real challenge — not just at a financial and societal level, but at a deep down human level.
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