Taming pressures in Work Life

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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…

Panic button

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 downslong 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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