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Structure, Mindfulness, Professional Support: What Really Helps Against Mental Load

Corona is a stress test for the psyche. That's why it's more important than ever to look after yourself and take warning signs seriously. Thomas Schneevoigt, coach for psychodynamic processes, on unresolved conflicts, the best prevention to deal with mental load and surprising findings from research

This article is also available in German

Mental Health is the topic of our time. And it has been on the agenda even before Corona. Why do we talk about it so much now?

Because the problem has worsened. According to the RKI (October 2020), almost 28 percent of adults in Germany are affected by a mental disorder; not counting adolescents and children, who are also suffering massively from the crisis. This has an enormous impact not only on the quality of life, but also on life expectancy. People with mental illness die on average ten years prematurely. All three risk triggers, as defined by the WHO, are amplified by the pandemic. This is a massive outbreak and an unprecedented one. Number one, individual characteristics, including genetic and biological traits. Second, environmental factors, such as social and economic policies. Third, social conditions, such as socioeconomic background and lifestyle, educational and working conditions. This means that already existing mental disorders appear for the first time or reemerge, especially if they have not been treated or have been well managed.

What are the most common issues/problems that people come to you with?

Without going into the individual cases, I can state that: Overall, many clients have conflicts at work or in their current relationship. However, the actual problem is rooted much deeper. The situation at work or dissent in the relationship is more of a symptom. The actual cause lies in earlier experiences, in childhood or, in the broadest sense, in the family. In the case of fear of loss, this might also go back to the generation of grandparents who lost everything in the Second World War, for example. Such traumatic experiences can be transferred and are stored in us. In the suitable setting, such as pandemic, they become active. On the other hand, people also become aware of their inner conflicts due to isolation and the lack of distraction. In this sense, the crisis is an accelerator, pressuring the feeling of suffering, it urges people to deal with it personally. And speaking about business, my clients also expect a certain behavior from managers. And they too have fears, panic and their own issues.

“It is important to observe and treat oneself with care, to consciously experience emotions and not to suppress them”

So what are proposed solutions – beyond the individual case?

First of all, in order to understand the principle of coaching and to be able to classify it correctly, it is important that I, as a coach, do not give any specific suggestions for solutions. I work together with my clients at eye level to strengthen their self-management or their role identification. I support their self-reflection. It is almost impossible for an affected person to resolve inner conflicts without additional help. Basically, it is important to observe and to treat oneself with care, especially now, to consciously experience emotions (fear, panic, anger, sadness, etc.) and not to suppress them. To take feelings and physical signals seriously and not to try to figure things out by yourself. General proposed solutions: During the pandemic I found that before, during or after a coaching process, depending on the client’s condition, there are simply a few things to be sorted out or reconsidered: Pay attention to the physical condition, go for a medical check-up and do sports. If you additionally worry about your physical health in a crisis, you will add to your suffering. Secondly, critically review your social and job environment: Do you benefit from people around you or do they additionally strain your energy? Altruism has a positive effect on the psyche, but you should still ask yourself whether you are at all capable and have enough resources to help others. Regarding the job, you should also reflect – at the right time, of course: Am I the type of person for self-employment or permanent employment? And, finally, sort out and arrange your things. In other words, don’t put off your tax return any longer and also check your finances as a whole. It’s an individual case, but in my experience it helps a lot.

Women in particular tend to struggle more with these issues, because they do a disproportionate amount of care work, also known as mental load. What can you specifically advise them to do?

This may sound paradoxical, but corona crisis has also had a positive effect, in the way that men became aware of how tedious and exhausting care work is. I would like to motivate women to set themselves apart from the rest of the population. As a mother, you should also think of yourself and not put the alleged well-being of the child above everything else. Keyword: Quality time. Women should dare to express their honest needs and free themselves from the perfection trap. This is often based on traditional or adopted behavior patterns. It applies to both genders, by the way. And another little exercise for reflection: Think about who you were when you were lying naked on the changing table, i.e. before parents, grandparents, teachers, etc. told you who you are, what you should definitely do and what is best for you. It’s all about finding out: What was I like as a child? Was I an adventurer and have now ended up in the business world? Was I an introverted child and now I have to constantly present in front of people and on stages, even though I am ‘dying’ of fear?

“Women should dare to express their honest needs and free themselves from the perfection trap”

If you can classify this internationally, are Germans struggling with other problems, for example because they are very security-conscious. Keyword: German fear?

On average in the EU, Germans suffer from mental illness more than average. Nevertheless, in a business context I would doubt that ‘German fear’ is the right term. What I can see is that the uncertainty is very high. This is also due to the fact that professional status is of enormous importance in Germany. In times of upheaval in the famous VUCA world, this has a powerful effect. For decades, German companies have made sure that employees remain loyal to their organization from training to retirement. For generations, mobility, the necessary flexibility and in some cases also the responsibility for their own competence management, was taken away. The expectations for younger generations are opposite. Career starters of the last ten years are rather irritated by long notice periods and fear for their spontaneity to change jobs in time. They are well educated and, as the generation of heirs, they are economically freer; sometimes they are more daring.

What is the responsibility of companies in this context? They are just beginning to address this issue – one could also say: To take it seriously.

The companies have a great self-interest in adapting their organization to the demands. After the wave of overpowering corporate structures, the trend is now in the opposite direction. It is all about being fast and effective. Employees work e.g. in agile teams and/or in the home office and ask the question of ‘WHY’. Many employees and managers are not yet able to keep up with the VUCA requirements and need to be accompanied more strongly on the path of transformation. Executives will give up their previous function. But young employees and trainees also need orientation when everything is ‘agile’. It, therefore, makes sense not to swear companies, managers and employees to ‘one new model’, but to support them in dealing with uncertainty and change. They must be given access to training and further education, as well as individual guidance on the necessary skills. But they must also take on much more personal responsibility in the future.

Thomas Schneevoigt is a certified coach for psychodynamic processes. He was previously employed as an executive in the commercial and financial departments of a corporate group for many years. People in globalization, glocalization and digitalization move him. Together with his wife Vera Schneevoigt and friends, Anabel Ternès von Hattburg and Johannes Ebner-Link, they founded the company Guiding for Future’ in the summer of 2020, to provide expertise on topics relating to healthy digitization and sustainability. With a strong expert network of coaches, trainers, mentors, speakers and moderators, they see themselves as hosts, customer advocates, impulse generators, networkers and solution finders.

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