It’s been a tough couple of weeks inside my head. Regular readers will know that I’ve started a course of therapy to help me better deal with the challenges around my mental health and I’ll be honest, it’s not been easy. Don’t get me wrong – I can feel a shift, I trust and believe in what we are trying to achieve but it’s difficult to overturn years of ingrained thinking.
Today for example I had what is generally described as a “panic attack”. I’ve never found that a very useful term. For one it doesn’t fully describe the range of physical symptoms and also I think calling it an “attack” means that you can become very “fight or flight” about it. Which doesn’t help. At all. Not one little bit.
I sometimes use a trick I learned from Michael Neill, terming it by the funniest or most inappropriate words I can think of (“hypotenuse fandango” was today’s considered choice). However, that doesn’t always work and certainly doesn’t deal with the underlying issues.
The actual “attack” was about two hours long but even now, 7 hours later I’m still feeling it in my chest and my hands are shaking slightly as I type. Still that’s an improvement on the racing heart, the hyperventilation and seeing things.
So this is my reality of being overwhelmed and incapable for the best part of a day. It’s based on a specific mental health condition and my responses to it. However, anxiety affects many of us on a daily basis. In organisations up and down the land we are constantly creating the conditions to produce such a response in our teams. Take this quote for example….
“We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganised. Presumably the plans for our employment were being changed. I was to learn later in life that, perhaps because we are so good at organising, we tend as a nation to meet any new situation by reorganising; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.”
This quote (often mistakenly attributed to Petronius) is from Charlton Ogburn, a US Army captain in Military Intelligence during World War 2. Yet to me it is bang up to date and strikes right to the heart of what is going on within organisations currently. Our response to the economic downturn has often been to downsize, release staff, reorganise business units, cut costs and freeze wages. No wonder that those who remain are fearful, unwilling or unable to speak out.
And it’s not just the current economic situation, (though the effects are obviously more pronounced) I’ve seen similar reactions in organisations launching change initiatives that aren’t well explained or supported fully. Initiatives which seem to have little basis or justification in the reality of the business.
Which brings me back to where I started, going through a process which I understand and embrace but aware that the transition still holds great fear for me and resistance within me. It’s why my work is starting to move more and more in to the realms of resilience and response to change. It’s why I believe that we could be doing better in organisations to help our teams cope with rapid change.
My call to action this week is simple. Take a look at what you are about to do in your organisation, have you fully considered the human cost of these changes? If not, what will you do, now you know a bit more about how it feels to be overwhelmed?