Written by Liv Evans, the social & content manager at Bare Biology.
I guess I’ll start by asking you a question…
How are you?
If you’re anything like me then despite how you’re feeling today your default answer to this will be something like, “yeah, I’m fine” or “not bad, you?”
Does this sound familiar? You’re not alone.
According to The Centre For Mental Health, lack of support in workplace cost the UK economy £34.9bn last year. Despite these statistics there is still a big stigma around mental health issues at work and I’ve experienced it first-hand.
I used to feel that it was unprofessional of me to show emotion. I believed that emotional = unproductive and at work I needed to be productive to make a living. My workplace fueled my belief with their ‘leave your personal life at the door’ mentality and there was an unspoken rule that we had to suck it up and get on with it.
I was battling with an eating disorder and the more I was hiding my feelings, the more it manifested. I was suffering silently and I was wearing a fake smile, it was truly debilitating. I was desperate for somebody to notice but too scared to admit that I was struggling. It was a vicious cycle and I was an anxious shell of the person I used to be.
When I started working at Bare Biology a couple of years later, things changed. I had gone from being a tiny cog in a big corporation to a big cog in a small and fast growing business. I was excited for the change but I was an anxious wreck and this sent me into a relapse with my anorexia.
I remember arriving early at the office during one of my first weeks. No one had arrived yet and I sat down to do my emails. I felt like I was going to explode with emotion. My head was foggy, my heart was racing and I was trying desperately to hold back tears. Melanie (the founder of Bare Biology) walked into the office moments later and asked me how I was. Naturally, I told her I was okay. She’s my boss, I thought, I can’t tell her how I’m really feeling. It’s worth mentioning at this point that I’m awful at hiding my emotions and my distress was probably written all over my face. I realised that she had caught on to how I was feeling. My mask had been lifted and I broke down.
This was the first time someone at work had shown me that they cared about me as a person, not just an employee. I felt embarrassed for my emotional breakdown but instead of telling me to pull myself together, she listened. She offered her support, helped me put things in place to move forward and even offered to pay for me to have cognitive behavioural therapy. Without sounding dramatic, this moment was life changing for me. I realised that I didn’t have to hide who I was at work. I needed coping mechanisms, I was running on anorexic thoughts and anxiety and eventually I would burn out. I took up Melanie’s offer and started CBT. Without that I wouldn’t be where I am today.
As a society we are definitely moving in the right direction. The Duke of Cambridge is opening up the conversation about mental well-being in the workplace with Heads Together. This is a new initiative in partnership with mental health charity Mind to bring tools, training and understanding to working environments. Being a part of a team who speak openly, I know how much of a difference this can make.
I’ve now been working with Bare Biology for over a year and a half and I feel so proud to be part of such a wonderful team. We laugh together, we cry together, we work together and most importantly we listen to each other. We take our mental health seriously and we do little things daily to help like taking our fish oil, getting outside for a quick walk or having a 10 minute nap.
I understand that this kind of support isn’t available everywhere and some jobs still require a fake smile. Trust me, I’ve been there. Ultimately the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that emotional = human and I’m ok with that. We aren’t robots and there is strength in feeling something and being honest about it. The feelings that we bury have to be dealt with eventually and ultimately you’ll be way more productive if you tackle them when they first pop up.
So, next time someone asks “how are you?” be brave and speak your truth.