“I felt like someone had pulled the plug out of the socket. For two weeks, I lay on the sofa with the phone off and the front doorbell deactivated, listening to a CD of ocean sounds.” The memory of the burnout, which happened 15 years ago, is still vivid. As a young professional, I had worked non-stop for five years, often 10 to 12 hours a day, plus lots of business trips. As much as I enjoyed my job, the way I worked was not healthy. It was my experience with fatigue depression that helped me realize this. At that time, the term “mental health” was already familiar in the English-speaking world, but was still unknown in Germany.
Mental health is a concept and thus a way of looking at mental well-being that has become increasingly accepted in Germany over the past decade or so. Individual well-being, measures for maintaining or regaining inner balance, and the individual’s relationship to the environment are moving into focus, replacing the negative orientation toward psychological deficits or the limiting aspects of mental illness – marking nothing less than a paradigm shift.
The topic of mental health affects us all
Mental health is of immense importance to society and a topic that concerns us all as a personal challenge – we women in particular: According to a study by the Robert Koch Institute on health in Germany, women in all age groups have a higher subjective burden of chronic stress, burnout and depression. Therefore, it is especially important for us women to take good care of ourselves and our own needs. No one else can or should do it for us.
Statistically, almost one in four people in Germany becomes mentally ill in the course of a year – and the trend is rising. The number of sick leaves due to psychological problems has more than tripled in the last 20 years. Managers are affected just as much as salespeople, neighbors, work colleagues, family members, a sports buddy, the best friend – people like you and me.
How to stay in mental balance
What individual strategies do we need so that we can remain in mental balance even under mental stress and thus prevent illness? At this point, we should be aware that while mental health refers first and foremost to our individual mental health, it also relates equally to our involvement in society and the world of work. We are constantly exposed to external influences, and with them our mental well-being:
- Does an environment exist in the job in which we feel well or are there aspects that can make us ill in the long run?
- Do I have strengthening relationships in my private environment or are there unresolved simmering conflicts?
- Do I find the right balance between tension and relaxation in my everyday life?
If we regularly ask ourselves questions like these, we can work to correct the underlying conditions when necessary and thus take responsibility for our mental health.
Bringing professional success and performance in the job in line with the psychological balance is much easier if the working atmosphere is right and the employer is aware of his duty of care for the employees. However, the higher we have already climbed the career ladder, the greater the management span, responsibility and stress usually become. If a woman has her own company, it is immensely important to be aware of an employer’s duty of care towards herself as well – after all, the responsibility for one’s own company never quite lets go.
What can we do for our mental health?
To ensure that a permanently high work pace and commitment on the job don’t end up making you sick, it’s helpful to keep the following basics in mind:
- Pay attention to breaks during working hours and on weekends,
- Eat and drink healthy on a regular basis,
- sleep sufficiently,
- Maintain social contacts,
- Pursue hobbies such as sports, culture, etc,
- Exercise in the fresh air,
- schedule days off and vacations.
In addition, it is worth taking a bird’s eye view of one’s own life from the outside, so to speak, and asking oneself: “How am I doing right now – professionally and privately? What is my stress level? Can I cancel, delegate or postpone one of my tasks? What method can help me wind down right now?”
When we notice that we fall into the stress trap during work, even short exercises can help to reduce our stress level again. Examples include breathing exercises such as deep abdominal breathing, looking out the window, stretching exercises or gymnastics, Jacobson progressive muscle relaxation, kneading an anti-stress or hedgehog ball filled with sand.
Sometimes the first step to becoming more mentally healthy is simple: be a good friend to yourself. Because with that, a lot has already been gained.
About the author
Nora Hille was born in 1975, is happily married and has two children. She studied history, literature and media studies, worked in communications/public relations for 12 years and has now retired for health reasons. Today she writes articles on the topics of mental health and mental illness as a sufferer and experience expert. She also writes literary essays, poems (preferably haikus) and short prose. She regularly publishes her mental health column here at FemalExperts Magazine and is Editor of eXperimenta - the magazine for literature, art and society. Anti-stigma work is close to her heart: she is an encourager at Mutmachleute e.V. and is committed to Anti-Stigma-Texts against the stigmatization (exclusion) of the mentally ill in our society for more togetherness, tolerance and equality. In autumn 2023 her book "When Light Defeats Darkness" will be published by Palomaa Publishing. A book of encouragement about how to live a good and rich life despite bipolar illness - and the enormous challenge that this means every day for the inner balance of those affected.