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4 ways to protect your mental health at work and at home

Emotional labour, what is it? And how can you combat it!

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Are you suffering from emotional labour?
Are you suffering from emotional labour?

Living in today’s world isn’t easy, let alone adding the fears and uncertainties around COVID-19. Whether it’s as a parent, partner or professional, we are now living in extraordinary times.

We are expected to do even more with even fewer resources and with even less time. While experiencing the intensity of social isolation and having to quickly adapt to new ways of being and working.

Put it this way, if I was a computer, I think my chip would have burnt out a few months ago!

How do we manage to keep it all together?

The easy answer is that most of us put our worries, concerns and frustrations aside. We disconnect and make compromises to get on and simply survive. We do all this while putting on a positive front – the mask that we show the rest of the world.

There’s a name for it!

When we do this, it’s actually called emotional labour. It’s when you continue to physically function, perform your duties and maintain a positive persona, when inside you either feel utterly disengaged or feel like having a complete meltdown. Sound familiar?

Labour takes many forms:

Physical labour – The guy with the hard hat and shovel repairing the road is doing labour. It’s physical. It’s takes a certain fitness to work with a pick and shovel all day.

Mental labour – Someone who spends all day banging away on a keyboard is doing labour. It’s mentally taxing. 

And then there is the silent assassin called emotional labour – A parent who spends all day with young children, trying to maintain normality, care and routine. An employee who spends all day being asked to do more with less, who’s worried about loved ones and wondering when this will all end. A manager who has to keep it all together and potentially announce redundancies, while not being certain about their own job security. They are all doing labour. It’s called emotional labour.

Emotional labour is the hardest work of all.

It’s when you hide away your feelings of fear, uncertainty and isolation. You hide away your personal and professional issues and make yourself appear the total opposite! When you engage in emotional labour, you basically control your feelings to protect your loved ones. While trying to fit in and fulfil the goals and expectations of the organisation you work for.

Emotional labour is when you say one thing and feel another. You learn to outwardly disengage with the world around you. When you do this, it can impact your ability to perform at work, your relationships with others and your mental health. 

4 ways to combat emotional labour during COVID-19: 

Rather than hiding your emotions inside, one of the most effective ways to deal with the realities of emotional labour is to arm yourself with a set of practical skills: 

# 1 – while you are outwardly trying to keep it all together, inside, it’s easy to buckle under the pressure and lose yourself to catastrophic thinking about the worst-case scenario: 

Ask yourself: 

– What is the worst thing that can happen? 

– The best thing? 

– The most likely? 

Access COVID-19 information and advice only from trusted sources and limit exposure to social media where facts can become both blurred and exaggerated.

# 2 – It’s understandable to feel a lack of control during these extraordinary times, and it’s simply not possible to influence and control everything. This skill will reduce emotional labour by enabling you to put your energy into proactive and practical action:

– Begin by listing all the things you are currently concerned about. 

– Now identify those ‘concerns’ that you feel you can influence or control. 

– Now focus ONLY on putting your energy into the things you have identified as being able to proactively influence or control. Take action!

  • Example 1: a concern might be the worldwide spread of COVID-19. We can’t influence it globally but what we can do is influence it individually through social distancing/self-isolation. A proactive stance might be to research on-line delivery outlets for foodstuff and making an inventory of food as and when orders need to be made. 
  • Example 2: you might have concerns that your boss isn’t being as supportive as possible. A way to proactively influence it might be to tell them how you are being affected and what you need.

# 3 – Acts of emotional labour tip our minds into unhelpful patterns of thinking that fuel our stress levels and poor relationships with the people around us. Take time to tune into what you are telling yourself in your head when you feel intense emotions that inevitably drive emotional labour: 

– Watch for times when you find yourself ‘jumping to conclusions.’ This could be in response to conversations at work, a COVID-19 related bulletin or an argument with a family member. Ask yourself: what evidence do I have to support my thinking? 

# 4 – Biologically, our brains are wired for the negative, and all this exposure to the COVID-19 coverage means it can be even more difficult to focus on the good things that we are grateful for. Spend some time once a day, reflecting on the positive things or experiences that you are grateful for:

– List 3 good things and then think of ways in which you can experience more of them. 

– It’s also a great way to start any team meeting off by encouraging people to ‘grab the good’ on achievements and the things people are doing well.

If you really want to make sure you continue to thrive in today’s ever-changing and ever-demanding world, you need to perceive an element of control. 

COCID-19 highlights the need to make room for emotions at home and in the workplace because the sad reality is that they’re slowly and silently come back to bite us on the behind!

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