End the Stigma Today

End the Stigma Today

Editor’s Note: Here at Dispatches, we are always looking for ways to help our readers do things. For some of our readers, that means helping navigate the working world, for others, it means assisting in the ever challenging question,what’s for dinner?” For still others, it means figuring out how to balance family life with everything else. In an effort to aid in all of these endeavors, we have collaborated on this article written specifically for our readers.

General anxiety is common. This report from Pfizer found “up to 1 in 4 adults will have an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, and that up to 1 in 10 people will have an anxiety disorder each year.” Think about those numbers. That means if you and three of your colleagues are standing at the water cooler, the chances are pretty good that one of you is dealing with an anxiety issue. You don’t have to suffer alone. Let’s collectively start thinking about mental health in the same way we think about and treat other illnesses, like the common cold, and ultimately remove the stigma.

Anxiety has a nasty way of manifesting itself in people without showing its true colors. Unfortunately, this can lead to poor job performance and unsociable behaviour. In time, this can cause all sorts of problems in your career, so you need to identify it early.

One of the reasons why anxiety isn’t so easily recognized is because it’s not easy to detect. Everyone can occasionally be anxious about things from time to time, from going to a big meeting to presenting or speaking in front of a lot of people.

Severe anxiety is much more pervasive. It can affect everything a person does from getting out of bed in the morning, to driving, to walking in the office door. It can make someone arrive late, take extra days off sick or quit a job they used to love.

It should come as no surprise work performance suffers. As a colleague or supervisor, try to put yourself in their shoes.

Perhaps your coworker is asked to do something that they aren’t comfortable with, beyond just learning a new job-related skill. If your colleague has a phobia of something and it is impacting their performance, encourage them to seek professional help. If you are the supervisor, the person may not feel comfortable discussing the issue with you.

In many office environments, there is an under-used benefit, an employee counseling service. The Fox Station I worked at in San Antonio had one, as has every other job I’ve had since. This information is usually available in benefit handouts with medical insurance information or by talking with the HR person. 


It’s never a bad idea to gently encourage someone exhibiting anxious behavior to seek outside help. If it’s applicable, consider also encouraging that person to ask about their supervisor or HR director about altering their workload. If the alterations are short-term, the person may be able to use another under-used benefit, short-term disability (if the employer offers this benefit).

Anxiety can be quelled, but it’s a long-term process that should be identified as early as possible. As a colleague, the best thing you can do is be observant about behavior changes, keep an open mind and ideally an open door and gently encourage professional help. 

Most importantly, don’t make assumptions. #EndtheStigma For more information, visit End the Stigma Today.

Returning from Vacation Advice

Memorial Day has come and gone and the annual vacation season is upon us. As I’ve address preparing for vacation in previous posts (Vacation Guilt), I thought it appropriate to discuss the dreaded (or excited) return from relaxation.

It seems there are two mind sets for those returning from vacation. One is the “don’t talk to me until next week because I’m upset that I can’t still be sipping Mai Tais.” The other is a refreshed, excited and ready to hit the ground running.

I came back as the latter. I had just enough time away to appreciate what was waiting for me at home. I can look at my daily responsibilities with a fresh (or at least fresher) perspective. The minor daily annoyances seem even more minor now.

If you’re of the former, there is a way to politely tell your co-workers that you need some time to get caught up and appropriately respond to everything that occurred while you were out. You don’t have to tell them you wish you were still on vacation.

The hardest and most time-consuming part was cleaning out my inbox. I had to wade through each one and give it the proper attention, even if it was a week old. On the advice from my co-workers, I did not set up an out of the office reply. Those who needed to know did and those who did not need to know didn’t.

The most important thing I did before I left was to make sure to write down my computer log in password. I thought I would remember it, but alas, I didn’t and had to check the post it.

Happy working!

Vacation Guilt

Photo from Daveferguson. org: Ferguson Family

If the mentality of those around you and possibly even your higher-ups is that you are lucky to have a job in this economy, how do you take much-needed personal or even vacation time without being overrun with guilt?

It is a well-known fact that United State residents take far less vacation time than any other industrialized nation. (A table on Paid Vacation Around the World can be found here and an article from Business Week on how much of available vaction time United States Residents take can be found here.)

As it is getting any time off approved in the first place can be a battle, especially with dwindling department sizes. But for your own mental health and for the good of your personal work, taking time off is important. But how can you feel like you aren’t letting people down while you are away?

I’ll be upfront and say, I don’t have the answer. I have some suggestions, but no clear-cut answer.

When I take scheduled time away, I try to make sure all pertinent projects are completed. Any projects that will be coming due shortly after I return are at least started and I have a list of what will need to be done first thing when I get back. Additionally, I make sure my supervisor knows exactly where I am in these projects so that if any one needs a status update while I am away, he has the information on hand.

These steps, don’t keep me from feeling guilty while I’m gone. I try to consciously not think about it and focus instead on enjoying the time with my friends or family. I don’t check in, unless I know I need to for a specific reason. That being said, I’m lucky. I’m not in upper or middle management and don’t need to make sure other people are accomplishing tasks in my absence.

How do you prepare for a vacation? And assuage the guilt from leaving your co-workers behind?