How COVID-19 Is Impacting Men in Business
Lou Banks, founder and CEO of Rising Vibe, writes about the mental health impacts of the current crisis on men in business.
What kind of impact is the virus having on the mental health of employees – what are the main worries?
Depression ‘was’ predicted to be the biggest health problem in the world by 2030 (World Health Organisation) before COVID-19 hit. This will now be ‘fast forwarded’. The fact that this is a world pandemic there is literally NOWHERE right now to look for reassurance. Those of us who suffer regularly with what at Rising Vibe we call very low vibe emotions (e.g. depression, despair, fear, helplessness, anxiety) will be feeling the magnification of these emotions as we experience this unprecedented crisis. What we are hearing from our clients as their main worries are: losing their job (therefore losing money, losing a career they enjoyed, losing a team they were part of), getting the virus (natural health anxiety at a time like this) and people they care about getting the virus (fear of losing loved ones) and coping with isolation (being ‘stuck’ with the same people all of the time – and some of these people we don’t ‘like’ or feel safe with – missing our friends and family and therefore feeling the loss of connection with our various ‘tribes’, and feeling excluded from the workplace as we work from home).
What we know to be true about men is that they struggle more than women to talk about how they feel, and right now being open and honest about how we are feeling is more critical than ever. Relationship breakdown (1st) and work (2nd) are the biggest trigger points for male depression. Relationships will be tested and work is impacted significantly already with redundancies and furloughing. Men also see ‘a struggle’ as weak, and ‘being weak’ is the biggest shame trigger for men – so bearing all of this in mind we have to be focused here more than ever otherwise those suicide stats are going to be increasing.
How can employees manage the situation?
Where we focus our attention is critical right now. Engaging ONLY with media that is providing factual information to keep us informed and bring important perspective is key. We don’t need any help going to catastrophic thinking right now, so stay away from media focusing on the catastrophes. The pictures of the new NHS Nightingale Hospital is a simple example of how powerful our thinking is, and our thinking will be impacted by our focus. When I saw all of the beds in the hospital I thought ‘this is going to save so many lives’, my 11yr old daughter said ‘look how many people will die’. Same picture, different focus, different thought, different emotion; hope versus fear. Asking people to be positive right now is extremely unhelpful. Most people are too far away from positivity. Focusing on what ‘might’ work, what ‘might’ go right or what ‘might not’ happen (when we are fearful of something bad happening) is the most helpful thing all of us can do ourselves, and encourage others to do with us.
For SME owners, how can they begin to steer their way through this situation?
Similar to the answer above ref focus. What CAN you control? What decisions do you need to make to gain more control – or take full control of what it is that you CAN do? Those decisions may feel uncomfortable, but by staying focused on what it is that you want to achieve (probably survival of your business right now) you are more likely to take that uncomfortable action. Avoid focusing on things you cannot control at ALL costs. Focus on the fact that you are not alone. Many SME owners are experiencing what you are – and when you focus there it can feel comforting and ‘safer’. Can you take your offer online? If so focus there. Reach out and ask for support. Not necessarily for answers, but purely emotional support right now is key. Momentary collapse is more helpful than a brave face. Also reach out for financial support – freeze payments, reduce payments – make contact with anyone that has a financial impact on your business. Right now they actually have no choice but to support you with this.
What are the biggest stresses for business owners?
Cashflow; losing clients, diminished pipeline, paying bills, repaying debt, clients not paying o/s invoices. Team (if they have them); conversations around laying them off, making them redundant – feeling the shame, guilt, helplessness of that. Confidence; not being able to cope (especially men), feeling a sense of ‘failure’, fearing judgment – all of these knocking our feelings or self-belief and worth which impacts our confidence levels. And on top of this we are coping with the added worry of the virus itself ref health whilst working in a different way (which will be very new for some) and missing our family and friendship connections.
What role does uncertainty have on the working world in general?
We are hard-wired (reptilian brain) to scan for danger on a ratio of 5:1; we need 5 ‘positive’ experiences of something to override 1 ‘negative’ experience. We are constantly scanning for danger and threat day to day. It’s what kept us alive millions of years ago, and (unfortunately) we still function in this exact same way – the only difference is that the trigger is no longer a sabre toothed tiger (perhaps now a key stakeholder that we don’t connect with!). So we easily ‘delete’ information that might in reality be helpful/reassuring because that won’t protect us. This means when we ‘don’t know’ and uncertainty kicks in, we fill that gap with negatives, problems, fears, catastrophes – always worst case scenario – BUT with practice you can change neural pathways. I go immediately to worst case and I have taught myself to focus on ‘what else might be the case?’ ‘what can I learn here?’ ‘what’s might the best case be here?’
Men are prone to dealing with their worries alone – is that a dangerous thing in these times?
Absolutely – see my comments ref men and emotions in response to question one. Unfortunately we can’t ‘make’ anyone talk, feel better or do anything – we can influence it, but we can’t control it. If we are more in control of our own focus and thinking we are more likely to influence. For example attempting to ‘make a man open up’ when you yourself are low vibe (i.e. anything from irritated and stressed, to angry and anxious) is not going to work. The only way that this might happen (and it will be his choice by the way, we won’t be able to ‘make’ him do anything) is by engaging and interacting from a calm and compassionate place – and KEEP DOING IT. What we tend to do is give up when something doesn’t happen the first or second time – never particularly helpful, and when it comes to men sharing real emotions (and some women too) we have to KEEP SHOWING UP until they feel safe enough to go there. We tend to find that people give up quickly with these emotional interactions because they are uncomfortable themselves addressing it, and will then ‘blame’ the fact it’s not working for the reason they stopped. This might take 2 weeks, 2 months or 2 years. There’s no quick fix to this, and everyone is different.
Can you give us some practical tips we can all make use of?
Using these questions with yourself, and others, can really help (and remember someone has to be open to helping themselves, and sometimes we are so low vibe it can feel impossible to do that – so again we must keep showing up):
- Where’s your focus of attention?
- Are you focused on what is or might go wrong, or what is or might go right?
- Are you embroiled in the problem, or focused on what you want to achieve instead?
- What might help you shift your thinking to a more ‘what’s right’ and what you want to achieve focus instead?
We are only looking for 1% improvement at a time. Focus on baby step improvements and then momentum will build.
What do you think the future will be for employees and businesses after this crisis? What do you think will change??
Right now we are seeing a lot of leaders being ‘forced’ to have conversations about mental health and wellbeing that they’ve never had to do before. Ultimately this will only benefit businesses in the future, and so we have to make sure that we are supporting them now so that they are not only making a difference today during this crisis, but are also then equipped to keep doing this in the future. Remote working/working from home will become the ‘norm’ over the next months, so I think a lot of employers will be wondering why they are investing in bricks and mortar and I (hope) that this will bring so much perspective around what really matters that TRUE balance will be restored between work and play which can only have a positive impact on everyone’s mental health.
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