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Managing the ‘Back to Work Blues’ with Counsellor, Jill Humann

Feeling anxious about heading back to work after the summer break? We had a chat with Jill Humann, a counsellor and psychotherapist practicing in the Convent’s WellBeing Wing, for top tips on managing stress, what it means to be mindful and separating work from home.

After a break, it’s easy to feel anxious about the work which has piled up in your absence. What are your tips for managing anxiety about going back to work?

Anxiety usually pushes us around and makes things feel bigger than they actually are. In the case of returning to work, people will often notice in their self-talk that anxiety uses dramatic and catastrophic language such as “always” or “never”. Anxiety can paint quite alarming scenarios that usually never eventuate but leave us feeling nervous and overwhelmed.

So, my main tip is to adopt the ‘PAUSE’ approach and listen to what you are telling yourself about any situation. PAUSE creates a space to reconnect with your more solid self and work out the best way forward.

P = Pause for a moment and interrupt your ‘automatic pilot’

A = Attend to the breath and locate the feeling of the breath in your body

U = Use the outbreath to let go of any tension in the body

S = Sense what is present; what are you thinking, feeling, hearing, seeing?

E = Engage with your activities again from a more aware sense of yourself and the world around you.

As another possible strategy, I once heard a work coach suggest that you reduce the volume of any work situation by quickly categorising your work or emails into three categories; Must = Urgent, Should = For Tomorrow, and Could = Later. Containing a situation to manageable sizes almost always enables us to feel we can at least make a beginning.

One of the best things about holidays is having space to rest and reflect. What are your tips for making time to mentally switch off every day, and why is this so important?

Again, I would recommend adopting the PAUSE approach to create the space of a ‘Mindful Moment’ (like having a moment’s break or mini holiday) to re-centre, refocus and recharge.

By bringing your attention to a few cycles of breathing at any time during the day, you will notice that you have created a space between your thoughts and your feelings. From this more grounded place, you can then choose to unhook from the stress of a moment and respond more skilfully to the demands of your day with a solid sense of awareness, rather than from a place of stress and pressure.

What is mindfulness, and what makes it such a useful tool for managing stress?

Mindfulness meditation is an extension of PAUSE.

Mindfulness meditation is a type of mental training that teaches you how to bring your full attention to the present moment, with an open-minded, non-judgmental interest in your mental and physical experiences, using the breath or the body as point of reference.

Regular practise of mindfulness meditation can be really helpful when we are caught up in the midst of a negative emotion. In that moment of distress, we tend to believe it will never end, but through mindfulness meditation, we become familiar with the workings of our mind and can see that feelings, like thoughts, are not permanent.

Research has shown that training the mind in mindfulness meditation, even for just 10 minutes every day, can help decrease anxiety and depression, improve immune function and help increase people’s sense of wellbeing.

In today’s digital world, it’s easy to check emails at home, causing added pressure. What’s your advice for managing this?

Once people start taking their work home, they start feeling like they are multi-tasking. They feel like they are ‘not really at work’, but also ‘not wholly at home’; as if they are not doing either ‘job’ properly, which in turn creates more stress!

Having a strong mindful sense of the here and now, as well as knowing what your values or the desired behaviours you wish to live by are, can enable you to be aware of the direction and choices you want to make in a given situation.

When you are at work, you are fully at work. When you are at home, you are fully at home. It does not mean that you don’t check your emails, etc., but you are pausing, and checking the appropriateness of this often-automatic tendency.

Possible Strategies: 

  • Create a PAUSE before you start work to set your intention as to how you want to be each day
  • Create mindful moments throughout the day; set an hourly alert on your computer or phone to remind you to take a deep breath and release slowly, helping to bring you back to the present moment
  • Start and stop work on time
  • Separate work and personal email accounts
  • Create a sense of closure before you leave work each day; recognise that the day is finished and that whatever has been achieved has been achieved, and whatever has not will be done tomorrow, so that you do not “carry” it home with you
  • Meditate for 10 minutes before bed to allow your mind to settle and release
  • Plan regular times for activities that help you recharge and nourish your life: e.g. exercise, walk or ride to work, meet with friends or family, paint, read, or simply notice the beauty around you on your way to work.

From your experience, what are the top three issues which cause people stress at work, and how can you help people with these issues? 

Common issues are:

  • Communication and misunderstanding between colleagues
  • Feeling unacknowledged or under valued
  • Struggling with creating a sustainable work/life balance

Possible Strategies:

  • Recognise your automatic thoughts, feelings and consequent behaviour in relation to the stressor
  • Ask yourself, “What would they say to a friend in that situation?”
  • Support yourself in a wise, compassionate and caring way to take the appropriate action to benefit your long-term wellbeing.

People sometimes feel trepidation towards taking the step to start counselling. What can they expect in their first session?

People can expect the counsellor to provide an emotionally safe and confidential space in which to explore their thoughts and feelings and increase their capacity to deal with issues they are confronting.

I see the counselling process as a collaborative one in which the client is the expert on their lives, and the counsellor’s job is to work alongside them in a non-judgmental way to help them gain new insights about their situation. Sometimes practical strategies are suggested to help people manage difficult emotions and situations.

The role of a counsellor is not to tell people what to do, but to help them identify their thoughts and feelings and make the best decision they can for themselves in their given situation.

You have a medical background, having started your career as a nurse and midwife. How does this background help your work as a counsellor?

My medical background informs my counselling practice quite a lot. Many of my referrals are from obstetricians or maternal child health nurses because they know I have the practical knowledge and experience to support people after experiences such as a difficult birth, a miscarriage, stillbirth, a difficult decision regarding terminating a pregnancy or ongoing infertility.

You’ve been a counsellor at ‘WellBeing at the Convent’ for 10 years. What’s the best thing about practicing at the Convent?

My room looks out into the cloister with the large deciduous tree that is a changing feast of colour, which I love! The nurturing physical environment is perfect for my work; the room size is just right, and the contemplative gardens and nearby river are very soothing.

What do clients enjoy about coming to the Convent for counselling and other wellbeing services?

Many of my clients comment on how they love the Convent’s great cafés and galleries, and they almost always comment on the tranquillity of our very beautiful WellBeing Wing. For many of the couples I see with little ones, the nearby Collingwood Children’s Farm is a bonus.

‘WellBeing at the Convent’ offers a range of wellness therapies, from acupuncture and yoga, to traditional East Asian medicine and naturopathy. How does this diversity of services benefit individual clients?

Clients who come to WellBeing have ready access to a range of wonderful complementary health practitioners. This diversity of services can benefit individual clients if they wish to be treated holistically for their emotional and physical health and wellbeing.