The inspiration for this blog comes from Paul Gilbert’s work The Compassionate Mind and all content is derived from his book.
Our work and life culture are behind the rise in Mental Health
Mental health is on the rise. Feeling rushed, harassed, anxious, tired and time-pressured, perhaps even feeling as if life may feel meaningless at times are fast becoming the norm experienced by many people in our modern western society. It is certainly becoming the norm throughout our education system for many teachers and leaders.
We may have feelings, moods, and emotions that we don’t want but once they come over us it’s hard to pinpoint its cause. Its cause is this: We live in a culture that pushes for efficiency, competition and the setting and meeting of targets in everything! Get more done, do it better than person X, meet all targets and we will feel happier, successful and most of all content from this. But is this really so?
How the business model has infiltrated all areas of our lives
Many of us live in a world of unprecedented wealth and comfort, yet despite our insatiable drive for efficiency, the competitive edge and business model are influencing all aspects of our lives, even outside of the workplace. ( The business model that exploded post-1960s of target-setting, efficiency and competitiveness replaced the previous culture of social welfare, established after WW2).
In relation to schools, rather than schools working collegiality we are set up against each other rivaling for the best Progress 8 Scores. The NHS made up of departments used to work cohesively. Now with increased government involvement NHS departments are now also pitted against each other, competing to outdo each other in reaching set targets. NHS practice is suffering because of this. Teacher practice and personal welfare are suffering because of this. The quality within the NHS and education is suffering, but as long as we meet those ever-shifting targets right?
The new focus on efficiency holds no evidence that this is making us any happier than we were 50 years ago. Actually, there’s evidence that we are becoming unhappier and irritable as levels of stress increase in our hurry-hurry society. Although we have so many material comforts, we still find ourselves seeking deeper meaning, happiness, and enlightenment.
Despite all our wealth and comforts, it is estimated half of us will have Mental Health at one point in our lives: the two main types being anxiety and depression.
A recipe for disaster
Why with all the advancements, why aren’t these making us wonderfully happy as individuals and with others?
Madeleine Bunting in her book Willing Slaves reports that:
- we are working longer hours
- the age of retirement has been extended
- short-term contracts have increased
- there’s a shift away from the quality of life and welfare and into the business model
- strong emphasis on meeting targets over quality
- we are consumed with meeting targets.
Oliver James in his book Affluenza calls out Affluenza as meaning our addiction to affluence and a need for more and more.
John Nesh writes that our brains are evolved to deal with scarcity, not abundance. We are evolved to have seeking and a wanters mindset of more and more. This manifests itself in the modern day as our struggling to say no to our wants and that enough is enough. Add to that the marketing industry that does not allow us to be content and instead tells us we need more and more.
We haven’t learned how to train our minds for happiness and contentment. Every message within our families, schools, and work teaches us not to be content because this is resting on our laurels, which somehow smacks of laziness or lack of ambition.
So it’s not just our pursuit of affluence that is driving us crazy and making us irritable and exhausted and self-focused but that our competitive lives are exhausting. Our lifestyles are mentally, physically and spiritually exhausting and we know it. We are losing touch with things that nourish us. The drive for efficiency is making life unbearable and keeping anxieties high as we compete all the time.
Science reveals ‘Love is all we need’.
Modern lifestyles can overload physiological systems. Mental health issues are on the rise. Our stress systems were designed to deal with short-term life stressors e.g. predators, short fights but not chronic stress. There is good evidence that the hormone Cortisol is useful for short-term response to life stressors because it energizes the body and focuses attention but it can actually damage the immune systems and the brain if it remains elevated for too long.
Life was tougher before in many ways- we’re not denying that but the focus here is how the new business model that has infiltrated our lives is driving a wedge of what we want, can buy or sell and what we actually need as sources of wellbeing.
Science is discovering that one of the remedies to our current state of anxiety and unhappiness (aside from Mindfulness and Meditation, but more about that in a separate post) is to be more compassionate in mind, word and actions both to ourselves and towards others. Being compassionate and receiving compassion from others is good for us; compassionate thoughts have powerful effects on the body. Kindness to ourselves and to others stimulates areas of the brain that are conducive to our health and wellbeing.
Humans have evolved to need love, kindness, and affection. Giving and receiving love, kindness and affection releases feel-good endorphins and oxytocins which are good for our health- mental and physical.
Make it an intention to be kinder to yourself in your thoughts- retrain your brain to think more positively about situations. Expand on this by being kinder to others in the workplace.
Let’s flood our bodies with all the magic-feeling hormones to increase happiness and wellbeing in the workplace.
Let’s refocus on Humanity first.
Leaders: Let’s become more mindful of when we are sacrificing our health and that of others for the sake of meeting (often unreasonable or unjustified) targets. Support each other. Lead your team with compassion. Use kindness as the driver and work together positively to achieve great things but without the do-or-die pressure that we currently operate in.
Part 2 coming soon.