Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

Mental Health and the Benefits System

Andrea sits down in front of her careers adviser, John, clearly very agitated.  She rushes to get her words out.  “I’ve just come from the Job Centre, and they say I’ve got to have a CV.  Can we get it done today?”

“Yes, we could work on a CV,” the adviser replies.  “But it sounds like it’s the Job Centre that wants this CV.  What do you want?”

Andrea insists that she must have the CV today, otherwise her benefit will be cut. It’s clear that this is the only reason for the CV, and the threat of having her money cut is uppermost on her mind.  She’s typical of many clients referred by the Job Centre.

John has met Andrea before, and when they met a month ago, Andrea had told him that she was on medication for depression and anxiety and had been on Incapacity Benefit for a few years, but had recently been switched back to Job Seekers Allowance, as a result of a medical assessment. Her GP, however, doesn’t think she is ready to work yet.

When they last met, they talked about Andrea’s ideas for the future.  She was once a Care Assistant, but she said “I can’t go back to that work.  Because I just don’t care and it’s not fair on the older people for me to be in that job.  I need to do something else.  Something practical with my hands, so I don’t have to talk to people all the time.”

John offers to ring up the Job Centre and negotiate a more sensible deadline for the CV, and Andrea immediately relaxes.  After some haggling on the phone, it is agreed that the Job Centre will give Andrea more time to create the CV, provided she spends time with the Careers Adviser on “preparation”.

With the immediate threat of being left without money tackled, Andrea is now able to tell John what has happened since they last met.  Her sister-in-law told her that there were jobs going in a local meat-packing factory.  “I really thought about it, ” says Andrea, “but then I got so worried, I had to take more medication, and just go off for a walk.  I was gone all day. My husband knows me, he knew I was getting worse and he wanted me to go back to the GP.  I don’t know why thinking about that job set me off, but it did.  I didn’t feel right for a couple of weeks.  I think my sister-in-law thinks I’m just lazy.”

They talk about the reasons she wants to work – to be busy, to have more money, to get back to a normal life, to be out of the house.  They also talk about the reasons that she doesn’t feel ready.  She can’t face crowds of people.  Some days, she can’t get out of bed in the morning.  She lacks energy.  She has panic attacks when things feel out of control.  “It seemed like a good job for me, just what I wanted, but it just felt like too big a step.”

Andrea and John spend some time thinking about “small steps”.  Andrea comes up with the idea of an exercise class, a craft class at the adult education centre and ringing her friend to go to a nearly town for a shopping trip on the bus.  John suggests voluntary work – maybe in a charity shop to get used to being around people and having a regularly place to be each week.  Eventually Andrea creates an action plan that includes calling into the adult education centre and a local charity shop.   They agree to meet again in a few weeks to review progress and do the dreaded CV.

Andrea looks anxious as soon as the CV is mentioned.  “A CV isn’t just for getting a job,” John reassures her.  “We can use it as a way to think about all your experiences and what you can do.”

This is real career guidance.  Professional careers advisers work from a Code of Ethics, and putting the client’s needs first is at the heart of this.  A professionally qualified careers adviser will explore the deeper issues that prevent people from achieving their goals, rather than focus immediately on job applications.

Professional career guidance, however, is being cut back all over the UK, and replaced by “job search advice” or “employment support”, offered by staff who are often trained only to a very basic level, and who often work in a very target-driven environment – if they don’t get clients into jobs quickly, their organisations won’t fulfil  the targets in their contract and they will be out of a job.  Some of them are on temporary contracts or have performance-related pay, so the can’t afford not to get their clients into work quickly.

You can’t really blame these advisers for pushing their clients to get back into work quickly, but it’s often a very inappropriate approach for clients with mental health problems, who may need to take many small steps towards being “job-ready”.  The process of getting back to work has to proceed at a pace appropriate to the client – it can’t be rushed. Many clients with mental health problems do want to get back to work, but they recognise that they need support (perhaps part-time or flexible hours, a reduced workload or social support), and many employers would rather just employ someone else.  A paid job is often a very the long-term goal.

Clients who are pushed back into work before they are ready, without appropriate support, may find that they can’t actually perform the job at the speed and standard expected, they may feel socially isolated and often find that their condition is exacerbated by the pressure to “keep up”.  Their attendance at work may be poor, especially if they don’t get appropriate support from their employer.  They are unlikely to hold down the job, so the cycle begins again – they are back in the benefit system with even lower levels of confidence.

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Help! Job Interivews Just Make Me Go To Pieces…

Q.  I get really nervous in job interviews, and I just go to pieces.  My mind goes blank, my voice shakes and I just can’t think straight.  Consequently, I never get the job, even though I feel I’m well qualified for the jobs I’m applying for (and I am getting interviews).  Help!

A. Job interview nerves are very common, and you need some strategies to get them under control.  Many people hate job interviews, and few people look forward to them without any nerves at all.  However, a little adreneline can be a good thing, prompting you to prepare properly, think fast and rise to the occasion.  Your task it to get your anxiety levels down to the level where they are working for you, rather than against you.

What sort of conversation do you have in your head about job interviews?  Chances are, it goes along the lines of “I’ll never get the job, I’ll make a fool of myself, I can’t do it, I’m going to mess it up.” Well, it’s time to change that, because this sort of negative talk just puts you in a very unresourceful frame of mind.  It’s the perfect excuse for messing up.

You need to replace this negative conversation with something more like “I’m well qualified for this job, they must think I can do it because they’ve invited me for an interview, I’m just going to go in there and do my best, and I’ll show them all the skills I’ve got and why I could do the job really well.” It’s not enough to say this to yourself once, you have to say it consistently until you believe it.  Whenever you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts, replace them with positive statements.  Put reminders to yourself around – post -it notes on the mirror, an elastic band on your wrist, so you do this consistently.  This way, you can use your “self-talk” to put yourself in a more positive state of mind.

The other key thing is to prepare really well.  Read all the information you are given and research the company to get background information.  Think about why you want to work for this company, and what you could contribute.  Look at the key skills and experiences that the employer is looking for, and think about how you can demonstrate that you have these attributes.  Finally, think of three key reasons why you are the best person for the job, so you can be absolutely sure to weave these three things into your answers.

Practice talking about your skills and experience with a friend or in front of the mirror, so you are actually saying it out loud.  As you practice, pretend to be a more confident version of yourself, who doesn’t suffer any interview nerves.  Then try recording your answers and play them back to yourself until you do sound like this more confident version of yourself. It’s really important to say things out loud so they become real to you.  The more often you practice, the more likely it is that an answer will come to you even if your mind is a bit blank.

Put some care and attention into how you dress on the day.  You should dress a little smarter than you would actually dress for the job (so smart casual for a nursery nurse, suit for an office job).  You want to feel smart, but comfortable, and if you do, it will add to your confidence levels.  A good haircut and a new suit that fits you really well might earn their keep.

Practice relaxation exercises in the run up to the interview.  Try deep breathing – slow and deep breaths will calm your body down and reduce the physical feelings of anxiety (the shaky voice, the butterflies in the stomach).  Sit in a quiet place, and breath long and slow for a few minutes a day until you get used to this way of calming yourself.  Another relaxation exercise is to lie comfortably (perhaps on your back) and then tense and relax each part of your body in turn.  Then lie quietly for five minutes, with your body fully relaxed (remember the muscles in your face!).  There are also many relaxation and self-hypnosis CDs that you can relax to.

On the day, you can use deep breathing as you travel and while you wait to be called in for the interview, and this will reduce your physical feeling of anxiety.  You could also do a full body relaxation before you leave the house.

Once in the interview, smile and greet the interviewer/panel.  Remember they are only human too. Some people say you should imagine the interview panel naked, but I wouldn’t recommend that – too likely to lead to a fit of the giggles, and no good at all if the panel are unexpectedly attractive!  But it is worth remembering that the panel may be as nervous as you are, if they don’t have much experience of interviewing, and you should think about how to put them at ease.

If your mind does go blank, it’s absolutely fine to ask for a question to be repeated (better than answering the wrong question).  If your voice is a bit shaky, stop and take a deep breath, then start again.  Remember to speak slowly.  It may not be the end of the world if you do confess to being a little nervous, as a good interviewer will try to put you at ease.  Afterall, almost everyone gets nervous about job interviews, so you are only being honest.

You might also think about doing a course or getting some one-to-one help, particularly if anxiety or a lack of confidence impact on other areas of your life:

  • Yoga, tai chi and mediation – all would help with reducing general anxiety levels and increasing your sense of calmness and wellbeing
  • Drama or public speaking – would help with confidence in making presentations and appearing confident in interviews
  • Hypnosis or Neuro-Linguistic Programming – would help you train your mind into a more positive and resourceful state
  • Careers advice – to help with preparing for tough questions and perhaps practicing in a “mock interview”

Good luck with this!  Remember, you are getting interviews, so you do have the skills and experience to do the jobs you are applying for.  An employer wouldn’t bother to interview you unless this was the case.

 

emotional intelligence in career guidance

The concept of Emotional Intelligence first entered the public consciousness with Daniel Goleman’s journalistic account of the research that neuro-psychologists were doing to identify a new kind of “intelligence” that seemed to be a better predictor of success in life than the traditional IQ.  Emotional Intelligence can be broadly defined as the ability to be aware of emotions (both your own and other people’s) to control them so as to manage your relationships with others and your own emotional life well.

A little thought soon leads one to the conclusion that Emotional Intelligence is a key part of successfully navigating our career decisions and working life.  Emotional Intelligence gives us the skills to aim high, to put our plans into action and to be successful in education, training and the workplace.

The ability to regulate our own emotions is essential in the workplace.  Without some self-control, we would soon end up in conflict with others. Many Careers Advisers will have seen clients who cannot sustain a job or training place because they always end up having a row with the boss or with colleagues.  Those who have the ability to put themselves in a positive, cheerful mood are better team players and find it easier to stay motivated at work.

Many people suffer from “job interview nerves”  or worry about going into new and unfamiliar situations.  Being able to manage our own anxiety so that it does not prove an insurmountable barrier is another very useful skill.

Managing emotions is also key in managing larger transitions successfully – leaving school, redundancy, promotions and retirement.  Although these transitions inevitably trigger feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, those who are more emotionally skilled may move through these negative emotions more quickly and suffer less, managing the transition with greater ease.

The best career plan in the world isn’t much help if we don’t have the motivation to follow it through.  We can all think of people who are “stuck” in unfulfilling  jobs because they lack the motivation to do anything about it.  Motivation is also a key issue in working with many young people and unemployed adults who have lost the motivation to seek work or more fulfilling activities.

The ability to defer gratification (do something unpleasant now in order to achieve something better in the future) is necessary when we choose to study at a higher level or take on an apprenticeship, and delay the day when we can enjoy a higher standard of living.  Those who are able to delay gratification are also more likely to apply themselves to study rather than give in to the temptations of surfing the net!

Hope and resilience give people the ability to bounce back from the inevitable setbacks when things don’t work out the way we planned.  Those who are optimistic and hopeful tend to try harder and persist in the face of barriers and difficulties, rather than giving up at the first hurdle.

Self-efficacy (our belief in our ability to be successful in a given task) plays a key role in career decision-making.  We are more likely to set ourselves goals and apply ourselves to tasks that we have high self-efficacy beliefs for, which leads to a positive cycle of increasing skill and success, followed by growing interest.   We are all more likely to choose careers in areas where we feel more self-efficacious.  There is a potentially negative cycle here too, where someone may have poor self-efficacy beliefs for a particular task, and therefore does not set goals or develop themselves in that direction (for example, girls may get into this negative cycle if they lack confidence with maths and science, despite having high ability).

Emotional Intelligence is so key to career success, and the good news is that there is a lot Careers Advisers can do to help clients develop their emotional intelligence:

  • Tactics to manage anxiety about job interviews or new situations
  • Tactics to manage anger in the workplace
  • Challenging negative self-efficacy beliefs
  • Helping clients recognise the value of deferred gratification
  • Recognising the role of intuition in career decision-making
  • Giving support to clients to increase resilience, confidence and hope
  • Using role models to increase self-efficacy

I recently ran a workshop with Careers Advisers exploring these skills and tactics, and was really pleased to find that within days many of them could give examples of how they were already weaving these ideas into their guidance interviews.  Simply paying more attention to the role of emotions in making transitions immediately gives more depth to the work with the client and enables the adviser to give support and help the client build confidence and motivation.  The advisers also found it very useful to pay more attention to the sources of self-efficacy beliefs – relevant experiences, encouragement or lack of encouragement from others, role-models amongst friends and family (or lack of role-models) and to use this to challenge inaccurate beliefs about the client’s abilities.

The Advisers were particularly interested in the concept of differing intelligences – for example, most Careers Advisers are rather Word Smart (good at verbal and written communication), Self Smart (self-aware)  and People Smart (good at managing relationships), but a lot of our clients are more Body Smart (good with their hands), Picture Smart (good with images), Sound Smart (good with music and sound), Nature Smart (good with plants and animals) or Logic Smart (good at maths and logical problems).

The traditional careers interviews is very Word Smart (lots of talking and a written action plan at the end) and also People Smart (two people relating to each other).  It doesn’t necessarily suit every client’s preferred learning style.

Some of the best careers work caters to the client’s own learning style.  For example, taking young people out around the shops with their CVs is more Body Smart than writing CVs in the careers centre.  Using more diagrams and pictures is Picture Smart.  Helping young people write a rap song about their skills is Sound Smart.   A lot of Labour Market Information is Logic Smart (as are lists of Pros and Cons).  Once you start to use your imagination, the possibilities are endless.

If we want good outcomes for clients (as opposed to knocking out large numbers of interviews with good written plans), we need to be more creative and not be afraid to enter the world of the emotions, to help our clients develop the motivation and the emotional skills to put their plans into action.