Jess prides herself on being a competent, versatile, positive, upbeat person. She never imagined she’d need to use Accenture’s new flexible leave policy to deal with anxiety.
I first experienced a teeny, tiny bout of anxiety when I moved to the UK in 2007. I figured it was natural. I’d never been away from family and friends before. And it didn’t take long to subside. I made new friends, got into a routine and went travelling.
I honestly thought that was the end of it. I’d always considered myself to be a positive, upbeat, healthy person. But every now and then, my anxiety would flair up. And, for a while, I managed it with breathing techniques and rescue remedy.
Then, in 2017, I’d been working on a huge, global event that put me in Europe for three months. And I had this moment in Milan when those uncomfortable anxiety feelings started to escalate – to the point where I took myself to a doctor. He made sure I wasn’t having a heart attack, gave me a prescription and I was able to push through the event. But when I came home the sky fell in. I just sat on the sofa, feeling awful, watching the AFL final – and I never watch AFL!
So, I spoke to the leadership team and they were incredibly supportive. They told me to take whatever time I needed and look after myself.
My first stop was to my GP – who’d actually suffered from anxiety himself. He put me on some meds and I decided to take two weeks leave – partly because I didn’t feel capable of going to work but also because my GP explained my meds might have side effects and it might take a while to find the right dose. I was lucky – the minimum dose worked for me and kicked in quickly after a couple of weeks.
When I came back to Accenture, I felt a little bit nervous – but work was a great distraction and everyone was great. I also had an amazing conversation with my boss who helped me narrow down the trigger for my anxiety. It was important to me to realise the anxiety wasn’t because I couldn’t cope with work. As soon as I had that conversation my anxiety lifted, my breathing slowed and it all fell away – it was a real turning point.
Holy moly – I’m not indestructible!
I was only on the meds for six months, but the whole episode was a wake-up call that kick-started me looking at my overall wellbeing. From a physical perspective, I checked out my blood sugar levels and got a mammogram. I gave up caffeine and didn’t drink alcohol for a year.
Emotionally, as a single person living on my own, I decided I’d really love a puppy. But, to do that, I’d need to take a couple of weeks off settling puppy into my apartment and then probably work from home for a while dealing with toilet training and making sure I didn’t have a ‘barker’. Did I mention I live in an apartment?
My boy Lenny and his big eyes!
So, figuring I needed this to support my wellbeing, I pitched ‘pup-ternity leave’ to my boss, who was amazingly accepting. I took my two weeks off to settle in my new flatmate and worked from home for four weeks. And pup now comes in with me to the office sometimes – where he’s always a smash hit.
Day out at the Pub with Lenny
How do I know if I have anxiety?
You feel physically ill – almost like a hangover. Your chest feels like a tight knot. You feel nauseous. You may have a dry mouth. Your heart races. You talk fast and breath fast. You may be irritable, have no patience and not want to be around people.
What do I do about it?
How do I support someone in my team who’s suffering from anxiety?
A lot of people are uncomfortable when a strong, competent colleague is filled by anxiety. They don’t know what to say and are afraid of saying the wrong thing. My advice is:
Wearing my Mental Health Lead hat, I know I was very lucky. I only suffered from medium levels of anxiety and the whole thing only lasted six months. It started in October 2017, I felt truckloads better by Christmas and it was completely gone by the following March.
The most important thing I learned was that I can deal with this. If my anxiety comes back, I know how to handle it – and I know Accenture will be there for me.
Fun on the Farm in Kangaroo Valley