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?

LennyMy 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.

Day out with LennyDay 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?

  • Recognise this is not your normal – It’s easy for people with anxiety symptoms to just put them down to ‘life’. Don’t make excuses. No matter how stressed you are, you shouldn’t be feeling terrible all the time.
  • Have the courage to talk to someone you trust – It doesn’t have to be a doctor. Tell your partner or a friend. Use them as a sounding board. Be honest and open. Actually say the word: ‘anxiety’. Don’t be afraid of what they think. They love you.
  • Take time off if you need to – But don’t think you have to. Some people do better staying at work in their routine. I strongly recommend you tell your boss or your mental health lead what you’re going through – that way the business won’t suddenly move you onto a massively stressful project!
  • Take your meds – Really. They work.
  • Choose who knows – This is a really personal decision. I was very open about my anxiety. I wanted people to know what was going on. But not everyone’s comfortable with doing that. You can tell your boss or HR in confidence. They’ll make sure the business supports you.
  • Remember: anxiety isn’t a form of weakness – It’s an illness like the common cold. Anyone can suffer from it – and many, many people do.

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:

  • Don’t tell them you know what they’re going through – You don’t.
  • Let them decide how much to open up – Be there if they want to talk. Respect their privacy if they don’t.
  • Be honest – Tell them: “I don’t know how to make it right, but I’m here if you need anything. If you feel like a walk at lunchtime, or a coffee – let me know.”
  • Give them the space they need – Support their decision to take leave and treat them normally when they return to work. Don’t wrap them in cotton wool.
  • Don’t try to fix them – Only they can get through this. Your job is to support them.

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.

Kangaroo ValleyFun on the Farm in Kangaroo Valley


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Jessica Kubertas

HR Ventures & Acquisition Associate Manager

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