As I work with many clients off work with stress, anxiety and depression it got me thinking about how we approach and deal with sick leave.
I have had my own periods of sick leave following a car accident, the physical health turned into mental health problems as the weeks rolled into months. Its not easy to manage when you end up in Pjyama land with no reason to get up and get dressed. With long periods of isolation at home more trouble can brew. It doesn’t have to be sick leave it could be redundancy, retirement or maternity leave that means we may suddenly have a change to our routine, often spending large periods of time at home. Lets focus on being off sick for now.
Sick leave can be a miserable time, I felt guilty being off work, I worried about not being believed. It felt like I was stealing time because I was still being paid, I also worried about who would do my work and the mountain of emails I would go back to. I worried if I went out and was seen that I didn’t look that sick. I also knew the sick pay would run out and the pressure to return was very much felt. Just the thought of it let me shaky and there was plenty of signs that I was not ready to go back which I ignored. Our eagerness to get back to the job and recover quickly can make things worse not better.
Often we can return to early and it took many panic attacks before I listened and sought help to understand what was happening to me. If you have spent much of your life working your socks off being at home is alien. Its hard to know what to do to feel better. We want to get on with recovery but what do you do to recover?
Taking time off work when your struggling can be a life safer but too much time at home can be counter productive too. The ideal solution maybe reducing to part time. This may be beneficial but we seem to have a system that doesn't always offer this. Your either fit for work or not with no option for just reducing the hours. Reasonable adjustments may mean we can continue to work but often burn out happens because by the time we listen to our bodies it can be a little late. For me fear of losing my job or being discriminated against meant I hid that I was struggling. This fear was real and I found one of my employers decided not to continue my probationary period even though I had not had a day off sick before my panic attack.
If we have got sick from over working then overworking the recovery does not make much sense, but we may still do it anyway. The first thing I do with new clients is talk about how we can manage recovery. We start with slowing things down so we can do a life stock take. What got us to this place, what do we need to move from it, what new habbits can we retain when returning to work and how we manage the return to work can make all the difference.
I encourage my clients to see the sick leave as a holiday or rest period, because then we may look at it differently. If we are off sick many of us will take a punitive not so caring approach to ourselve, which may sabotage our recovery. Just like if you were not at school you may not have been allowed out to play we may take the same approach to sick leave. If you are off work do you cancel your fun diary commitment? Its OK if you can't manage to be sociable but we don't have to hide with guilt and shame when off sick and cancel what is already in the diary.
If you are on holiday maybe we would have a rest, nurture your self, go to that yoga class, take the dog for a walk in the park, meet your friends for lunch. take time to read the paper or have a lie in. Its important to stay connected to our support networks and nurture ourselves, while off sick, which is far more useful than hiding at home in case anyone sees you out of the house.
I invite all my clients to take better care of them during sick leave. Here are some handy hints:-
- Seek support if necessary to help explore and make sense of where you are.
- An exploration of life style can help you to notice warning signs earlier
- Old stuff could be resurfacing and its not always about the hear and now
- Stay connected keep seeing friends and family or make new connections.
- What can you do that you have never had time for?
- What new habits or hobbies can you keep when returning to work that will keep you well?
- A phased return to work is advisable if you have been off work for a long time to help ease you in.
- Its normal to feel overwhelmed or anxious at the thought of returning to work after time off.
- There is only one pace that’s kind on returning to work and thats a slow and steady one.
- Maybe looking at the boundaries of work hours to ensure we are not trying to do more than is reasonable.
- Without health we have nothing and no job is worth sacrificing your health over.
- Don't rush recovery its more usual to be months rather than weeks before we are ready to return.
If you are struggling and need someone to help you find a way forward then please get in touch. In the meantime use your time off to care for you.
With love and best wishes
Mel & River