It was a CRJ-550. My seat was 2 rows from the back. It was before take-off and I was hysterically crying, in fact hyperventilating as the flight attendant handed me a tissue with a caring look on his face. I am certain he was concerned that this was a pretty extreme case of fear of flying. I sat there in my dress and heals, I come from an era where you dress for flying and never dismissed this particular custom, only now I was trying to manipulate the tissue to find a dry spot free from black mascara and snot. All I kept thinking was:
“I want to get off this plane.”
“I have to get off this plane.”
“I don’t care what happens. I just have to get off this plane.”
No one was sitting in the window seat next to me. I always sit in the aisle because I have to get up to pee so often and also because of my lumbar fusion. Sitting is just not my jam. I kept my sobbing face toward the window in order to avoid eye contact with anyone. The last time I could remember crying on a plane was when I was talking to a really hot guy when suddenly I felt a searing pain in my ears. It was so unbearable I started to cry. As I put the plastic cups over my ears given to me by the flight attendant, it was game over with hot guy.
“I can still get off this plane.”
“I want to get off this plane.”
“Just walk off the plane and go home.”
From across the aisle came a concerned female voice, “Are you okay?”
Me, sniffling and snorting, “I don’t know. I want to get off the plane.”
Concerned woman, “are you afraid?”
Me, “A little but that’s not why. I just don’t want to go on this trip. I just want to go home!”
With frayed nerves and severe sleep deprivation, I didn’t get off the plane. I made it to NJ, stayed (sleepless) at a dump by the NJ Turnpike, sparkled, dazzled and shined for the Fortune 1000 executives at the next day’s whirlwind meetings, returned back to Chicago and gave my notice less than a week later.
I was working for a company where the work-life balance was practically zero, where I worked 15-hour days and spent the day shaking and feeling like the walls were closing in. Everything was measurable to the point where I felt like a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) and not a human being. The Monday morning greeting was a dashboard comparing my performance to my coworkers.
You: “Wow. Then what happened?”
Me: “Well, I found a different job where things were horrible but different horrible.”
You: “Well, that’s just crazy.”
Me: “You know, it just seems that more and more people are accepting the horrible and I get it, people need jobs and income but people are suffering.”
You: “Tell me about it.”
It’s obvious that anxiety and depression are on the rise. Take a look at some of the statistics:
Workplace Stress Statistics – Editor’s Choice (The American Institute of Stress)
- 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress.
- US businesses lose up to $300 billion yearly as a result of workplace stress.
- Stress causes around one million workers to miss work every day.
- Only 43% of US employees think their employers care about their work-life balance.
- Depression leads to $51 billion in costs due to absenteeism and $26 billion in treatment costs.
- Work-related stress causes 120,000 deaths and results in $190 billion in healthcare costs yearly.
We all have a baseline of stress, and depending on where that baseline is, it plays a huge role in how workplace stress will affect someone.
My stress baseline (ability to handle stress) was on the low side after suffering long-term chronic pain from a spinal injury, but it doesn’t take chronic pain to fuel the stress response, especially when combined with workplace stress.
It’s important for workplaces to recognize the signs of stress and anxiety. It’s also a responsibility of the workplace to not shame people for having stress and anxiety, and to provide resources to the human being who is suffering, to meet people where they are, with compassion and humanity.
I wasn’t met with compassion. I was put on PIP (Performance Improvement Plan) and subsequently fired.
I know it’s a challenge for an employer to hire someone that looks good on paper, has great references, interviews well and then begins to exhibit signs of stress but people should not be treated as disposable. A mindful organization and mindful leaders can play an important role to mitigate stressors and to help nurture and empower people to shine.
Everyone is responsible for their own healing but why can’t work be a place that fosters helps?
Why can’t work be a place that fosters wellbeing? I don’t mean fitness centers, pool tables, and healthy food.
I was fortunate, I found a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program and essentially “re-set my wires” and now have a joyful, productive and full life.
The practice of mindfulness has been so transformative that I felt compelled to immerse myself into the study of it.
My work is now dedicated to inviting organizations to learn about and explore the practice of mindfulness in the workplace and beyond.
There is still quite a bit of demystification that needs to be done to help people understand that this is not woo-woo, spiritual or mystical in some way and that meditation is only part of the practice.
My mission is to make the invitation to explore mindfulness as approachable and accessible as possible.
We are all humans just trying to navigate through this life the best way we can. Doesn’t it make sense that we would help each other?