The Great Suppression

Suppressed trauma is causing elevated stress and unhappiness in the workplace, and it’s a problem that’s not going away anytime soon. So why is it being ignored by so many major companies? We need action and we need it now. Here’s why.

I admit it, I said the 'C' word in a meeting the other day. A few people were horrified because, apparently, we're not supposed to talk about Covid anymore.

We’ve closed the door on the pandemic, swept it under the proverbial carpet and bid it a (non) fond farewell. Less than a year after the final lockdown, toilet roll famines and homemade banana bread are long-forgotten now we’ve decided it’s time to focus on ‘getting back to normal’. But what the hell even is normal? And are we truly dealing with what happened to us all on a deep enough level?

The fact of the matter is, the pandemic has resulted in a trauma that is so widespread and multi-layered, many people don’t even realise they are still suffering the fallout.

Trauma isn’t about the event itself; it’s about the effect it has on our bodies long-term. Therefore, we've got to be conscious that it's still going to have a deep influence on us physically as well as mentally.

The enduring effect of the pandemic means we are now faced with the challenge of somehow trying to reverse the negative impact it's had. We are all changed because of it and many of us are profoundly wounded without even realising it.

Trauma isn’t about the event itself, it’s about the effect it has on our body long-term. Therefore, we’ve got to be conscious that it’s still going to have a deep influence on us physically as well as mentally.

PUSH coach and former monk Klaus M Nielsen explains the big problem with people wanting life to go back to ‘how it was before’. “The issue here is that there was no ‘normal’ to start with because the world is a crazy place!” he says. “We have always had to face difficulties in our lives, but the pandemic made everything so intense that we can't hide anymore. It may be over but we, and the world, are still messed up and we have nowhere to run. We have to turn inwards now and fix ourselves and navigate the trauma we have suffered.”

Listen to each other

One of the most crucial ways to help combat this trauma is to keep talking. Our series on Safe Spaces is about reminding us of the importance of conversation, vulnerability and, ultimately, connection.

As author and thought leader Lynda Hatton pointed out in a recent article, friendships at work are more important now than ever. She writes, “Friendships at work matter. When so many hours are spent working, having someone who understands our situation - the players involved, the office dynamics, and the general organizational culture - can help buffer routine stress. When we share our experiences, it often reminds us that others have gone through similar ones.”

She goes on, “One of the crucial elements of personal resilience is friendship. It helps if we have a trusted confidant at our organization - someone who makes us feel worthwhile and whom we can celebrate and commiserate with.”

Yet the pandemic, our collective trauma and the pressures of hybrid working are working to suppress and stifle those friendships. "Friendship among work colleagues has never been more fragile", says Lynda, and she references the Microsoft 2022 Work Trend Index as evidence of this.  "59% of people in hybrid work environments and 56% who were entirely remote reported that they had fewer work friendships."

The solution? Lynda echoes our vision at PUSH to be more human, more open and more present. “Start with mutual sharing. Friendship builds as you begin to take the risk of leaning on each other. If it keeps feeling right, then it’s possible to take more risks. “

Listen to your body

It’s not just conversation that is going to help us combat this ever-growing problem. It’s also time to look to our bodies for help. For so long, we’ve been cognitive and cerebral. We’ve kept everything in our heads and acted from there. But the reality is, you've got to listen to your body at all times.

We associate high performance – and success, to a certain extent - with being always busy and feeling adrenaline-fuelled. Sometimes you get to the end of the day and you're exhausted but so wired you can't relax. Imagine what that's doing to your body.

Your body is also a really safe space that brings you back to the present and away from wherever your head is trying to take you. You can immediately feel what is going on in your body emotionally when something triggering happens. That’s why it can be your ultimate guide.

I do a lot of work on understanding what I am going through somatically because I feel things so deeply in my body. Whether it’s rage, sadness or anxiety, my body shifts and changes to tell me where I’m experiencing those emotions.

Klaus explains more about how the process works. "Everything is stored in the body because they are a product of everything we've experienced, including trauma. For that to be released you need to look at your lifestyle and reconnect your body with your mind because they are extensions of each other. Doctors still treat our bodies as biological machines and they don’t make that important connection, but ninety-five percent of physical pain, suffering and illness begins in the mind.

“I work with people on two levels. I teach people meditation because it is a very practical way of taking a step back from the mind and having a look at how insane it is. I also go through my clients’ internal and external lives and how they sleep, exercise, work, eat and socialise, because those are all huge factors.”

“Doctors still treat our bodies as biological machines and they don’t make that important connection, but ninety-five percent of physical pain, suffering and illness begins in the mind.”

Physician, author and addiction expert Dr Gabor Mate agrees. He is another huge advocate of the mind-body connection and is working tirelessly to try and ensure that it is recognised across every area of life. He speaks and writes extensively about how much of an impact our everyday actions can have on our bodies.

Chronic illnesses often have nothing to do with our genes, hence genetic studies into diseases like cancer and stroke aren't having a massive impact. They can be more to do with environment and lifestyle causes that go way beyond smoking, drinking and a bad diet.

Dr Mate believes that stress is the world's biggest killer, but Western Medicine is yet to recognise that fact. Rather than taking a 'pill for an ill' approach, Mate feels that the most important questions your doctor can ask you are, "What is your home life like? How was your childhood? What is your relationship like with your partner? Are you under a lot of pressure at work?" and then try and helps you lessen those stresses.

Listen to yourself

We can see the impact the pandemic and wider world issues have had on people in the way they approach their work/life balance. Research we carried out at PUSH showed that before the pandemic nearly half of all employees (48%) said work was most important to them. That figure is now one in five. It’s no wonder employers are rushing to prioritise their workers’ self-care. They are finally beginning to realise that a lunchtime gong session isn’t going to cut it when it comes to improving workplace wellness.

Employees are increasingly recognising the need to put themselves first. Some companies feel uncomfortable with the idea of a member of staff saying, “I'm not coming in five days this week, I’m coming in for four due to my overall well-being." Employers don’t like it, but they also recognise that they may lose talent if they don’t accept that people can’t always live up to increasing expectations and pressure.

Listen to Gen Z

Diary of a CEO host and businessman Steven Bartlett recently claimed that Gen Z are 'an absolute nightmare to manage' because they're so un-resilient. Meanwhile, Bruce Daisley - who is an expert in resilience - sees their ability to self-audit their mental wellness as a positive thing.

I'm with Bruce. Essentially, we're all as burnt out and stressed as each other, but they're the only generation that are saying it.

Rather than criticizing Gen Z, we should be applauding them because we need to talk about this stuff to deal with issues more effectively. There is no value in those feelings being suppressed. You waste an awful lot of emotional energy on trying not to deal with your exhaustion, illness and resentment when it's not fucking going anywhere!

Gen Z are happy to be open about struggles to force change, whereas older generations largely keep quiet and crack on. It feels as if anyone over a certain age is a part of a great suppression where they are scared to speak up, no matter how badly they are suffering, in case they lose their jobs.

The bottom line is that older generations think it's normal to feel stressed out about work because that's how it's always been. They are used to working our arses off but look where it's got them. Look where they've ended up.

Nothing is going to change unless we make changes. Gen Z are demanding those changes because they recognise the signs of deep stress and anxiety. In short, they don’t want to follow in their parents’ or grandparents’ burnt-out footsteps.

Pull quote: “Nothing is going to change unless we make changes. Gen Z are demanding those changes because they recognise the signs of deep stress and anxiety. In short, they don’t want to follow in their parents’ or grandparents’ burnt-out footsteps.”

Listen and learn

The way I see it, this vital information can be utilised by employers in three ways:

1)    Starting a conversation about mental health.

2)    Do an audit with your employees and find out what's going on and how they are feeling.

3)    Do some one-on-one coaching or somatic work with people to release that underlying stress and trauma.

As for what we can do for ourselves? We all need to start tapping into our bodies to try to understand what's going on internally. Try doing a body scan meditation or breathwork, maybe when you're about to go to sleep or when you wake up every morning.

When you are feeling something or you have an emotion coming up - whatever that might be – ask yourself where you're feeling that in your body. Then make a commitment that you are going to talk about how you are feeling and what's going on for you. Also, ask how other people are feeling and give back. That's something we can all do that doesn't cost a penny.

If you enjoyed this essay and want to delve deeper, we have a wide selection of reports available in the PUSH Perspectives section of our website, which can be accessed here.

Suppressed trauma is causing elevated stress and unhappiness in the workplace, and it’s a problem that’s not going away anytime soon. So why is it being ignored by so many major companies? We need action and we need it now. Here’s why.

I admit it, I said the 'C' word in a meeting the other day. A few people were horrified because, apparently, we're not supposed to talk about Covid anymore.

We’ve closed the door on the pandemic, swept it under the proverbial carpet and bid it a (non) fond farewell. Less than a year after the final lockdown, toilet roll famines and homemade banana bread are long-forgotten now we’ve decided it’s time to focus on ‘getting back to normal’. But what the hell even is normal? And are we truly dealing with what happened to us all on a deep enough level?

The fact of the matter is, the pandemic has resulted in a trauma that is so widespread and multi-layered, many people don’t even realise they are still suffering the fallout.

Trauma isn’t about the event itself; it’s about the effect it has on our bodies long-term. Therefore, we've got to be conscious that it's still going to have a deep influence on us physically as well as mentally.

The enduring effect of the pandemic means we are now faced with the challenge of somehow trying to reverse the negative impact it's had. We are all changed because of it and many of us are profoundly wounded without even realising it.

Trauma isn’t about the event itself, it’s about the effect it has on our body long-term. Therefore, we’ve got to be conscious that it’s still going to have a deep influence on us physically as well as mentally.

PUSH coach and former monk Klaus M Nielsen explains the big problem with people wanting life to go back to ‘how it was before’. “The issue here is that there was no ‘normal’ to start with because the world is a crazy place!” he says. “We have always had to face difficulties in our lives, but the pandemic made everything so intense that we can't hide anymore. It may be over but we, and the world, are still messed up and we have nowhere to run. We have to turn inwards now and fix ourselves and navigate the trauma we have suffered.”

Listen to each other

One of the most crucial ways to help combat this trauma is to keep talking. Our series on Safe Spaces is about reminding us of the importance of conversation, vulnerability and, ultimately, connection.

As author and thought leader Lynda Hatton pointed out in a recent article, friendships at work are more important now than ever. She writes, “Friendships at work matter. When so many hours are spent working, having someone who understands our situation - the players involved, the office dynamics, and the general organizational culture - can help buffer routine stress. When we share our experiences, it often reminds us that others have gone through similar ones.”

She goes on, “One of the crucial elements of personal resilience is friendship. It helps if we have a trusted confidant at our organization - someone who makes us feel worthwhile and whom we can celebrate and commiserate with.”

Yet the pandemic, our collective trauma and the pressures of hybrid working are working to suppress and stifle those friendships. "Friendship among work colleagues has never been more fragile", says Lynda, and she references the Microsoft 2022 Work Trend Index as evidence of this.  "59% of people in hybrid work environments and 56% who were entirely remote reported that they had fewer work friendships."

The solution? Lynda echoes our vision at PUSH to be more human, more open and more present. “Start with mutual sharing. Friendship builds as you begin to take the risk of leaning on each other. If it keeps feeling right, then it’s possible to take more risks. “

Listen to your body

It’s not just conversation that is going to help us combat this ever-growing problem. It’s also time to look to our bodies for help. For so long, we’ve been cognitive and cerebral. We’ve kept everything in our heads and acted from there. But the reality is, you've got to listen to your body at all times.

We associate high performance – and success, to a certain extent - with being always busy and feeling adrenaline-fuelled. Sometimes you get to the end of the day and you're exhausted but so wired you can't relax. Imagine what that's doing to your body.

Your body is also a really safe space that brings you back to the present and away from wherever your head is trying to take you. You can immediately feel what is going on in your body emotionally when something triggering happens. That’s why it can be your ultimate guide.

I do a lot of work on understanding what I am going through somatically because I feel things so deeply in my body. Whether it’s rage, sadness or anxiety, my body shifts and changes to tell me where I’m experiencing those emotions.

Klaus explains more about how the process works. "Everything is stored in the body because they are a product of everything we've experienced, including trauma. For that to be released you need to look at your lifestyle and reconnect your body with your mind because they are extensions of each other. Doctors still treat our bodies as biological machines and they don’t make that important connection, but ninety-five percent of physical pain, suffering and illness begins in the mind.

“I work with people on two levels. I teach people meditation because it is a very practical way of taking a step back from the mind and having a look at how insane it is. I also go through my clients’ internal and external lives and how they sleep, exercise, work, eat and socialise, because those are all huge factors.”

“Doctors still treat our bodies as biological machines and they don’t make that important connection, but ninety-five percent of physical pain, suffering and illness begins in the mind.”

Physician, author and addiction expert Dr Gabor Mate agrees. He is another huge advocate of the mind-body connection and is working tirelessly to try and ensure that it is recognised across every area of life. He speaks and writes extensively about how much of an impact our everyday actions can have on our bodies.

Chronic illnesses often have nothing to do with our genes, hence genetic studies into diseases like cancer and stroke aren't having a massive impact. They can be more to do with environment and lifestyle causes that go way beyond smoking, drinking and a bad diet.

Dr Mate believes that stress is the world's biggest killer, but Western Medicine is yet to recognise that fact. Rather than taking a 'pill for an ill' approach, Mate feels that the most important questions your doctor can ask you are, "What is your home life like? How was your childhood? What is your relationship like with your partner? Are you under a lot of pressure at work?" and then try and helps you lessen those stresses.

Listen to yourself

We can see the impact the pandemic and wider world issues have had on people in the way they approach their work/life balance. Research we carried out at PUSH showed that before the pandemic nearly half of all employees (48%) said work was most important to them. That figure is now one in five. It’s no wonder employers are rushing to prioritise their workers’ self-care. They are finally beginning to realise that a lunchtime gong session isn’t going to cut it when it comes to improving workplace wellness.

Employees are increasingly recognising the need to put themselves first. Some companies feel uncomfortable with the idea of a member of staff saying, “I'm not coming in five days this week, I’m coming in for four due to my overall well-being." Employers don’t like it, but they also recognise that they may lose talent if they don’t accept that people can’t always live up to increasing expectations and pressure.

Listen to Gen Z

Diary of a CEO host and businessman Steven Bartlett recently claimed that Gen Z are 'an absolute nightmare to manage' because they're so un-resilient. Meanwhile, Bruce Daisley - who is an expert in resilience - sees their ability to self-audit their mental wellness as a positive thing.

I'm with Bruce. Essentially, we're all as burnt out and stressed as each other, but they're the only generation that are saying it.

Rather than criticizing Gen Z, we should be applauding them because we need to talk about this stuff to deal with issues more effectively. There is no value in those feelings being suppressed. You waste an awful lot of emotional energy on trying not to deal with your exhaustion, illness and resentment when it's not fucking going anywhere!

Gen Z are happy to be open about struggles to force change, whereas older generations largely keep quiet and crack on. It feels as if anyone over a certain age is a part of a great suppression where they are scared to speak up, no matter how badly they are suffering, in case they lose their jobs.

The bottom line is that older generations think it's normal to feel stressed out about work because that's how it's always been. They are used to working our arses off but look where it's got them. Look where they've ended up.

Nothing is going to change unless we make changes. Gen Z are demanding those changes because they recognise the signs of deep stress and anxiety. In short, they don’t want to follow in their parents’ or grandparents’ burnt-out footsteps.

Pull quote: “Nothing is going to change unless we make changes. Gen Z are demanding those changes because they recognise the signs of deep stress and anxiety. In short, they don’t want to follow in their parents’ or grandparents’ burnt-out footsteps.”

Listen and learn

The way I see it, this vital information can be utilised by employers in three ways:

1)    Starting a conversation about mental health.

2)    Do an audit with your employees and find out what's going on and how they are feeling.

3)    Do some one-on-one coaching or somatic work with people to release that underlying stress and trauma.

As for what we can do for ourselves? We all need to start tapping into our bodies to try to understand what's going on internally. Try doing a body scan meditation or breathwork, maybe when you're about to go to sleep or when you wake up every morning.

When you are feeling something or you have an emotion coming up - whatever that might be – ask yourself where you're feeling that in your body. Then make a commitment that you are going to talk about how you are feeling and what's going on for you. Also, ask how other people are feeling and give back. That's something we can all do that doesn't cost a penny.

If you enjoyed this essay and want to delve deeper, we have a wide selection of reports available in the PUSH Perspectives section of our website, which can be accessed here.

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