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What to Know If You Can’t Afford to Take a Mental Health Break Like Simone Biles

I was working in a very stressful job at my state’s Public Health Division. I had a high-profile job and had a myriad of responsibilities including supervising a staff of 26 and a budget of 17 million. I carried out my duties responsibly and was promoted three times in three years in addition to an interim section director position.

At one point, my boss was put on administrative leave and I was left with all her responsibilities. There were rumors of our jobs being in jeopardy and staff were becoming restless and disgruntled. I knew I had a family to care for. My partner did not work, and we had a teenager at home. I was troubled as to how this was all going to pan out.

I was very stressed out and my mental health was failing. I started having fainting episodes and more frequent migraines. I knew my health was a priority, but I had one month of mortgage saved and then we would be out on the street. I had no options, so I stayed, and I did not complain.

Multiple Olympic Gold Medal winner Simone Biles has the luxury of taking a mental health break from gymnastics when her job got too much, as did professional tennis player Naomi Osaka. They are two Black women with the courage to say “enough is enough,” and “my mental health is more important than any job.” They however have the means to make these decisions a lot of us do not.

I had no choice but to stay on my job. My mental and physical health be damned.

Women like me must find alternatives. We are in underpaid jobs and have little flexibility to pack it up and say “enough is enough.” We must stick it out and hope a new opportunity comes along that meets our needs.

I did not cope well in my situation and l looked for alternative employment. I did take a week off to recuperate after a long struggle but was then promptly fired.

What to do when you are trapped in a job that is compromising your mental health and for the immediate future you do not have a way out:

1. Focus on your own performance: put your head down and do the job assigned to you.

2. Find an ally that is trustworthy (not the office gossip), support each other and give each other reality checks.

3. If your job affords you lunch and other breaks, take them — do not work through them. It will not improve your position at the company.

4. If you are so inclined, rely on a higher power to keep you focused and centered. Gather weekly with other believers and look for peace there.

5. Establish boundaries with co-workers who are disrupting your peace and seek out support from a supervisor if necessary.

6. Confide in a dear friend. Let them know you are struggling and ask them if they have the bandwidth to support you at this time.

7. If you have vacation time, ask to use it and really relax. You do not need to leave home to do this.

8. Ask for work accommodations. Maybe you can work from home or adjust your hours. Maybe you can change shifts to avoid a certain manager.

9. Possibly you can move within the company to a new position.

10. Do not stay because you are afraid to change jobs, worrying it will just be more of the same. Take the risk and search Google for questions you can ask in an interview that will give you some good insight into the company’s culture. Study the company and make the leap.

11. See if your company has short-term disability benefits. This may help. There is, however, usually limited benefits for mental health.

It is a lot to take on when you are already mentally exhausted and feel the world is working against you. I have faith that you will persevere, ask for what you need and get it. No one deserves to stay in a mentally draining job because they cannot make the rent or buy food without it. Workplaces must do better especially considering this pandemic and provide a safe workplace for everyone and accommodations for those who need it.

Biles and Osaka did the right thing, and I am glad they had the financial resources to do so. We have all learned a valuable lesson from them. Even those on the biggest stage are human and struggle just like the rest of us. I am glad they are using their platform for the good of all of us.

I would like to hear your suggestions in the comments and about how you have coped under these circumstances.

Stay Mighty Strong!

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