Accessing the EAP
I think it’s safe to say that from March to now, it’s been a wild ride. We were thrust from our normal routines and office work into a long-term working from home situation on the direction of the government, literally overnight. For months we’ve been separated from our teammates and adjusting to the new normal we’re all experiencing during these unprecedented times. (I promise, I haven’t called them that over email though.) While, here in Ireland, we’ve recently seen some return to normalcy, our lives are still mostly turned upside down and each one of us has had to handle that experience in our own way (both personally and professionally.)
Admittedly, I had less stress to deal with than most when our team separated in March. Aside from converting my kitchen into an office each morning and then breaking it back down each evening, I felt fine. I didn’t have to worry about balancing a work and family schedule with a partner or come up with a new routine for children who don’t understand the principles of pandemics. Thankfully, my parents are healthy and able to quickly adapt in order to stay safe. So when the work from home mandate was issued, for weeks I just focused on getting into a routine: waking up, commuting from my bedroom to my kitchen, working straight through the day and naturally, taking lunch breaks in front of my screen because it was the only place to sit. I didn’t love it, but if you’d asked me how I was doing, I would have said fine.
Sure, I was feeling unsure- but weren’t we all feeling that way initially? Before we understood the true scope of Covid-19, we thought lockdown might last a couple of weeks. Then, a couple of months, and eventually it sunk in that our lives would be permanently altered by this pandemic. I didn’t feel it at first, the anxiety that was creeping up on me slowly. And because I could logically recognize my circumstances were privileged, it seemed like the only way to respond was to ignore those feelings (because surely, they’d go away eventually.) Then, about three months into the pandemic, I was taken completely aback when my own manager asked had I considered taking advantage of our EAP and talking to a counsellor about stress I was experiencing.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve always considered myself to be a major proponent of counselling. Seeking assistance when experiencing difficult times and getting unbiased opinions from someone qualified to help is a no-brainer to me- I know it works. And yet when it was initially suggested I immediately started justifying why I didn’t need help. I avoided reaching out, thinking that so many people are worse off than me right now, so many people are struggling to get by and have real things to worry about. How could I take up those resources just because I was feeling stressed? But in truth, I really needed someone to talk to- someone who wouldn’t try to commiserate, but who would listen to my anxieties and frustrations and help me come up with more effective ways of dealing with them.
Luckily, Sogeti is a company that takes mental health seriously. Our employee assistance programme is a free service that provides help for a variety of topics, from finance management to family planning and pretty much everything in between. One of the major benefits, though, is counselling. We’re all entitled to 6 sessions with a counsellor per year, to help with an array of issues like grief, stress and bereavement. So, with the support of my manager I (eventually) booked in with a counsellor named Anne and started working through some of the difficulties I’d been experiencing. Six sessions might not sound like a lot, but spread over the course of 3 months we’ve covered a lot of ground! I found new ways of approaching my stress, and generally finished each session feeling like I had new tools necessary for facing what are likely to be many more months of insecurity and uncertainty.
It was an incredibly simple process, and I was matched with a counsellor who was a fantastic fit for my needs. Initially, I rang the freephone line to request a call-back, and during that call I explained what I was experiencing that I felt I needed help with. They established the severity of my needs (and were very compassionate in ensuring that I wasn’t in need of more immediate attention) and then scheduled my first session with Anne directly. During the first with Anne, she brought me through a survey to gauge the level of stress I was dealing with, and we completed the survey again on my final session to see the change. (Let me tell you, it was a drastic change!)
While as colleagues we’re all going through this situation together and doing our best to support one another, it’s not fair to say we’re all in the same boat. What feels like a major stressor for some might not even register for others. But through using our EAP and opening myself up to the notion of getting help, I was able to resolve some of the feelings of fear and unrest that have plagued me these last few months. That’s had a positive impact on me professionally, of course, but more importantly it’s helped me deeply on a personal level.
I decided to write about my experience, quite simply, because I was so resistant to seek help in the first place. I want others in the organisation to know that though we try to put on our brave, corporate faces during our work interactions, it’s okay to admit that behind closed doors all is not exactly well. Any time I’ve opened up about needing help looking after my mental health (whether during Covid or otherwise) I’ve found my teammates to be very open in response and realising that the stigma which sometimes does exist really isn’t quite as strong inside of Sogeti. Instead, we’re greeted with understanding, empathy and the resources to get help- in whatever form that might take. I hope in reading this, others who are considering using the EAP will, and that they will see the same benefits as I have.