Many people within the agency and marketing sectors are facing a tough time due to the ongoing pandemic. To provide support, the ICA is interviewing a range of people at all levels within the industry who have overcome mental health challenges and built resiliency. The series is intended to remove the stigma around mental health where it exists, and to provide help where it’s needed through relatable stories and strategies. Here Jordan Friesen, Principal Consultant at Mindset Mental Health Strategy, talks to Samantha Kamiel, Digital Strategist at Momentum Worldwide, about her successful strategies for building resiliency in the wake of poor mental health and her belief that industry leaders could do more to help their people.
Samantha Kamiel has worked in the advertising business for close to seven years now. While loving the demands and challenges of the industry, Kamiel has chosen to speak because mental health has been a focus of hers for years and she wants to pass on some of the practical techniques she’s developed to build resiliency.
Kamiel describes advertising as a pressure cooker business: “The agency industry has been built on delivering good work, often with very tight deadlines, and the first people who get sidelined are employees because the work comes first. Paired with that, if we don’t have strong leadership advocating for their people, it can be very difficult to feel you have a voice. Especially in regards to mental health.”
“Looking back at my mental health journey, I wasn’t recognizing the signs that I wasn’t doing well. I was very focused on the negative. I think it’s important to take the time to recognize how I’m feeling and what I need in those moments. Even celebrate small wins!”
She says these indicators can be as straightforward as recognizing that you’re not sleeping well, and also urges people in the industry to be kind to themselves and cut back on the “negative self-talk”: “If someone gives you feedback and notice you’re blaming yourself right after, I would say that’s a sign that you’re struggling. It’s time to take a step back and reassess what your needs are.”
Kamiel is spot on with these observations – sleep is a very tangible indicator of how healthy you are, and frequent, unhelpful self-criticism can be a sign that your mental health needs attention.
Kamiel’s own solution was to combine seeing a therapist with being more active outside of work – taking more exercise and hobby classes. When it comes to therapy, Kamiel recommends a kind of “speed dating” approach to find the right counsellor for your needs: “I met with three and told them all I was seeing other therapists, and then found the one I connected the most with. I would recommend that to anyone starting therapy because you truly need someone that you connect with. I needed someone who could deal with my short-term goals and long-term goals – immediate intervention to address the negative thoughts and long-term tactics to change my approach to triggering moments.”
She adds that the exercise and other hobby classes outside work also played a key role in improving things: “It’s an excuse to leave work, that sounds ridiculous but it’s positive to be able to say “I have a class, I’ve got to go’. No-one stops you, not even yourself.”
Kamiel explains that we’re all a work in progress but what would be helpful from the workplace is communication. “It starts with leadership. Our leaders can be advocates for us, having open communication is essential, someone you can build trust with so you’re truly working as a team.”
When we’re feeling particularly critical, she recommends an approach of being “curious rather than self-blaming.” Examining whether your self-criticism is truly reflective of your abilities or even rational is a helpful practice for anyone. She adds: “Physically writing things down allows your brain to look at things in a more holistic way.”
Kamiel makes an important point here – understanding how cognitive skills can make you better at work, and learning how to deconstruct your own perceptions of yourself can help you make more informed decisions: “Being able to step back and not take it so personally has really helped me in my career,” she adds.
On a wider, industry level, there’s been so much disruption. While change can be unsettling perhaps it also presents an opportunity to do things differently, to make sure that good mental health is an important part of workplace consideration?
Which brings us to the current work pressures due to the pandemic. Pre-COVID, Kamiel took some proactive steps to improve her mental health. Has this helped at all in the past year? “The boundaries of work/life balance were already blurred but working from home has really exaggerated that. You’ve got your laptop with you at all times, people know we’re sitting at home and possibly online, so that’s been really tough. It’s been a year without office chats, quick catchups at people’s desks. So, it’s been a huge change and setting boundaries is something we’re all working on.”
“Being more understanding when people are going through a hard time – not looking at them as weak. People just need recuperation time to get back to where they were. I’ve seen a lot more understanding in the pandemic, of what we’re going through, and I hope that will continue,” Kamiel says.
And, if she could look back and give her younger self some key advice to stay well? “Negative self-talk doesn’t help you, it’s not proactive and doesn’t get us ahead. Have sympathy for yourself more than self-criticism and get into some hobbies outside work to release that energy. Have fun, relax and enjoy time outside of work!”
Kamiel’s story highlights that alongside the need for more space for creativity, understanding and empathy, people working in advertising need both internal and external support in order to lead to better management around mental health.
Jordan Friesen is a registered Occupational Therapist and Principal Consultant at Mindset Mental Health Strategy. He uses his skills as a consultant to assist organizations who want to take progressive action to support the mental health of their workforce as a competitive advantage and business imperative for the future of work.
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