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Kathryn's story: setting boundaries at work

Kathryn's story: setting boundaries at work
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Kathryn Coleman, Manager, Tax at PwC shares her experience of social anxiety and why mental health doesn't discriminate 

As a manager, I don’t talk about my difficulties with anxiety often – neither in the office or outside of it. This doesn’t mean I’m ashamed or hiding anything…it’s just because it’s not often relevant to my day to day job managing high performing teams in a busy environment.

My teams, on hearing me talk about my experience of social anxiety, often exclaim “but you don’t show it at all”, which I’m proud of, because I’ve worked very hard on remaining mentally healthy. The reason I do this is to be able to support my team. I know that they, like me, will struggle with imposter syndrome, paranoia, catastrophizing, and abject fear from time to time, and that’s ok. I see it as my job to help keep their perspectives aligned to reality, let them know that they are supported, and guide them to the right help if they need it.

However, this responsibility brings its own set of challenges. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate, and the calls for my attention, problem solving skills, and listening ear sometimes lead me to neglect my own mental health wellness routines.

As such, my teams get a set of rules from me when we start working together:

  • I don’t want to hear panic before 9:30am (because it can wait half an hour, promise); and
  • One problem at a time.

I do this because honestly, it’s really easy for me to blow minor problems out of all proportion before I’ve had my morning coffee, and this time to myself is vital to set up my day constructively; and because taking a step back to solve one problem at a time stops me from multitasking, which ramps up my anxiety.

However, I’ve discovered that by setting boundaries about how I would like to be communicated with, and being honest about why I need this, team members are more likely to open up to me about their own mental health triggers. And if we all know about each other’s triggers, we can avoid pushing them.

If you’re just starting out in your career, and your manager seems confident and put together, please know that experience has taught us extensive coping mechanisms and routines. Have that conversation – maybe we can teach you some of them, and learn some from you!

Kathryn is on the CMHA’s Thriving From The Start Network Committee. The Thriving From The Start Network is a mental health community for people early in their careers. Click here to find out more about the Network and how you can join: