What To Recognize and Address for Anxiety in the Workplace with Dr. MH Pelletier

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In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with author and psychologist Dr. Marie-Helene (MH) Pelletier on how to address anxiety in the workplace and how to be better prepared for it.

A few reasons why she is awesome  —  she is a registered psychologist and international keynote speaker focusing on leadership and workplace mental health.  Creator and faculty for Leadership Resilience and Workplace Mental Health courses at the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business. She’s a Member of the Global Clinical Practice Network for the World Health Organization, and she’s a former director on the boards of Canadian Psychological Association and the International Association of Applied Psychology. She has a PhD and an MBA, and more than 20 years of experience as a senior leader in the corporate, insurance, governance and health care sectors.

Connect with, and learn more about Marie-Helene on…



  • What the reality of anxiety can look like.
  • How helpful context can be in combating anxious environments.
  • The role of boundaries in resilience to anxiety.
  • The leader’s and organization’s role in managing employee anxiety
  • Where companies get it wrong in addressing mental health.
  • The differences between stress and anxiety.

“Pay attention. Are you self-aware? Are you seeing the signs? Are you taking actions to mitigate these signs? And there’s a limit to how much we can mitigate too. There will be a point at which the levels of demands here are such that there are not actually healthy, not healthy for any human being, not healthy for you in this moment in time, given your other demands, given your experience.”

MH Pelletier


Russel Lolacher: On the show today, we have Dr. Marie-Helene Pelletier, and here is why she is awesome. She’s a registered psychologist and international keynote speaker focusing on leadership workplace mental health. She’s a creator and faculty member for leadership, resilience and workplace mental health courses at the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business.

She’s a member of the Global Clinical Practice Network for the World Health Organization. And a former director on the boards of Canadian Psychological Association and the International Association of Applied Psychology, all one breath. Not bad. And she has a PhD and MBA, more than 20 years of experience as a senior leader in the corporate insurance, governance and healthcare sectors.

And she’s here right now. Hello, Marie-Helene. How are you?

MH Pelletier: Hello, Russel. Such a pleasure to be here.

Russel Lolacher: As we do with every episode, we have to start with the first question, which is, what’s your best or worst employee experience?

MH Pelletier: Yes. You know, I’ll go with my best. And it is now decades ago when I first got my first larger corporate job. And it is it was with Wilson Benwell at the time, which is now Homewood Health. But I was very interested in working for that company. I had just moved to Vancouver. They did not have a, a posting a job or anything.

But I had conversations with a number of people within the organization and just decided on my own to write a proposal of some, some of my ideas of what they could do with just what they talked about. And when I came back to bring that paper in, because it is now a couple of decades ago, you would not email at the time you would actually bring paper.

They sort of looked like, ah, you know, she’s insisting, she’s coming back. She’s nice and all, but we don’t have a job for her. But it took the thing, and I had made two copies, one for each of the persons I had spoken to, one of whom was the CEO of the organization. And then couple of weeks later, they brought me back in and they said, you know what?

We can’t afford to create a new role, but we can’t afford to pass up either on bringing you in, so you’re in. And they created a role and it worked for what I was doing. I ended up having several, many roles within this organization. But it was such a very, very good experience in a number of ways.

One of which, as you know, being in this field, Basically was telling me you’re gonna have champions here who will support what you bring, your contributions and your growth. It was not easy all the time, of course. But I I, I knew it was a good place to to do a part of my, my journey and it was.

Russel Lolacher: It’s so funny, and this does come up a lot talking to guests, which is the best experience they ever had is that one time or the first time I should say they actually felt valued. Up until that point, it’s always been very much a doing the job underappreciated. And then there’s that one leader that shows that championship mentality of, oh, we actually respect and love your brain, and we wanna make a partnership here.

It just blows my mind that also this was decades ago and it still resonates with you so highly.

MH Pelletier: Yes, yes. Yeah, no, that’s true. And I’ve, I’ve, in my case, been very lucky to have a number of, of those. But this was just possibly the, the most vulnerable. Yes, yes, it was. Because it, I think it was for me, so unexpected I was still hoping, obviously, but I was realistic also in my assessment of how likely was I to have a job there in that moment.

But yeah, no, these, I mean these, yeah, they do mark people’s experiences for sure. And it marked mine. Yes. And I’m still to this day in touch with a number of people from that organization, including this particular CEO.

Russel Lolacher: That’s fantastic. Well, one thing people do get anxiety about is feeling undervalued, feeling that they’re in the wrong workplace environment, which is a big segway… I did an amazing job right there of translating our segway from your story into our topic today, which is anxiety in the workplace. Now, I did a quick Google search about the definition of anxiety, so I wanna throw that passed you first to make sure how that sits with you.

Defined as a mental condition characterized by excessive apprehensiveness about real or perceived threats, typically leading to avoidance behaviors and often to physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, muscle tension. Is that enough of a definition, do you believe? Does that sum it up?

MH Pelletier: It is a, a, a good and appropriate definition, I think for. Our conversation and for each of us what perhaps I would add is to think of it not just as a mental condition over here and really think of it as a continuum. So that number one, we can experience anxiety that sometimes will not have reached the technical mental condition level, like, you know, have all of these characteristics.

But sometimes we’ll have some of these characteristics and that’s enough to make us feel bnot very comfortable. And so, and plus the other value in thinking of it as a continuum is that we might catch it earlier and may be able to take actions earlier as well, so that it does not necessarily progress to the more significant levels in the more the higher intensity.

But yeah, the definition you read sounds pretty good.

Russel Lolacher: How do you know it’s anxiety? I mean, I’ve myself been in situations where I’m like, oh, I’m just on unhealthy and short of breath. No, you’re anxious as hell. Or others have just de have compartmentalized it and just said, well, it’s just part of the job. Just keep moving. So what is, how do you know it’s anxiety in the in, in your experience?

MH Pelletier: I know. Well, I mean, ultimately the way to know would be to consult with a professional who will assess ask you all kinds of questions, because sometimes those signs and symptoms will look like anxiety. Like if you looked them up online, you’d be like, yep, check, you know, I’m getting all of these things yet, Some of these signs may actually be a sign of something else.

Sometimes the signs for feeling anxious or feeling depressed will be very similar, or even sometimes some of the thing, the signs of feeling anxious will actually be as a result of a physical health condition. So it is really not just a nice thing to say. It’s very true. Checking in with a professional is usually a good something good to consider because if you think of it, worst comes to worst, you’ll lose like an hour of your time or something like this.

And sometimes it’s hard for ourselves to do our own assessment of what’s going on. That being said, yes, you know, you’ve, you’ve listed some of the signs that we maybe could observe and a, a general guideline that is helpful I think is to think of… You want to think about the frequency of what you’re experiencing.

Is this just a one time or does it happen consistently over time and the intensity, is this a little bit and then goes away, or it’s a lot and it stays high. So the frequency and the severity will start giving you a sense of, was this a one-time reaction to a one-time situation that’s very understandable.

It goes away, I move on or not. And the third of three, I would say not just, I would say we know from best practice and research is the, the, and the technical term is the impact on our functioning. Okay, so the degree to which it impacts what we’re set to do, and that’s true both in our professional life and our personal life.

So if you, the kind of person who usually, I dunno, finds it relatively easy to take care of yourself, to make sure you go for a walk with your dog on your own, whatever. And then the levels of anxiety are such that you just want to stay home and do nothing. That’s an impact on your functioning, even if it’s personal functioning.

And of course you can imagine all the impacts on professional functioning as well. Yeah.

Russel Lolacher: So let’s touch on that. What are the impacts in the workplace for someone that’s suffering through anxiety, whether they want to admit it or not?

MH Pelletier: I know. So, I’ll say possible impact because again, we would want to make sure that we check that these signs are in fact anxiety, but assuming that they are the, you can, as you said, you know, when you brought that definition. There’s an element when we’re feeling anxious that we’re very worried about an actual or perceived threat.

So a lot of our brain is used like the Alarm Center is now on, and it’s used to making sure we’re checking for all the other threats, how we’re going to react to all this. I get a lot of the focus is on that perceived or actual threat, which means by definition, brain is limited. You know, it’s fabulous and everything, however, There’s only so much the brain can can handle.

So if a lot of it is used managing the threat, that means we have less for the other things. So it’s harder to concentrate. For example, things that you used to read once and you’re moving now, you’ve, you’ve read it once, nothing got in. You have to reread it, reread it again or it takes you much longer than usual to do something.

Something that usually would take you half an hour. Now you’ve been two hours at it and you’re barely. Done making decisions, let’s say. Usually you take your time, it works well for you. Now you’re just like, oh, let’s decide quickly because I don’t know, or the reverse. Usually you make decisions quickly cause you can see everything and you know, and now takes you much longer.

So these are examples of ways in which it could show up in, in our work. And of course there’s others, like we could be more impatient, not as good in I. How we react to challenges, how we interact with, with people, ways in which that are not how we want to be. How we are usually when we are at our best.

So these are signs and they will start small and we will ignore them when they start small. That’s the piece where I often say, and people I’ve worked with get better and better at identifying these beginnings of reactions, like a two out of 10 as opposed to nine and a half, you know.

Russel Lolacher: What would you say to someone where they’ll just say, it’s part of the job. This is just, this is part of being an executive. This is part of being in a high pressure situation. I am stronger as a leader if I can just, you know, power through.

MH Pelletier: Yes. I will say it depends. It depends. It is a, I think very realistic that in some roles we want to acknowledge that there is a fairly high level of demands, of pressures, of demands that are all coming at the same time, unexpected, large ones in some roles. That’s how that’s, that’s part of the job.

That’s true. Okay. That being said, what we want to be careful of is to not minimize what this is, because if we minimize this and say, oh, that’s normal, it’s all part of the job. Put my head down, keep working. We’re at risk of not being self-aware, not paying attention to what these large demands. The impact that they’re having on us here and there in that window.

Like, you can have all these demands and we’re here being impacted. There are many things we can do to mitigate this impact, and, and so we don’t want to just say, yes, these demands are there. It’s normal. It’s part of the job. Keep going because then we’re not being self-aware, we’re not paying attention to the impact, and we’re not therefore doing anything to mitigate, mitigate it.

We keep going and that means you’ll eventually trend down. You’re putting yourself at risk and so. So that’s what I would say would say it depends. Pay attention. Are you self-aware? Are you seeing the signs? Are you taking actions to mitigate these signs? And there’s a limit to how much we can mitigate too.

There will be a point at which the levels of demands here are such that there are not actually healthy, not healthy for any human being, not healthy for you in this moment in time, given your other demands, given your experience. Everything. It depends. So we need to, we need to explore this a bit.

Russel Lolacher: And I do like that you say depends because you, there will be a lot of people at, at both ends of the spectrum and the hierarchical organization from the top going, oh, it’s part of the job. But also that frontline staff who feels those levels and that heightened level anxiety, which like, you know what, I’m just starting.

I need to power through this and show my strength at work to show my capability at work. So I need to just power through this as well. Both jobs important, different levels, but anxiety impacting them. So it really, I, I love that you mentioned that it depends that it’s not a cookie cutter to it.

MH Pelletier: It’s so much so, and you know, Russel, that I, I have a book coming out February 6th, 2024. And it is called the Resilience Plan – A Strategic Approach to Optimize Your Work Performance and Mental Health. And in that book, that’s exactly, that’s exactly the kinds of things I talk about, the importance, in a nutshell, of context of how, regardless of the role we’re in we want to look at our overall context, professional and personal, to create a strategic plan, literally to manage all the, the demands that we’re facing and how we’re responding to them so that we can create a plan that is effective and actually doable, personalized, customized for each of us.

And so that, that is critical in the absence of this general cookie cutter guidelines will just, yeah, they make sense, but they wash, you know, they go, they roll off our back and we keep going because they don’t seem to change anything and they don’t because they’re not customized.

Russel Lolacher: Now you knew I was gonna ask you this because we talked about this before the show, but resilience.

We talked because I’ve previously mentioned on the show how much I hate the topic and how much it is misused. So why don’t we talk about resilience when it comes to anxiety, not only how to become resilient in the workplace, but also to set yourself up for success outside the workplaceso you’re better prepared. So what is resilience against anxiety for you and how do you start building it?

MH Pelletier: Yeah, well a lot of most people have some degrees of resilience that for all of us will fluctuate over time in life. And in a nutshell, that’s our ability to go through. Adversity, setback, setbacks, sometimes all at the same time, and come out, learn from them and come out even stronger. And so you can see how, if we go with this definition and we work on a consistent basis to do everything we can, consistent meaning every day.

Actually to increase it, then it almost becomes it serves as in a way, a protective factor. Not immunization. It’s not the guaranteed protection, but it’s a protective factor in the overall equation of our psychological health. And so as we build resilience, we can talk about examples of ways to do this.

It will allow each of us to bring our best to our professional and personal life. I think the sometimes the main And I actually really like the love, the resistance to resilience that has become a bit part of the conversation because mostly the reason it that, that wait a second conversation has happened is because not so long ago, there was part of the discourse that suggested that it was exclusively within us as individuals to build. And if we were doing this, then we were going to be fine regardless of being at times in a completely unhealthy toxic environment, personal or professional or both and, and that is critical.

There is a limit to how just us as individual can do. We are in a context. However, what I’m saying is we still need to build this, this individual resilience because we’ll need it to make decisions. About this environment that we’re really, right now, we’re in, are we going to try to influence it? Are we going to mitigate how we experience it?

Are we going to leave it? But if we’re like bottom of our tank, no resilience, like, ugh, completely impacted, then it’s harder to manage this challenging environment.

Russel Lolacher: So could you gimme a couple examples for the either work or at home of how you could be starting to build that resilience?

MH Pelletier: Yes. Yes. And the key thing here is not so much the generic directions, which in a conversation like this, that’s all I can bring. But it’s how each of us implement these things. I’ll give you examples actually just to, to show what I mean, so we know, for example, from research if resilience was a mathematical equation, there would be many variables that get us to, to this increasing resilience. But there are four that are this possibly the most predictive variables. We all know them. Nothing new here. Exercise three types – cardio, strength training, meditative type activity, nutrition, sleep, and relationships.

Spending time with people we enjoy spending time with. Everyone knows about these things. No one, it’s not a mystery for anyone. And if by magic we could implement this in our daily life now we would, and some people manage through some phases to actually do this. What we need is for each of us to look at, okay, given my current life, my current demands, if right now I’m not implementing all this on a daily basis, in which ways can I translate?

Each of these things in actions that are so small that I actually can do this today.

So if I were to give an example of, for example, the first variable exercise. I am aiming, let’s say, at doing a half hour exercise today, and I see that in my schedule, it absolutely is not there. It will not happen. It’s not possible. Well then one option may be to scale it to something very, very small, like going to stand outside and take five very long deep breath looking at a tree and the wind in the tree.

It is not the same. We’re not gonna say it’s the same. However, what I’ve done is I’ve maintained a version of the habit. I’ve maintained the commitment to investing in my resilience, and it will remind me of maybe looking at my schedule for tomorrow and finding a way to create that space. So that’s an example.

So we want each of us look at what is possible today, and then looking to reach towards these ways of increasing resilience, which will have impacts on personal and professional.

Russel Lolacher: When does it get to a point where you’re thinking, and you kind of touched on this, where you’re thinking, I shouldn’t have to be this resilient. You are doing all the things at home. You are like the healthier lifestyle, the personalization of what works for you. You show up at work every day and it’s just, why am I putting all this effort my organization doesn’t seem to care. Like you’re talking about that, that my tank, it’s on me. Why should it have to be so much? Is there a line? Where you’re thinking, you know what I, I shouldn’t have to be.

MH Pelletier: Sometimes when we’re in a situation like this one, there is an opportunity to speak with our leader about how things are going. And I’m going to assume in this situation that you’ve tried that and you know, unfortunately either they do not understand or you really don’t… doesn’t look like they can change anything. That kind of thing. That’s often when people will use their resources, like their employee and family assistance program, for example, or consulting with someone or just doing their own reflection on whether this is the right fit at this point. There may have been a point in which there was a, a very good fit.

I worked with someone not too long ago that. Had joined the organization and worked with a certain leader, the fit was excellent, everything was wonderful. That leader moved on to a different role. New person came in the fit, even if it was the same job, the same company that they loved. For years actually, the, the whole experience was now very different. And despite their efforts to have conversation, it would not change. And so for them, it was a time to look at, okay, given that this context cannot change and that I am really not happy here, it’s not the right fit for me anymore, it’s time to look for something else. And for some people that’s, that’s end up what ends up happening because ultimately, if you keep staying there, the like, and you are already seeing impact on your psychological health, the likelihood that this will stay stable and you can just put your head down and keep going is not so likely. If we’ve been trending down, we are more likely to continue to trend down and at some point it can lead to a more severe impact on our psychological health and it’s often a good idea to change that before we get there.

Russel Lolacher: So what is the role of the organization? What are the role of with policies or practices or leadership training? What is their role in their employees’ anxiety levels?

MH Pelletier: Yes, yes. Oh, definitively have a role because they are the context in which we work and in organizations that are healthy we’ll see them, number one, invest in their, select their leaders, number one, such that it’s not just an excellent individual contributor that becomes a leader as a as a recognition, for example.

No, you become a leader. It is a, an area of expertise. It is. A role that requires certain traits and background and, and knowledge. And so the way that they select their leaders, the way they support their leaders, the training that they can seem to give them, the individual support in a case by case basis, the attention of each of the situations with each employee and what they need.

To make sure that we bring the best support possible to them. And I’ve seen it, it, it exists. I’m not inventing this. I’ve, I’ve worked with individuals who trusted their manager enough to share with them their needs. Not necessarily all the details of, of their life situation, but bringing, keeping them up to up to date with, with their, where they’re at and what their needs are.

And so in organizations that are very supportive, there is. It’s part of their performance as leaders to listen to know what’s going on, to look for ways to support. They as leaders are supported in looking for these solutions by their own leaders who will also help them, because often it is not, again, a cookie cutter type situation.

So I’ve seen employers like this, for example, get ahead of a potential need to be off work by instead. Changing their schedule, changing their work demands during a certain, the employee’s work demands during a certain phase to allow them to stay at work even while someone in their family, for example, had a very severe physical illness that they needed to support.

And so these are examples. Often, you will find this in organizations that have invested in the mental health of their employees. They have a mental health strategy. It is aligned with their physical health and financial health strategy. It’s aligned with their business strategy. Like the business reason why they’re there.

Everything’s integrated and, and it permeates in the culture such that everyone knows it’s going to be like this here, which also means, again, it’s not, it’s in part yes, do I trust my, my particular leader, but. In addition, they know that in this organization, with this leader or any other, I’ll be able to bring it up if I need something, and if I see that someone’s getting accommodated, I get it.

I know it’s because they need it right now. Just like I know if it was me or if it is ever me, I will receive it. So there was a role for organizations, but if the organization is not there or not there now, then it’s often tricky for us as employees to just say, well, it’s their, clearly it’s their fault, it’s their problem.

I. It, but it, we’re not, we’re not a, a machine here, we’re an employee and so a member, a human member of this team. And so sometimes these changes take it a long time, and sometimes it’s too long for us to stay and tolerate this until the change happens, which is why sometimes the solution is to not stay for right now.

Russel Lolacher: That leads me to what I’m thinking is where organizations get it wrong. So here, here’s a question I have. Here’s an example. Say someone is having such anxiety ridden, stress driven issues with the role. So they say, okay, take stress leave. Go away for a month, two months, however, to get yourself together and come back.

And then the organization does absolutely nothing to address the causes and the triggers that cause that stress and anxiety to begin with in the workplace. So in their mind, they’re doing a great job. ’cause look, we provide stress leave, but it’s a, it’s a bandaid and a check box and not a culture shift.

How else are organizations getting it wrong or, or any thoughts you have on that scenario?

MH Pelletier: Yes, it’s a very frequent scenario. Sometimes what will happen So a scenario like this will tend to come in it, it will not tend to come in, in healthy cultures that have invested in, in their mental health strategy because in that kind of culture, when a leave needs to happen, there is a conversation about what, what, what can we learn from this?

Where, what did we miss? What can we change? And as the employee. Usually does a gradual return to work. There are conversations about how are we going to do this differently and what do we need to, to, to learn from this? The organizations that don’t see it, and just see it as, oh, well take a stress leave, you’ve come back better.

They’re missing the, the system thinking about this. This is a system. So it’s not just employee. It’s, and sometimes it’s not at all just the employee. Sometimes it’s more, really more the organization. Sometimes it’s a combination. Have we as an organization, asked and listened to what people tell us about their experience?

Have we proactively had conversations about workload, how people feel with it? Or are we avoiding it cause we’re just wanting to pile more on people and we think this is the only way to do it, which is not going to work. And sometimes as in organizations that are, I’ll call it earlier on their journey.

Leaders see it. They, they see that the ways in which we think here as an organization at some points is, is we’re gonna crack. Because not only we’re piling more on our team here, I’ve being, I’m being piled on more me too, as a leader. So you sort of see it coming, but you feel like you have to just.

Keep nourishing this. And it’s very demanding on leaders because most leaders are not the top leader. We’re in the middle here receiving it from here and giving it to to our teams. And so this is a time sometimes to also have as leaders our own conversations outside of this context, whether we’re using the employee assistance and family assistance program, we’re using our psychological benefits. We’re working with a professional and executive coach to help take a distance, take a perspective on this situation, and how can we gradually influence it. How… no, talking about workload does not mean that, hmm, not nothing is going to work. It means we may help prioritize, we may help give our visibility as a leader on everything that’s on their plate in terms of what could be actually put on hold for right now. When you’re here and you don’t have that visibility, it will look like everything is super important and all needs attention, all needs to get done. If we as a leader can proactively talk to our person and say, let’s review your workload. Let’s see if you were to prioritize what would absolutely have to come first, what could be possibly towards the, the end of the list so that we can help them find that flexibility, find that adaptability, and receive your support so that these are some examples of what I’ve seen in very healthy and their journey organization.

Russel Lolacher: I, I like that we’ve kind of split it into three here. We’ve got ourselves and our responsibility about our resilience and our anxiety levels and how to manage, but also leader’s role in helping their employees manage that anxiety level and to try to create an environment where it’s easier to manage.

And then the organization as a whole.

MH Pelletier: Yes.

Russel Lolacher: Where do boundaries fit into all of this?

MH Pelletier: Yes. Well, they are important and. It, I’ll tell you. I mean the, the, they can come in different ways. I’ll perhaps talk about the I’ll go with the employee experience because as we were talking about earlier, as, as leaders, we are employees as well. So it’s, it’ll still work as, as if we think of it this way. At some point, there will be more demands than we have supply for supply of time, supply of energy, ability to get all of these things done.

And so we will need to put boundaries in terms, in terms of what is doable today, what is doable this week? What is doable in, in this year when we’re planning our goals for the overall year. And so, What we want is to have good communication with our leader on what are the demands, what looks doable.

Sometimes we’ll need to bring actual numbers, like how many days do we think this is? Because, you know, I was speaking with someone recently who was asked to temporarily add, you know, ask I behave as a team lead in addition to their contributor, individual contributor role. And the leader just said, just check in with the team.

You know, which sounds okay. You know, almost sounds like it’s a side of your desk, two minute a week task. Well, wait a second. This is a team of five people geographically distributed. So in order to check in, we’re gonna need to, to have a half hour conversation. Oh, look at that. We’ve got five people. Half an hour. Five times. So now we’re at two hours and a half. And the check-in is not going to be just check-in and moving on. It’s going to be a check-in. I’ve now learned about some of the needs you have. I’m going to need to action some of these needs. Delegate. Look for support. This is not, this is now actually a full day, a week.

So being realistic is important and when we’re being realistic, then it makes it even easier to maintain healthy boundaries. Right? Because now in this particular scenario, if this individual contributor who’s now also checking in as a team lead taking these actions and they’re asked to do even more, the first reaction is… recommended is to go back to their leader and say, oh, look, I now have this additional demand.

We know that we want me to do the check-ins, and I have these three responsibilities that are mine. What else can be taken off temporarily? My plate such that I can also meet this additional demand. So it’s almost in some ways if you’ve worked with project managers, it’s almost like thinking of it as a project, project manager. A new task is coming in. We’re not saying, okay, yes. We’re saying, oh, new task is coming in. Where does it fit? What else needs to move? And that in itself, because it sometimes with the boundaries, the the recommendation is to like just say no, find ways to say no.

That kind of thing. Russel, can we ever like, just no. Eh? Most of the time it’s actually not a realistic option. A more realistic option is, tell me more about this. Where does it fit this? Have conversations, see what else needs to move it. It’s is this kind of thing, and that’s how we get to healthy boundaries in a collaborative way.

Russel Lolacher: Communication is so key. Communication is, I, I, I’ve looked at almost every root of a problem in the workplace. And you always, it almost always goes back to either good, well, usually bad communication if it’s a problem, and good communication if it’s not a problem. And I, I remember a story my, one of my my best friends of my dad told me where he was working on a factory floor.

He was a supervisor, and they put him in the middle of the floor as a almost a bubble, like an office bubble in the middle of this busy environment. It caused unbelievable amounts of anxiety for the workers because suddenly their direct boss is in the middle of the floor. Watching them, micromanaging them.

And meanwhile, that manager and supervisor was never communicated why they were in the middle of the floor and what the intent of that role was. So he’s got anxiety ’cause he doesn’t feel like he’s meeting it. He feels like he’s not being there for his group, but he’s now looking like an overlord. So horrible communication that is creating anxiety at multiple levels your organization just ’cause somebody up top with, it’s like, I think this should be a thing. So communication, being so avoided or not prioritized is such a trigger for so many people’s anxiety ’cause they don’t have context. And context seems to be such a, a, a, even if you don’t agree, it seems to be a really nice way of at least understanding and minimizing that anxiety.

MH Pelletier: Yes, absolutely. Because then often with anxiety, specifically, we make. Assumptions. We make negative assumptions, negative predictions. So this situation that’s happening is bad. It’s going to be catastrophic, and the likelihood of that catastrophe to happen is, is very high. Where And now our brain does this, and there is, right?

The adaptive reason for it, it’s protective. We’re paying attention to possible threat, all that, however, Often it’s not that helpful because we’re making, we’re creating this in our head. And when we learn more information, for example, about the context, the intentions, whatever, it’s just learning more. Then we’ve got facts, reality, and we, we can, and often it is much better than that catastrophic prediction here.

And so the more, and we actually know this from research, the more employees trust their managers, the more they will talk to them. And so trust will be built over time as what we say and what we do correspond to each other, that transparency and honest transparent leadership and communication. One of the nice ways to think about this is that therefore all of us got this in our hands. As employees doing efforts to go to our leader and express, even if they’re not asking, pretend that they’re asking so that you’re sharing your questions where you’re at, that kind of thing. And, but seriously, as a leader, you really want to do this because the leader has more of a a responsibility to go and seek that information from their team members. Sure as team members, I’m saying let’s try to bring it forward as much as we can call it managing up or just interacting in a proactive way. But if you’re a leader, it’s not a 50/ 50 situation. You are in a leadership role.

It is even more part of your role to go in and ask learn and listen, and then take action.

Russel Lolacher: Is anxiety and stress the same thing, or is anxiety triggered by stress or vice versa? That’s something I’ve always sort of had a challenge wrapping my brain around, because I know they’re two separate things, but when we talk about them, we almost talk about them interchangeably.

MH Pelletier: Yes, yes, you’re right. In, in general conversations, we’ll, we’ll talk about them interchangeably. However, the reality is a stress is a demand. It’s like, it’s, it’s, if you think of it as a continuum, a stress would be at the beginning of the continuum. And I. Anxiety would be more later in the continuum where you are experiencing similar reactions to the one-time stress, but you’re experiencing, like we said earlier in today’s conversation on a frequent basis, a more, a more severe way, and it’s impacting your functioning.

So, When we sometimes use the word anxiety, truly the word that may be more appropriate is stress and sometimes even earlier than this. And I’m always looking to go earlier than any of these things because the more proactive we are, the better is to start thinking about these potential stressors as just demands.

So there are demands on your time, your energy, your space, whatever it is, their demands and, and the beauty when we think of them as demands is that’s very sort of factual description of what they often are. They may not need to generate a stress reaction for managing these demands in ways that are healthy, doable, and that kind of thing. Sometimes it’s not, again, entirely in our control. They will actually be stressors and that’s, that’s what they are. And then over time we may also experience anxiety. Sometimes anxiety will not be generated by a specific stressor or a specific demand. It’s a condition that can emerge from all kinds of experiences that we’ve had in our lives or that we’ve had recently in our lives and is not specific to a, a stressor or a group of stressors. But anyway, the way to think about it would be continuum. And the word that we more likely would want to use is a stress instead of anxiety.

But sometimes it is anxiety.

Russel Lolacher: You’ve had a bit of an academic career. You’ve had a bit of a, a, a career unto itself with some pretty high powered organizations. I’m going to assume, you Doctor, have had a bit of anxiety in your life that you’ve had to manage and, and deal with yourself. So what are some ways you’ve personally managed some of your own anxiety when you’re dealing with a doctorate or having to do a thesis or, or any of the high pressures that work brings?

How you handled it personally?

MH Pelletier: I know. Well, it’s a journey for, and that’s, that’s what thing, here’s an interesting piece. Russel, the, the burnout rate or the, you know, the mental health of psychologists is no different than general population. I. It’s not because we have this knowledge that, you know, we’re over here in this protected area.

No, we’re all human really. And that’s true. That’s actually very, very true. I work with psychologists. I work with physicians, you know, in my practice. So to answer your question, I’ve been in situations before I realized the importance of context and I was so in love with my field as a psychologist, thinking, you know, if I do all the things it’ll be fine.

So now, no, I’ve been in situations where I thought it was mostly or entirely in my hands. And, and only to realize at some point, well wait a second. No, it isn’t. This particular environment may, may just need to see some changes and I’m not the one who’s going to, to stay here to see them. So that’s one of the learnings in general when, and I now have learned even more as we do over time.

Even more self-awareness of, and, and I mean, I’m trying to practice what I, what I write about what, you know, what the research says, obviously. To try to catch these signs really early and pay attention, not minimize them. Just pay attention to them because then there are early signs that you can take action on earlier.

So for me, it has become to the point where if you think you’re extremely busy and you’re starting to feel it, and you feel you have zero time to, for example, exercise or keep that lunch with a friend, you have to keep it. So the second you’re thinking you need to let it go, that means it is that time where you need it the most.

Make it, keep it, figure it out. Figure it out. Pretend it. Think of it like a specialist appointment that you’ve waited six months to have. Would you cancel this ’cause you’re busy? No. You would go, right? So these appointments, these moments that you’ve intended to protect, To build your resilience and maintain it, particularly in high demand times if you feel like dropping them.

Mm-hmm. They’re staying in, that’s when you need them the most. And that’s probably my biggest learning and something I continue to work to keep.

Russel Lolacher: So I will, I’d love my time with you today, Marie-Helene, and I would love to ask the last question, which is, what’s one simple action people can do right now to improve their relationships at work?

MH Pelletier: Yeah, it, it, it depends. But I’m going to say this, the, probably the biggest return on investment will be to take to take care of your own. Health and to invest today in as much as you can of a physical activity, depending on what your particular situation is. Of course, you want to know yourself, listen to what your own health team is recommending, but to find a way to bring it back in even small ways, because if you do this, Then you’re embarking on maintaining or working to maintain a version of this over time, which we know from research will have an impact. It is a long game. It is not, I can do this now and the day is transformed. Sometimes it feels like it is, but the reality is that these are long game investments. And the other piece I would say is stay curious about ways in which.

You can invest in all of these, these four variables, and there are others like spending time in nature, giving your time to volunteer activity. There are many. Stay curious about what else you could do today and do a small version of it. A 1%, 1% version of it.

Russel Lolacher: That is Dr. Marie-Helene Pelletier. She is a registered psychologist, international speaker, and an author of a book that will be released next year on resiliency. Thank you so much for being here.

MH Pelletier: Thank you so much.


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