A year on: Mental Health at work... when your home may be blown up

Exactly a year ago, following 3 months of my home in Ukraine being shaken by explosions for the first few times of many, I’ve put a pen to paper to summarise how I found a way to stay focused at work with an ongoing risk to my family and friends just 2.5-hour flight away. You can read it here: Mental health at work…when your home may be blown up – Finyx Consulting

As an adherent of continuous improvement, a year on, I have taken the liability to pull together further techniques I have learnt to apply to cope with the ongoing pressure. Since 24th February 2022 I felt as if I’ve been in virtual khakis in addition to my usual clothes, with a part of my brain always “on” and ready to jump up and deal with the inevitable… Unfortunately, this sort of pressure became part of the BAU. Waking up to a sound of air siren became part of the BAU; it’s just that mine is on the app reflecting the real sound miles away. Interestingly, at the time of the UK Emergency Alert Systems Testing, I was the only person in the room who did not jump up. You could say I’ve had 15 months of training.

My day job has continued to be an excellent coping mechanism because it is all very straightforward and defined compared to a bigger question of what I can do to make my home 1200 miles away safe. I would much rather take any challenging work conversation over consoling a friend whose husband has gone missing in action…and then consoling her again when she is not sure whether or not a figure with about half his weight on the video is really him.

Some of the key things I learnt in the last 12 months that give me a sense of relative normality (as much as possible) and enable me to stay productive in my day-job and my “being Ukrainian” job:

Narrow your scope – Any management consultant would tell you that agreeing exactly what you need to deliver is key to managing client (and own) expectations. My problem-solving skills coupled with life in the UK knowledge are very handy to advising temporarily relocated families on how to look for a property to rent but not so useful in running crowdfunding campaigns, so I stay away from the latter.

Do what you can and do it well – In other words, be a professional. Own your deliverables. Manage expectations. For me this means, continuing to deliver to the same standards towards making my home safe as I deliver at work, whatever it may be; translating technology manuals, writing a school recommendation for a child or sending money to worthy causes…that’s the easiest one to be honest.  

Block out the noise – I stuck to a decision not to entertain theoretical conversations about “when may this all end?” because I do not have the data to support my answers. Theorising takes away the time I could spend on solving problems that I can actually solve. And solve well.

Respect individual choices – Do what is right for you. Do not apologise for it. Present your argument in a “STAR” technique if you must. (That’s Situation, Task, Action, Result). All my family and friends made a choice to stay at home in Ukraine because men may be called to fight and cannot leave the country, and women and children choose to stay there to support their men. I respect their choice. I have arranged for a “Plan B” for my family, but I will not enact it unless they ask me to.

Switch off – Being under this sort of pressure requires switching off. In this time, I’ve been on more holidays and mini breaks than 15 months prior. I’ve encouraged my loved ones to do the same. Changing the surroundings allows my brain to rest, recharge and ultimately be more effective. I know for a fact that defenders on the front line, my family and my friends look forward to photos of my travels and “normal life” because this is what we are all fighting for.

Since 24th February 2022 I have grown in my appreciation for mental health flexibility and resilience. I have completed a resilience training course, developed by UK ex-army officers. My main takeaway? Make time for a break…especially when you think you don’t have time for a break.