My experiences with mental health in 2020: How I cope with fatigue and burnout

Your mental health matters. Prioritize taking care of yourself.

I’m just going to get it out there; this year has been awful. There’s literally bad headline news every day. As if that isn’t enough, we have to contend with a once-in-a-century pandemic (just in case you’d forgotten). The implications of what we are all facing are a health crisis, economic crashes, and worse.

Mental health is one issue that I’ve had to face and work on. I’ve worked in communications and marketing for twenty years, and I’ve never struggled more than now. The work seems to be endless, and the “home office”, devoid of any social interaction with colleagues and friends, can mean twelve-hour days without meaningful human engagement. There’s random guilt as well, mainly over seeing friends being laid off while I’m complaining about how much there is to do. And there’s the obvious worries about how to keep others safe. These are the big, substantial concerns. There’s a thousand others which I have to contend with every day.

I’ve always had coping mechanisms to deal with stress and negativity, but I’ve had to adapt them given what we are all living through. And I wanted to share them with you. Even if just one of these mechanisms helps, it’ll have been worth the time and energy put into this piece.

Be Social – When I was commuting, driving between my home and my office, I’d call people on the hands-free and just chat. It was a wonderful way to keep in touch with people. I’m doing the same, but from home. I’m picking up the phone and just calling friends. I dial a number for no reason other than to ask someone how they are. It’s been great to talk with old friends, and it puts me in a different frame of mind, at least for a couple of minutes.

Fix the Miscommunication – Working side-by-side with others makes for simpler communication than email. There’s the body language, the tone and the delivery. None of this is apparent on email. And sometimes I misread the email. And I’ll get snarky, which doesn’t help me or the person I’m communicating with. I often find it’s useful for me to pick up the phone and just chat over the email, so that I’m clear what’s needed. It also helps the relationship, as it shows the other person I’m putting in the extra mile to get the work done.

Find Your Release – Each one of us has a distraction, or even a passion that can distract our minds. For me, it’s early morning walks and writing. These releases help me rebalance, and put me in a good mood. What helps even more is to have a routine that includes these releases. What’s your release? And are you doing it every single day? Switch off your mobile and close the computer. Go and do that release for half an hour at least. It’ll put you in the right frame of mind.

Get Away – I don’t mean right now, of course. What I’m referring to is a break of a couple of days. I didn’t travel this summer, and I love my vacation. What we did do as a family is a staycation for a couple of days. And it was a wonderful release to get away from home, leave the laptop behind and just relax. If you can, get away on a regular basis. Even if it’s only for a couple of days, traveling makes me forget all of the stresses and pressures of work.

Reach Out For Help – I’m very lucky. I have an incredible partner who has worked in senior marcomms roles. She understands my job and its stresses. And I have an amazing five year-old daughter who tells me to “come and play”. They know when I need a break, and they tell me to take it. Others may not have this family support. If you are feeling down, reach out for help. It can be to a friend or a colleague (I’d like to say a charity such as the UK’s Samaritans, and I hope we’ll have such charities here one day soon). Don’t suffer alone, and don’t feel ashamed. Your mental health matters, and it’s a sign of strength to ask for support.

I’ll be speaking more about this and other topics with a brilliant panel arranged by Campaign Middle East on the 26th October at 2pm. Please do join me then – the signup link is below. And in the meantime, do take care of yourself.

What’s the biggest challenge for communicators in 2020? Online disinformation & public activism

It’s been seven days since all the optimism, the hangovers, and the excessive fireworks (at least in the Gulf). So, given our bubbles of hope were burst and then shot down in flames on the morning of the second day of this year, what should we be looking forward to over the coming 12 months?

There’s been some brilliant prediction blogs, including this one from Stephen Waddington which is as comprehensive as it gets. But I wanted to focus in on two big issues that we are going to have to deal with, both in the Middle East and globally.

Fake News Campaigns will proliferate

Fake news isn’t new – it’s been around since humans have been able to talk, write and read. What’s so special about now is that, thanks to the internet and our own inability to question what we see being shared by friends and family, it’s easier than ever to create fake news. There’s even a new breed of firms, “Black PR” agencies, who are willing to set up fake sites that look like news portals, create fake news stories, and then spread them online on social media via bots.

Given the state of politics around the world, with nationalism and xenophobia just two of a dozen negative trends that are driving agendas, it’s no surprise that news is being manipulated by politicians, to both boost their own profiles and smear opponents. Buzzfeed has put out a smart news piece on disinformation for hire.

My concern is what will happen when fake news and the people behind these campaigns begin to target companies. We’ve already seen some of this in the Gulf, given the region’s politics. There have been targeted campaigns against national brands, including airliners, banks and pharmaceutical companies. I feel this is only the start, and we’re going to see more fake news campaigns which are designed to blackmail. How many firms will pay up rather than face a barrage of negativity which, although fake, may convince others to stay away from the brand?

Will your social media people are able to respond quickly, spot the fakes, and mobilize your followers? Do you know what’s going on when it comes to fake content, how to spot it, and who is behind it? What surprises me is how few practitioners in my part of the world are actively researching this phenomenon. I’m seeing more work being done by academics like Marc Owen Jones around issues such as bots, trolls, and fake news campaigns. If you’re a public relations professional, please do your homework and start educating yourself about these issues before they impact you.

Public Activism will be everywhere

The second big theme for 2020 will be public activism. There’s been a strong trend towards employee activism over the past couple of years, especially in the US and with sectors such as tech (just look at Google). As people give up on their politicians doing the right thing, they’re going to increasingly call out corporations.

This trend for public activism is going to happen globally. I’m increasingly seeing this in India, given what’s happening there with the new Citizenship Amendment Act. And we’ll also see this around issues such as the environment (just look at Australia).

This rise of citizen activism is going to especially strain organizations that stay on the sidelines or organizations whose ownership is in the hands of an individual with strong views.

What employers need to do is 1) be much better at listening to sentiment, and 2) empathizing with views that are distinct from those held by management. There are far too many tone-deaf leaders out there, and they’re going to drag their company’s brands down with them unless they change how they engage with stakeholders.

Given these two trends, my one hope is that we start to prioritize listening as a key communications skill. It may not sound as sexy as content creation, or artificial intelligence, but the good old-fashioned practice of listening may just save your organization/client from the biggest reputational crises in 2020.