Home Health & Fitness My Mental Health App Job Made Me More Anxious

My Mental Health App Job Made Me More Anxious

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My Mental Health App Job Made Me More Anxious

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Since university — and maybe even before that — I’ve been quite an anxious person. I’d swiftly Irish exit at parties to avoid goodbyes; experience a feeling of dread before a test result came back; and, eventually, I’d start to experience anxiety attacks. From trying not to have a breakdown on public transport to getting pins and needles in my legs so bad that emergency services thought I was having a stroke, my anxiety has gotten pretty bad at times.

So, when I was looking for a new job and a content marketing position at a software company that was developing a mental health app came up, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. Writing about mental health is so personal, and I believed I had the experience to help other people with their problems — and help myself along the way.

I ended up getting the job, and within a few months, we’d started project planning the creation of the mental health and well-being app. Given that it was a video-based solution, it would be up to me and two other writers to research, write, and edit around 100 hours of content. It was a mountain of work that kept us going throughout the pandemic.

At that time, being in lockdown, there wasn’t a whole lot to do. For me, healthy routines were easily made and kept. I could regulate my sleep schedule, enjoy yoga at lunchtime, and carve out time for meditation instead of a hectic commute. As a result, I could keep my anxiety surprisingly in check. However, when things started to return to normal, those routines started to break apart — and old habits and anxieties crept back in.

You can know all the mental health techniques in the world, but if you can’t put them into action and use them, they’re pretty much pointless. And this was the predicament I suddenly found myself in.

Every day, I was absorbing all this research about what works to improve mental health. I was reading and rewriting scripts packed full of clinically validated content from 9 to 5, five days a week, for months on end. I knew exactly what would make me feel better: exercise, diet, thought restructuring, journaling, breathwork.

But when I got home at the end of the day and needed to de-stress about work and switch off, I couldn’t. Every time I’d try to use one of my tried-and-true mental health techniques, it would just remind me of being at work and everything I’d have to do the next day. The anxiety spirals deepened and increased in frequency, and I even tried going back on anti-anxiety medication — but it didn’t seem to do the trick. I felt psychologically stuck and emotionally drained.

As it turns out, this is a huge problem for many people who work within the mental health sphere, including therapists.

“Even psychologists are aware of how difficult it can be to do ‘the right thing’ for their mental health.”

Alex Oliver-Gans, LMFT, a therapist who specializes in anxiety and men’s mental health, explains, “I use mindfulness and CBT techniques with my clients, but it’s a struggle to use these techniques myself, partly because I don’t want to ‘be a therapist’ when I’m not working.”

That’s true as well for Catherine Schuler, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist at the Center for Anxiety & Behavior Therapy. “To me, it’s important that non-psychologists know that even psychologists are aware of how difficult it can be to do ‘the right thing’ for their mental health,” she says. Dr. Schuler acknowledges that “sometimes it can feel exhausting” to focus on her own mental health, “because it’s what I spend my days talking about.” But, she adds, “this doesn’t mean it’s not worth persevering and continually working at incorporating these skills.”

It wasn’t that my anxious thoughts were exclusively about my job; it was that whenever I started to approach journaling or thought restructuring, it was almost impossible for my mind not to wander into a to-do list for the next day or replay verbatim scripts about the subject in my head that I’d written.

As much as I thought I was hiding my true stress levels well at work, a few co-workers caught on pretty quickly. I’m sarcastic, dry, and self-deprecating, so off-hand comments about my rising stress levels were fairly common. I even told my bosses at one point that I couldn’t use the techniques anymore without thinking about my work to-do list. After that, it became a running joke in the office that if yoga made it into the app, I’d have to leave for my own sanity.

But after speaking with some of my colleagues, I realized I wasn’t alone. While the techniques we were using in the app were clinically correct, the exposure we had to them day in and day out was lessening their positive effects on us.

As Ray W. Christner, PsyD, NCSP, ABPP, explains, “This isn’t necessarily about the efficacy of these techniques, but more about the need to separate one’s professional life from personal wellness or mental health practices. It’s like professional chefs who don’t cook for themselves after work. I don’t think it’s a matter of not using them, as much as personally, we might find ways to use them differently.”

The anxiety only continued to grow. When I found myself crying over the fact that I couldn’t open a paint can, I realized that things needed to change. At the time, outright quitting wasn’t really an option, given that I had bills to pay. But slowly, I started to build up more freelance work on the side, dropping my hours at the company to part-time before becoming a contractor.

Honestly, writing mental health content was really rewarding for me — I loved diving into the research of it all and seeing positive testimonials coming back from people we’d helped. I just knew I couldn’t do it full-time and still be able to look after my own mental well-being. In the end, given that was the trade-off, the decision to leave was a no-brainer.

Since then, I’ve started to lean into freelance life. I’d recognized during the pandemic that the flexibility of working from home allowed me to build those much-needed routines to ease my anxiety on a daily basis. So little by little, I’ve started to build up my routine again. Now that I’m not thinking about and writing about mental health every day, techniques like meditation, journaling, and restructuring are becoming easier to access again.

Working in a field that you love or enjoy can be a great thing. However, when it means that the lines between work and home life become blurred or your mental health starts to take the hit, it’s time to reconsider what you’re doing for a living. As Dr. Schuler recommends: “If a job is making it difficult or impossible for you to put energy towards the things that matter to you — which will be unique to each person — then it’s time to seriously consider change.”

The irony is not lost on me that working in a job that helped other people’s mental health ultimately made mine a lot worse. But, honestly, I’m grateful that I was able to learn about so many techniques and figure out what actually works for me. Now that I have enough distance from the content in my professional life, I can actually use many of these strategies to keep myself grounded and level.

I’ve also recently found out that the company has included yoga in its marketing — so I got out at just the right time.

Rebecca Crowe is a freelance writer who specializes in mental health, lifestyle, and travel. In the past, she’s worked as the head of research and head writer for a mental health company, as well as a freelancer for brands like Google and British Airways.

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