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Taking a Step Back: Why Is It Important? - Opinion Piece

May 28, 2021 10:00AM ● By Anand Subramanian
Stepping Back Mental Health

We are taught to win. "No one can recall the second, third, or fourth-place finisher," people say. This “winner-take-all” mindset is imposed as soon as we begin our educational journey. Every time we take a step in our profession, the proud moment of our victory or the disappointment of our loss is etched into our subconscious. Therefore, when making a career choice, we normally choose the direction that could lead towards those "proud moments." However, we are currently competing with millions of people at a time for jobs in our chosen career paths. Fear of not getting the job or “losing” can stress us out in every aspect of our lives, and as a result, we can start pushing ourselves too hard. In such situations, we have the option of continuing to push our boundaries, which could lead to physical or mental harm, or of taking a step back and reevaluating the stressors in our lives.

Numerous research studies have shown a clear connection between stress and mortality. Economic hardships, low social status, occupational pressure, and bigotry have all been stressors for the Black community for decades. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Black men make up 64.1 percent of the workforce, while White men make up 72 percent. Black workers over the age of 16 spend an average of 45 hours per week at work. Shift work, longer hours, and job insecurity are all stressors for Black men in the workforce, increasing the mortality rate to 16 percent. Black men's life expectancy is reduced by 2.9 years due to work-related stress, whereas White men's life expectancy is reduced by 1.8 years. Inequality in the workplace plagues the Black community, resulting in fewer job opportunities, with higher occupational and psychological risks. Civil rights movements increased the number of higher-paying job opportunities in the country, but the racial imbalance persists in higher-paying positions.

Figure 1 - Surrounded by workload. Source - Pexel

Too many work-related stressors can overwhelm a person and permanently harm an individual's mental health. The recent rise in work-related stressors has been greatly influenced by the global recession, job insecurity, workload imbalance among employees, interpersonal conflicts among peers, and a “transactional” interaction between the individual and the environment. In such situations, admitting inability to handle these stressful scenarios can add to that stress, and we can become overwhelmed. It’s during these times where it’s important to take a step back.

Figure 2 - Taking a step back and finding true purpose. Source - Pexel

“Stepping back” is a necessary solution... It can mean a variety of things depending on the individual and their level of mental stress. Taking a step back could mean changing jobs, reevaluating their priorities, or taking a break from burnout. However, some may see stepping back as a sign of failure because of social pressures. We are “losing”, letting the outside pressures win. For example, a creative-minded individual may find out that they’re not cut out for a business management role material, but they may choose to stay and suffer in silence because the business job normally comes with more financial benefits than a creative job profession. Taking a step back could initially cause financial constraints, but in the long run, it can serve as a beneficial choice in bettering one’s mental health and removing unnecessary stressors from their life.

As individuals, we have numerous options for taking a step back and re-evaluating our work lives. According to an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study, the average US worker spends nearly 45 percent of their day at work, with 13 percent working 55 hours per week or more. This normally results in a work-life imbalance. Freelancing, consulting, or remote work can be a viable option in such cases by providing ample mental and time-space for us to explore the aspects of learning new skills and reflect on our physical and mental limitations. Once we are aware of our mental and physical limitations, we can begin to recognize our true strengths and talents, which then motivates us to be more competent and competitive, and allows us to balance other aspects of our lives, such as family and health.

Figure 3 - Happiness when working on something we love. Source - Pexel

“Stepping back” should be normalized, understood, and celebrated in the community. As a community, we must work to break the toxic mentality of “winner takes all” that pushes us to overwork ourselves. Hopefully, in the future, we will begin to recognize the signs of mental stress and choose to take a step back rather than working ourselves to physical and mental burn-out.

 Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

Read more from Anand Subramanian:

Climbing a Mountain, Literally: How Bhutan Helped Me Achieve Sobriety - Personal Piece

My 14-day Marriage with COVID-19

Entering the Inner Sanctum: Exploring the Art of Portraits