‘A dirty little secret’

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

A professional associate recently invited me out to lunch and since we were already catching up on the phone, I mentioned how I went through the experience of “burning out” which I wrote about in a column last month. In response, almost whispering, he told me that a well-known and respected businessman had apparently gone through the same thing. I responded with relief and told him that for a while I had the impression that the guy had something more serious than just having “burned out.” Apparently, the businessman simply decided to drop out and his team and associates decided to transition everything to his executives in a very private and speedy manner, lest rumors and speculations got the chance to needlessly affect the company’s reputation or financials. My friend added that the businessman is on the mend and is now taking things easier.

What stuck with me was the way my friend “whispered” and reluctantly shared the update about the executive’s burn out. That was the second time someone said the same thing in a whisper while talking about the business leader. It felt like they were sharing information about “A Dirty Little Secret” or something embarrassing or frightening. Those two incidents confirm what experts have complained about how Filipinos poorly, or negatively, respond or deal with “burn out” or other forms of mental health challenges. The worst part is when they try to ignore or choose not to know. Just this week I had lunch with someone 21 years younger than me who was clearly fit, muscular and healthy. Or so I thought.

He regularly consults or asks for advice but due to a major overhaul in their company and the COVID-19 lockdowns, he had not managed to see me much or break bread like we used to. He would call and give me quick updates about the job being hell but that he was managing. I sensed that the joy was gone, and he was slowly drowning from the stress but, hey, it was not my call to make unless he asked, and he didn’t. Until this week.

He had left his old company, joined a new one and I soon discovered that this healthy young guy sitting across the table had had a stroke, then got COVID and from what he shared with me, may have had another stroke or a mini heart attack or at the least collapsed in the toilet. Two months have passed but he never went to get any confirmatory test regarding the episode. What worries me is that he is the second person in his 40’s in the same industry who’s gone through the same stress-related episode.

As I compared notes it was evident that up to now, we do not make a connection between work or family-related stress and subsequent events of burn out, stroke or heart attacks. In general, we think that the guys who get hit with strokes are the smokers, heavy drinkers or the fat guy who loves his steaks and bulalo. Sorry, but a couple of my childhood friends who were lean and mean popped a vein or an artery and did not live to talk about it. We presume that the guys who go to the gym, ride their bikes or regularly go for long walks and run are less likely to suffer from burn out because we think “fitness is the fix.”

Some dudes who stressed their bodies to the max trying to be “competitive” in sporting events died in the very competitions they joined. Ironic because they fell under the “DNF” category: Did Not Finish, because of a stroke or a massive heart attack. Unless you treat “stress” as a disease-causing or life-threatening agent, you will only postpone the inevitable. Time and again we have heard about politicians or celebrities who went through extreme stress that triggered depression, etc. and finally died of a stroke or a heart attack.

My friend countered that he was now on maintenance medicines for his blood pressure and blood thinners, etc. Being the 5-stent veteran and recent graduate from burn out, I cautioned him that maintenance medicines are intended to manage his existing neuro-cardio threats or conditions, but what was he doing to de-stress? What are you doing to reduce or remove the elevated or long-term constant stress factors?

As an executive or even a home maker or parent: Learn to DELEGATE. My wife has said that I’m so good at delegating things, but my problem was I would always make a new “to do list” for myself. There was no “THE END” and I always had to go through the stress of a start-up project. Many wives have the same challenge; you would rather do the task yourself than have to watch your husband slow things down, make a bumbling fool of himself or struggle with childcare or related matters. One day, I had to put my foot down and tell my wife “I am the other parent” and then she realized that she had to share, and I had to learn. Delegation at work and at home is a great instrument for developing competency, trust, responsibility and for reducing stress.

Take regular time-outs and trips. Like that smart business leader who pressed his “eject button,” all of you will immediately discover that removing yourself from the hot room instantaneously removes the pressure and the stress or, like with pressure cookers, you need to let off some steam. Not enough space left but third: As you clear your mind of stress and emotions, fill it with useful knowledge and information and great memories. I just framed so many family photos and artwork done by the girls and the activity filled me with so many memories and warm feelings. Listen to new or old favorites on Spotify or binge watch on Netflix. All that is medicine too.

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