(Disclaimer: I am not a licensed mental health professional. If you, or someone you know is struggling with mental health, we urge you to speak with a licensed professional for help and for your own personal wellness.)
“Everything changes and nothing stands still”Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 BC – 475 BC)
A lot has changed over the last two years and it seems evident that more change and uncertainty is on the way. The geo-political environment of our world is increasingly divided and unstable. News headlines are inciting anger and fear, while recent reorganization announcements inside our company have many colleagues questioning where they fit into its future; especially as a new round of upcoming performance assessment reviews, likely with MLRP targets, is approaching. This is a lot to take in all at once and I can sense the collective stress and anxiety of our community. Personally, I feel morale sinking and I am struggling to find joy at work.
Uncertainty can be stressful, especially when it has the potential to directly impact our lives and our family’s well-being. Talking about mental health can be very uncomfortable. I used to think that admitting I sometimes struggle with stress/anxiety, or that I can feel down at times, made me look weak. The picture of strength and leadership that we have been sold is one of unflappability and a confidence that is constant and unquestionable. However I have found that this is a lie. Having the self-awareness and the self-confidence to admit when I am struggling takes more strength than pretending otherwise.
The CDC estimates that in any given year, 1 in 5 people will suffer from some form of a mental illness . In fact, more than 50% of people will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime . Note, these numbers are for diagnosed mental illnesses, which I see as a lagging indicator for overall mental health and well-being in our communities. As something that is so prevalent, we have not done a good enough job talking about this aspect of our health and what we can do about it. Events over the last two years have not only contributed to this problem, but have increased the need for an open conversation about mental well-being.
Given all of this, it has been heavy on my heart to have this vulnerable conversation with our community. Not to complain or to make anyone uncomfortable, but to say if you have struggled with periodic stress, anxiety, or a lack of joy, you are not alone. I am with you, and I wanted to share some things that have helped me through times of stress, anxiety and a loss of joy.
I do want to add a disclaimer that this is not medical advice, or a substitute for professional medical treatment. These are things that I personally have found helpful in the day to day stresses and worries of life. If you are struggling, please do not hesitate to ask for help from a medical professional. ExxonMobil EHAP services offer several counseling options. Furthermore, if you or someone you know is struggling with severe or debilitating anxiety or depression, or if you or someone you know has had thoughts about harming yourself/themselves or someone else, please seek professional help as soon as possible. I care about all of you, and I want you all to be safe and healthy.
Now in that context, here are a few items that have personally helped me through the day to day stresses and worries of life:
1. Stand on Firm Foundation
Growing up, my grandparents used to have a birdfeeder in the backyard of their New Jersey home. My grandfather loved spending time watching the different birds that it would attract. Unfortunately, this birdfeeder did more than attract birds; it also attracted a large, rather hungry black bear. At the bear’s first appearance, he easily snapped the wooden stake that was holding the birdfeeder, sending it to the ground and helping himself to the seed inside. My grandfather replaced the wooden stake with a metal pole to increase its strength and reset the birdfeeder in the ground. When the bear came back for seconds, the pole stood strong, but the dirt it was planted in gave way allowing the birdfeeder to fall again. In disbelief (and frustration), my grandfather dug a deep hole, filled it with concrete, and planted the long metal pole into the concrete. When the bear came back a third time, he tried pulling and pushing on the pole that was supporting the birdfeeder. He caused some damage, but the birdfeeder stayed standing.
When daily challenges, stress, or anxiety come for us, the foundation of our worldview plays a part in how we see it through. Putting our hope and trust in foundations built by man; things like a job, a political leader, or our own personal net worth, are but dirt. Sure, those foundations may hold up to some challenges, but if the right bear attacks, we are prone to being toppled like the birdfeeder. This is true of all man-made foundations, none can be certain as things are constantly shifting and changing.
As a Christian, I have found a firm foundation on which I can stand. Jesus says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25). Jesus is my foundation. He can be trusted and does not change (Hebrews 13:8). That is not to say that I won’t have issues or come out of a challenge bruised and weathered, but I have faith that if I stand firm on Jesus’s Words and promises, I will stay standing.
This is easy to say but I do not always think this way. I stand on man-made foundations all of the time. They are comfortable. I can control them (or at least I think I can). However as I reflect on the times I have built my views of a situation on things OTHER than Jesus, I have been prone to disappointment, anxiety, and sadness. I want to stop building on questionable foundations, and therefore need to continually remind myself there is really only one foundation that is sturdy enough to always deliver, and that is Jesus.
2. Rejoice, Rejoice, And Rejoice!
“Um, I’m sorry… are you suggesting that we celebrate when we are stressed?” If you have been around Christians during times of struggle, you likely have heard someone quote Philippians 4:4-7 to you.
Honestly, I used to absolutely loath when Christians would quote these verses to me. In my struggles, I am in no mood for rejoicing, and simply telling me not to be anxious created more anxiety for me, like somehow I was disobeying God.
Then I read a book by Max Lucado called Anxious for Nothing. The whole book analyzes these verses and helped me to see this command in a whole new light. I want to share one excerpt of the book with you that has really stuck out in my mind and is something I reflect on when I am struggling:
“Rejoice always? Is it possible for any person to maintain an uninterrupted spirit of gladness? No. This is not Paul’s challenge. We are urged to “Rejoice in the Lord.” This verse is a call, not to a feeling, but to a decision and a deeply rooted confidence that God exists, that he is in control, and that he is good.” Max Lucado – Anxious for Nothing
When I have struggled with stress, anxiety and a lack of joy, I try to make a conscious decision to break myself out of the cycle. It certainly is not easy; I need to reset my mind back to where my foundation is and start building myself, and my thoughts, up from there. For me, this starts with worship (which may or may not include blasting worship music in my truck with some awful karaoke). When I do this, I can feel my mood changing and my thought process shifting. My anxiety calms and a more positive outlook gradually returns. Through that, I can find joy because of the hope I have in God. This rejoicing does not solve my problems, but it renews my thoughts and my perspectives.
Remember my grandparent’s birdfeeder? Well the bear did not simply admit defeat after its first match with the concrete based pole. He returned several times, continuing to beat on the metal pole. The foundation was holding strong, but the pole certainly started to become worn. Finally, my grandmother had enough of watching this and decided to take some action into her own hands. One day she was sitting in her living room when she saw the bear coming out of the woods. My grandmother went out onto the back porch and started throwing rocks at the bear (animal lovers: relax, this did not hurt the bear… also, I do not recommend anyone throw rocks at a bear!). The bear turned and ran, fleeing towards the woods (thank God!). After a few rounds of this, the bear got the picture and stopped coming around.
When I have faced anxiety or a negative mood, my mind tends to work against itself. Negative thoughts spur on more negative thoughts. Fearful (and sometimes irrational) thoughts, spur on more fearful (and irrational) thoughts. Bottling that up allows the process to continue to spin and spin causing me more and more anxiety. Fortunately, I am blessed to have my best friend and most trusted confidant living in my own home (my wife). I have found that when I struggle with negative thoughts or anxiety, voicing them to her helps. Sometimes just saying them out loud helps me process my situation, allowing me to work through it. Other times, my wife (in a very loving manner of course) helps me to see the negative attitude, or the irrationalness of my fears. The words spoken are the rocks that chase away the bear attacking my mind.
It is not healthy for us to keep our fears and anxieties bottled up, we should talk about them. For me the small conversations with my wife are helpful. Journaling (or writing CCEM articles =) ) has also helped serve this purpose. If you do not have someone you can talk to, or you are still struggling even after expressing it out loud, I strongly recommend you speak to a professional counselor. Many churches offer counseling services for a reduced price (or even free).
4. Accept the Yoke of Jesus
Jesus tells us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30). Jesus calls us to follow Him, to find rest in Him, and to lay our burdens down at His feet. As an engineer, this is VERY hard for me. I want to blaze my own path. I want to control my own situation, and I want to do it better than everyone else! Allow myself to be directed by someone else? Please! I got here because I know what’s best!
I am lying to myself when I think this way. Having complete control is somewhat of an illusion, and the more I try to hold onto complete control during a challenging time, the more stress and anxiety I feel. However, the more I turn to God in prayer and through studying His Word, the more I see the clear evidence of His hand in my life. Reflecting on things that He has done in my life gives me a renewed sense of confidence that He is who He says He is, and that I can trust Him. Do things always work out how I want them to? Of course not! But I have experienced how He has worked in my life, and I know that He is good. As such, when I struggle, I need to turn to Him.
What’s more, I can trust that Jesus knows what it is to struggle and to have anxiety or fear. The Bible tells us of the Garden before Jesus’s Crucifixion: “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). When I pray to God about my struggles, I know that I have an advocate with the Father who knows what it is to struggle, to suffer. And when I reflect on what He has already done in my life, I can release my worries to Him with a confidence that even though my situation may not work out how I want it to, Jesus is with me.
I have spent a lot of time reflecting on why I have had trouble finding joy at work lately and I think a lot of it has centered on one question: Does my job care about me? This is not a criticism of our company, but it is an honest question that I have asked over the last two years. Having had the privilege of talking and praying with many of you, I know it’s a question that a lot of you are asking as well. I know a lot of you are stressed, anxious, and maybe struggling to find joy at work. People everywhere have gone through, and are continuing to go through, some very stressful times these last two years, and that has caused many of us to reflect back on what is important in life. Core to any human being is the desire to feel loved and cared for; it is how God designed us.
Let me start by saying, I care about you, and God cares about you. I love our community, and I love serving you. But the truth is we as a community and a company need to be better. I think that starts with focusing on what each of us can personally control. We can all show more love and appreciation for our co-workers and individuals in our communities, slowing down to genuinely care for people. We can all invest in relationships with others, both professionally and personally. We can all be more open and honest with each other, building a culture of trust and mutual respect across our communities and at all levels of our organization.
Finally, we can all choose joy. I know this last one is much easier to say than to actually do. A close friend of mine described choosing joy as a process that “has taken [him] years to manage (not master) better.” I found a ton of wisdom in that statement. Choosing joy in spite of challenging circumstances is a commitment and a continual process. It is much easier to focus on the negative aspects/external forces that are impacting us than it is to commit to being joyful when tough times arrive. But because of the hope we have in Jesus and the promises that He has made, we can start to find joy knowing that He is with us and that one day all things will be made new.
The stress, anxiety, and change of the past few years has certainly taken a toll on many of us and we need to take some time to care for our collective mental well-being. I hope and pray that some of the things mentioned above that have helped me, will help you too. Just like our physical health, mental health requires attention and work. Recognizing stressors in our life, removing them when possible, or dealing with them in a healthy manner is key to maintaining a mental well-being. If you are struggling, ask for help. There is nothing weak about admitting that you need help and there are many great professional resources out there designed with both Christian and non-Christian approaches. If there is anything CCEM can do to serve you in this area, please do not hesitate to reach out.
I love you all, be well!
Written By: John Dillon
- CCEM has provided some Additional Resources for Well-Being on our website here. If you would like to talk with someone directly from CCEM, please contact us here.
- For more thoughts and perspective on Performance Assessment, see our article: A Better Way of Approaching Performance Assessment.
- For a list of local churches you can get plugged into see our Church List here.
- Max Lucado’s Book, Anxious for Nothing, was a huge help for me in times of anxiety and stress, you can find his book here.
- CCEM Partnered with VAST and WIN in 2021 for The Courage To Care Forum. See a video of the guest speakers here.
- If you are struggling with Mental Health, please seek help from a licensed professional.
- If you are on an Apple device, click here for a short podcast on choosing to think positively through struggles.
 “About Mental Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 June 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm.
 Lucado, Max. Anxious For Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World. Harper Collins Publishers, 2017, 31.