Discussing Anxiety in the Context of our Work or Professional Lives

I am working on a few research projects these days that deal with mental health, burnout, stress, and even conversely, thriving in professional settings, despite the context of our insanely stressful 21st century lives. As I write this, we have war, famine, homelessness, substance abuse crises, and violence of epic proportions, impacting our communities. Racism, Colonialism, and ingrained hypocrisies infect many of our institutions, organizations, and communities. And quite frankly, life is tough. On top of all of this (or because of it, you decide), we have what many are calling a mental health crisis.

In my 45 years on the planet, I have come to understand, that managing from one shift or challenge to another through phases and stages of personal, professional, or global crisis, is simply the mark of the human condition. Over the last several years or so (like 20), I have stopped pretending that I am not impacted on the same level of epic proportion, personally, socially, emotionally – internally – as the rest of the planet, and I have started disclosing in professional settings the impact of my own mental health in my work and personal life.

Though I am all about boundaries (another blog perhaps), I am also all about breaking them when necessary, especially if it means humanizing what can otherwise be seen as stigmatizing. Recently, for the scope of a writing project, I reflected on this, and I wanted to share a short excerpt from this recent reflection on the topic of disclosing mental health concerns in professional settings. I do this as a means of opening up to what I feel is a larger conversation that needs to be had in schools, organizations, and communities alike. As I see it, the more I talk openly about my challenges, the more it holds space for others to do so as well, and we can all be invited to the table, to collectively take a deep breath together, and let some air out of the – about to burst – balloon.

You see, I used to disclose my experiences of anxiety only to my doctor, my partner, and a select few in my inner circle; however, I share publicly, and most importantly, to my University students, often right away, how anxiety impacts my life. It helps that the majority of what I teach are mental health or general health related education courses, however, I feel being honest about my own struggles brings authenticity to the deep self-reflective work we usually do in my classes and it opens spaces for real conversations. The kinds of conversation that allow for, not only letting some air out, but taking in a fresh breath at the same time.

I feel that, whether or not someone labels themself as having a mental illness, or if they are diagnosed with one or not, it is neither here nor there: as humans we can all relate to struggle. To struggle, as I have already noted previous, is simply part of the human condition.

I fit most of my struggles under the broad umbrella of anxiety and I label, honour, or expose this to/for students right up-front. I find that as soon as I normalize anxiety, sadness, anger, fear, students immediately open up about their own challenges and we metaphorically embrace, usually in an exchange of our challenges, naming, taming, and holding space for things that we often have to hide from and deal solely with in the confines of our own minds.

For the most part, and from student personal and formal feedback, I would say that 95 – 99% of my students can relate to struggle and the topic of mental health – to which I say – of course you can . . . you’re human. Though many may not be diagnosed, they find power in naming and facing their emotions, challenges, illnesses, and experiences of struggle, and together we build collective strength in allowing space in the room for such things.

I think, even for those who cannot relate, the open discussion about mental health benefits their perspective as educators immensely. As soon to be future leaders, it’s good for everyone whether they are open, have mental challenges, or not, to hear the stories and experiences of others. My goal is to broaden perspectives, and even if one student benefits from hearing me talk about anxiety as a constant in my life – that can be navigated and managed – it is worth it. For me, it’s validating, healing, and therapeutic to connect to other humans in these authentic ways and to be honest about my experiences with regards to the topics I teach.

I was drawn to the profession of teaching, and that of mental health, for a reason, as both can be rooted in struggle and there is not more of an authentic way to connect with people than through struggle, and the everyday life challenges each of us can be faced with. In this manner, my role makes it easy to disclose my own challenges, however, sharing in the human condition is something I have not shied away from in my previous other professional experiences either. I was open with my middle school students as a K – 12 classroom teacher when they were experiencing loss, divorce, and conflict; and I am open today with my clients and followers at Prairie Sky Education. As I mentioned, there are of course professional boundaries to navigate, however, I often see no reason to pretend that I do not, or have not, experienced the full range of human emotions or challenges at one time or another in my life – especially when doing so may create even a small crack, allowing light into a dark and lonely space for someone.

Thank you for reading my work. If you are interested in more musings or more of my research or life experience, come find me on instagram @drjudyjaunzemsfernuk, or check out Prairie Sky Education on Facebook. I also can always be reached for further discussion and comments at

If you or anyone else are experiencing a mental health crisis reach out:

For an emergency or crisis situation, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You can also contact the Saskatchewan Suicide Prevention line toll-free, 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566, Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566, the Saskatoon mobile crisis line at (306) 933-6200, or the Hope for Wellness Help Line, which provides culturally competent crisis intervention counselling support for Indigenous peoples: 1-855-242-3310.

I also promote the Kids Help Phone, which offers counselling in French, English, and Arabic:  1-800-668-6868. Kids may also text CONNECT to 686868, to connect with a trained, volunteer Crisis Responder.

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