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Podcast: How Gen Z can maintain good mental health as they build their careers

By Simi Rayat, Leadership Coach

For Generation Z, those who are beginning their career journeys are facing difficult challenges as they try to navigate the current uncertain climate. As a result, approximately one in four ‘Gen Z’ employees have sought support with their mental health since the pandemic began.

So today, in support of World Mental Health Day, we are joined by Leadership Coach Simi Rayat, who is here to share her expert insights on how Gen Z can look after their mental health as they start to build their careers.

Below is a recording and transcript of the podcast.

1. It would be great if you could introduce yourself to our listeners.

(01:13) Yes, so my name is Simi Rayat and I am a chartered Business Psychologist and Leadership Coach. I’m also the Owner and Founder of the psychology coaching practice called Wellbeing Face.

2. Mental health is quite a broad term and incorporates both negative and positive mental health, but could you give an explanation as to what we mean by the term mental health?

(01:52) Yes, mental health is the state of our minds, so it’s a state or condition of our thinking, feelings, and our being. Quite often the term is used interchangeably with emotional and psychological wellbeing, but having good mental health is important and if not more important than essentially having good physical health as well.

It really affects how we feel, think, act, the choices that we make, our attitude, and how we cope with stress and setbacks, and how we make decisions and show up for things. So mental health is a really big area, and its key.

3. We’ve all been impacted in different ways by the pandemic, each of our experiences are unique to us, and in some cases the pandemic will have undoubtedly had a negative impact on people’s mental health. But do you think there have been any differences in experiences between generations?

(02:58) I do Jon, I’ve described the pandemic with the analogy of being in a storm. We’ve all weathered a big storm, and we’ve all been in our own boats, uniquely experiencing the storm. In some shape or another, we have all experienced a loss, perhaps a loss of a holiday, important events, education, career opportunities, seeing friends and family, or even tragically losing a loved one. And I think it’s important to recognise that globally, we all have the commonality in that we have lost something.

And I think Jon you’re right, the pandemic has affected different generations in unique ways:

  • You’ve got your older generations that have been identified as being vulnerable and have had to shield or isolate for several months.
  • You’ve got the baby boomers, aged 55 to 73, they’ve had a significant reduction in earning, their pension pots have been affected.
  • You’ve then got generation X, those that are born between 1965 to 1980, they’ve been extremely busy running their family households, caring for elderly parents, and managing their careers and their work. And many of those have been furloughed or have had their hours reduced.
  • And then you’ve got millennials. So, these are individuals aged between 26 and 40. And this could include both young and established career professionals who may also be new parents or homeowners. And many of them have faced the stress of working from home at the same time as caring for their families and trying to home-school their children.
  • And then we have Gen Z, the generation we’re specifically focusing on here, which is aged between 8 to 23-year-olds, the younger ‘Zoomers’ and the younger generation, they’ve had to grapple with school closures, missing social contact with friends, their extracurricular activities and camps.
  • And then you’ve got others that are slightly older that have been trying to complete their education, their exams have been postponed or the introduction of different marking criteria has really decided the fate of their grades and the path for them.
  • And then the older gen Z, which we call ‘The older Zoomers’. Those are the ones that are just about entering or recently have joined the world of work. So, they’re at the very start of their careers and now they’re facing even more volatile job markets or significantly reduced job opportunities with little or no job security. They’re really struggling to pursue their career dreams that they’ve worked so hard towards. So, I really do empathise Jon greatly with the older zoomers, with regards to how they’ve been impacted by the pandemic.

4. In what ways do you think the pandemic has impacted young people, which may be different from other generations?

(06:12) Whilst the pandemic has affected all generations, I think the true impact will not be known for a while yet, especially with the younger Gen Z, the younger zoomers that are still growing up.

But undoubtedly, and unfortunately, I think for the older zoomers, they’ve been affected at a pivotal time in their lives where they are making significant life choices and career decisions and confirming their education pathway. So, they will experience inevitable delays in entering the job market, especially as they have no or very little industry experience. So, I think it’s therefore important to recognise the impact on this generation.

And it’s not just around employability, it’s more than this. It’s about identity, dreams and aspirations, feelings of self-worth, life happiness and satisfaction levels. These have all been impacted and those that are embarking on their university journey, they’ll be experiencing very unusual freshers’ weeks and online courses, and they’ll be missing out on the memorable social experiences of university life. So, the social impact is also huge on this generation and I think it’s something that we need to really recognise and look at ways in how we can support them through this.

5. Do you have any advice to any of Gen Z on how to cope with the persistent and long-term uncertainty that they’re probably feeling right now?

(07:46) Absolutely, I think what we can be certain about is that uncertainty is something that will be around for a long time, and it has become a part of life for everyone, whilst the extent may vary for people and generations, uncertainty is certainly impacting all of us.

I think it’s also therefore important to develop our personal toolkits for dealing with uncertainty. So, for example, even in the most uncertain times like today, there are still some small elements of certainty or consistency that can be identified. And it’s about being open to find those. And if I may, Jon there’s three key strategies, that I think would be helpful for young people in terms of how they can cope with the persistent and long-term uncertainty.

The first one being, adopting a planning mindset. So, this is where you regularly become creative at planning multiple options, contingencies, whilst recognising the need to include a degree of flexibility within each of your plans. It’s also recognising when you need to let go of things or thoughts that are not helping or serving you well. So, for example, you might recognise that you are really fixed on one idea, perhaps you’ve not given yourself the chance to think about any other viable opportunities or possibilities. And this is where you can become quite narrow in your thinking and perspective and think that there are no other avenues or options for you that are available.

The second one is about keep building your own self-awareness. So, this is taking the time to reflect on your approach to dealing with a setback. Ask yourself, “How am I handling this? What have I learned about myself, about the way I’m handling the situation?” And if there was one thing that you could do differently right now that would help change how you feel about the situation, or maybe even change the situation, what would that be? So, a couple of powerful questions to ask yourself there.

And the third technique then is around becoming resourceful. This is really thinking about what resources you have around you that can help. This may be tapping into friends, family networks, thinking about potential courses you can do, new interests that perhaps you can explore and pursue, and where possible having focused, brainstorming conversations with people in your network to think about ideas of what you could do next, or consider opportunities that you may not have even thought of before. And you could also offer this to others too, in your own network whereby you can help them brainstorm ideas for themselves too.

And I think these three skills are essential to develop your approach and mindset, to dealing with uncertainty. And now is a good opportunity to start practicing and developing them as they’ll only become even more valuable as you continue with your career and your options. And as you enter the workforce as well because it’s essential to be able to adapt and respond to change.

6. Would you say that Generation Z were already suffering from poor mental health before the pandemic? And if so, what has been causing this historically?

(11:24) Yes, I think it’s another great question, Jon. But research suggests that Gen Z is already the most anxious generation with many more young people suffering from anxiety and depression. And it’s not surprising as the landscape for which these young individuals are growing up is vastly different from other generations.

They’re consuming information about anything and everything instantaneously from all around the world at the click of their fingers. This could be world events, incidents, news, celebrity, and influencer drama. They are consumed by financial worries and fears, big topics and concerns like climate change, global warming, it was the older zoomers that were the ones leading the Black Lives Matter protests globally. So, they’re really driven by purpose and are so desperate for things to change for the positive. A lot of their time is spent on social media platforms and a lot of self-comparisons happen as people tend to portray positive aspects of their lives on social media, and for viewers and followers they can feel that their lives are inadequate, or perhaps not even as exciting and interesting in comparison to others. And research really indicates that this generation tends to become what they feel. By that I mean, they become so consumed and absorbed by what they’re engaging with and seeing.

Also, I think the lack of in-person interpersonal connection has been something that has become the norm for this generation. And again, this is leading to young people feeling more isolated, lonely, perhaps missing out on the benefits from in-person interaction, and the stimulation that you get from being physically around others. And, this sense of virtual living has been even more entrenched as part of their lives now and our lives, especially during lockdown with the increase in uptake of online shopping, deliveries, music and video streaming, and virtual entertainment events. So, in some ways you really don’t need to now leave your home anymore as everything’s so accessible at the click of your fingers.

Thanks for your insights Simi, this is really interesting advice, and talking about purpose and it being really important to Gen Z, we are seeing a lot of companies respond to that and start to develop or really own their purpose, which I’ve no doubt is in part a direct response to that.

7. Now, going back to the pandemic and how this could be affecting Gen Z, no doubt many young people will feel that the pandemic has effectively put their lives and futures on hold. And their first initial steps into the world of work have been disrupted as a result, so these worries will be adding to their poor mental health. What are the unique challenges that Gen Z face from this perspective and how can they overcome it?

(14:37) Yes, we must look at the facts of the situation here Jon. So, globally unemployment is at all-time high levels, it’s harder for those with little or no experience to get employment. So, it’s about recognising the reality of the situation.

However, rather than thinking about it in the way that your future is on hold, it’s about adapting to what is now possible. So, when I look at organisations that kept saying we’re going to hold off on certain programs, we’ll pick up projects when things get back to normal, those are the organisations that have really been left behind. Whilst the ones that have adapted and have seen that there’s been a need for a change in the way in which services are delivered and experienced, they’re the ones that are making good progress now because they’ve adapted.

So, for the older Zoomers entering the workforce, I think they really need to be open to explore options that perhaps they may not have considered before. So, for example, extending further studies. I know some Zoomers that have graduated and rather than entering the workforce, now they’ve decided to go on to do a master’s or another course, perhaps investing more in your education and perhaps delaying entry into the market. Others have decided to start offering their skills and interests on freelance platforms, such as UpworkFiverrPeople per Hour. These are also some good options to consider doing some work, to get some experience, some extra money and doing this option alongside other options could be quite viable. So, it’s about being open to explore and not necessarily putting things on hold, but thinking of how best can you now utilise your time in this space?

8. Talking about education there, I’ve heard of a term post-graduation depression. What are the common signs of that? And do you think it might be more common amongst the class of 2020? And how can our listeners start to overcome it if they are experiencing it?

(16:57) I’m glad you’ve raised this Jon, although there is no official term for post-university blues or post-graduation depression, it is extremely common. And for those that experience that, it can be experienced very intensely.

It is a big transition from university life to thinking about entering the world of work and we can’t underestimate it. So, from active social lives, being surrounded by peers, being in a learning environment and working towards goals, to then perhaps being rejected from job applications and interviews can really take a toll on one’s self-esteem. And this is when self-doubt and negative thoughts can spiral, and you can start feeling down about yourself.

So, common signs of this type of depression include changes in sleeping patterns, either spending less time sleeping as you’re unable to sleep due to feeling stressed, restless, or sleeping so much more than you would have previously slept to avoid having to deal with what you’re going through. Disengaging and withdrawing from family and friends, a loss of appetite, loss of interest in activities you would normally have enjoyed.

I think it’s important to be aware of these signs and to address these, I would really recommend three things:

  • Acknowledge how you really feel about your situation
  • Openly share and talk with a mentor, a professional or a family member that you trust
  • Consider accessing professional support and help like your GP or contacting specialist professional helplines, such as Mind, charities, Stem4 or talking through things with a trained counsellor.

It really is okay to seek professional help. So, I’d encourage anyone who is suffering to not suffer alone as there is practical and helpful support available.

9. Sustained periods of national lockdowns around the world have led many to experience anxiety, but focusing on young people, what advice would you give to those that are experiencing this and are perhaps feeling nervous about an upcoming interview or starting their first job?

(19:27) This is completely understandable and it’s recognising and being clear on what it is that the individual is feeling anxious about:

  • Is it about potentially getting the virus or spreading it to others?
  • How they’re going to maintain social distance when perhaps they’re going for an interview?
  • Is it about the interview itself, the way in which the interview will be conducted? Is it going to be in-person or is it going to be virtually?

Ask yourself these questions first and then taking a step back from the situation, ask yourself one to two things that you can do to feel more in control about the situation. So, for example, making sure that you’re familiar with the government guidelines on social distancing, what you can do and can’t do now. Ensuring for example, you have a mask and you wear it appropriately, preparing for the interview as best and normally as you would.

So, I think it’s really recognising first and foremost, what it is that you’re anxious about. And then it’s looking at what else you can do to put in place some strategies to help feel more prepared and alleviate those feelings of worry and concern about the issue.

10. For those experiencing self-doubt right now, perhaps if fuelled by comparing themselves to their peers, how can listeners re-frame their negative self-deprecating thoughts to ensure their first steps into the world of work are as positive as possible?

(21:01) It’s common to fall into mind traps when we feel anxious and stressed. And in psychology, we call this term cognitive distortion and it can take you down an unhealthy downward spiral, which can lead to self-doubting and self-deprecation.

I like the analogy, that negative thinking is like measles for the mind. It’s contagious and infectious for ourselves and those around us. And another helpful analogy is to think about our thoughts as commodities, no thought lives in our head rent-free, and we will pay for all the negative thoughts in our mind in terms of the energy, time, health and the levels of happiness that we experience. So, I’m sure Jon you’ll agree that it’s much better for us to be paying for thoughts that make us feel happy, fulfilled, and energised.

And going back specifically to your question in terms of anxiousness and stress. When we are anxious and stressed, we tend to typically fall into six types of mind traps.

  • The first one is overgeneralisation. We think that one negative thing has happened, or we convince ourselves that it’s always going to happen in similar situations. So, for example, you may have failed at one interview and then your thought process is that all interviews are going to have the same outcome for you.
  • The second one is emotional reasoning. This is when we feel a certain way and we think it must be the truth. And again, this is quite common in Gen Z, because we often will get confused by our thoughts and our feelings, but it’s really taking a step back to say, “Well, actually I may feel like this, but that doesn’t really define who I am at this moment in time”.
  • The third one is all or nothing thinking. And this is when people tend to think about things, either being black or white, or things that are a complete success or a complete disaster. And it’s important, especially during these times of the pandemic to think about things in more of a balanced way, because there are some positives as well as the negatives with every situation.
  • The fourth filter is what we call a mental filter. And this is when individuals only remember the negative things that happen during their life and perhaps shut down all the positive things. And again, I would really encourage individuals when they feel that they are going down this way of thinking, is to take a step back and remind themselves of all the positive things that they have achieved.
  • The fifth one is, should statements. And this is when we try to motivate ourselves by dwelling on things that we think we should have achieved or should have been able to do. So, it would be quite easy to think, well, I should have got a job by now, or I should have been on the course that I really wanted to do. We put a very loaded expectation on ourselves, and it’s just being aware of those should statements and perhaps changing them into something more helpful and meaningful that I may not have got there now, but I’m on my journey to get there.
  • The sixth mind trap is mind reading and this is when we conclude that someone or others are perhaps thinking quite negatively about us. So in particular, when on social media we have followers or people reading our blogs and posts or commenting on photos and pictures, it’s really about taking a step back and thinking that it’s really more meaningful to get an understanding of what your thought process is and the positives, not just the negatives on something that you hear or see.

Many of my coaching clients hear me say, “If you do things in the same way, you get the same results. And if you’re not happy with the results that you’re getting, you must do things differently”. And I think this is something important for individuals, especially Gen Z, the older zoomers to take on board because it is about looking to do things differently.

And I think a great way to do this Jon is through reframing our thoughts and it’s important to develop the skill, to reframe our thoughts because it’s very helpful in terms of managing our own mental health. And this is not about being disillusional or denying the truth, it’s really about being both factual and balanced on the reality of the situation, but the stories we tell ourselves about an event or a situation will affect how we feel about the event or the situation and in turn how we feel about ourselves. So, it’s important that we’re aware of the stories that we’re telling ourselves.

11. It’s clear that self-care in maintaining good mental health is essential to achieving that, and we’ve been fortunate enough for you to share tips on how you can maintain that. Is there anything else that you would add or advise that would be relevant to Gen Z?

(26:27) I think it’s about breaking your day into distinct chunks; it’s about having routine and having structure. So, perhaps each part of your day is focused on something different. For example, you could spend an hour on educating yourself for an hour, practicing a skill or an interest, a couple of hours connecting with friends or meeting with friends and a couple of hours on job search or interview preparation.

It’s about thinking how best you can put in a routine for yourself that is going to allow each day to be purposeful and meaningful for yourself. And we can’t underestimate the importance of physical movement and exercise. It just uplifts your mood, whether that’s going for a jog, bike ride or having a good dance, that is key to helping keep your mind healthy and active too.

Another tip is taking time out to think. And when I mean to think, it’s about being very creative, perhaps taking 45 minutes out and putting together a vision board of what is the art of the possible. So, if you could achieve whatever you wanted, and there were no obstacles in the way at this moment in time, what would that vision look like for you? What would be possible? And sometimes we don’t know what will emerge from these kinds of brainstorming sessions when we allow ourselves to be able to just think openly and consider options without any obstacles and barriers. And it’s quite energising and effective to do this with other friends or peers and bounce ideas off each other.

And I would really recommend that you regularly review your vision board and tweak it as necessary because things will change. Circumstances will change and new opportunities will arrive for you but the energy that we get from being able to think about the possibilities is really uplifting. So, start with thinking about what all the options and possibilities could be before you start eliminating them and thinking about the realities of what you can execute on.

12. World Suicide Prevention Day took place last month and it’s well publicised that men are far more likely to die from suicide than women. Do you have any advice for young men who may be listening and perhaps struggling with their mental health at present?

(29:27) Yes, absolutely, World Suicide Prevention Day was on the 10th of September. It’s important for young men to have mentors that they can look up to and talk openly with. Parents need to start identifying mentors in their social networks that they feel would be good for their children. Even from a young age, at seven to eight years old and as children grow older, they should be encouraged to seek their own mentors too. And these are individuals they view as positive role models, individuals that they have access to talk to and can share their views with.

Also for young men, it’s very important for them to surround themselves with a strong, supportive peer group of friends, friends they can really be themselves with, enjoy fun times together with as well as have more deeper meaningful conversations over a drink, coffee or activity together. Being a mother of two young boys, I’m always encouraging my boys to talk about their feelings and share their views with us as their parents and with close family and friends too.

I think it’s hugely important as well as recognising and becoming familiar with the language of feelings from an early age or being able to be encouraged to talk about different emotions and practicing how you then self-regulate those emotions. And a way of doing that is:

  • Identifying what emotions, you’re feeling.
  • Being able to put strategies in place to alleviate or help cope through those emotions as well.

Some great points there on what is obviously an incredibly important topic. So just to summarise, men need to open up more, need to have conversations, find a mentor, and try to reject the mentality of shutting up, closing up and not talking things through or trying to hide your emotions from other people.

13. If you had one piece of careers advice to help our listeners navigate their careers through the pandemic and beyond, what would that be?

(31:47) Here I would say it’s about staying open-minded, there’s always alternative options available, and it’s about being open and flexible to consider each option fully to make your most informed choice. Also, I think in line with everything we’ve been talking about in terms of wellbeing and mental health, it’s important to recognise that feelings come and go and that they are temporary and changing. So, I say to a lot of my clients, “let the clouds of emotions go by as those feelings don’t define who you are”.

About this author

Simi works as a ‘Leadership Coach’ helping Xennial and Millennial leaders on their leadership journey to embrace and solve leadership challenges. Simi is the founder of Wellbeing Face Ltd and she works with clients across the globe in both private and public sector, across a diverse range of industries. Her coaching style and approach is underpinned by her deep expertise and passion in the psychology of people and her pragmatic application of leadership development. Using this integrated and eclectic approach, Simi is able to create significant ‘ah haa’ moments for her clients and bring about compelling shifts in their thinking, behaviours and outcomes which lead to incredible and sustainable results.

With over 15 years of business psychology consulting experience, working in the UK, Australia and Canada, Simi is an insightful specialist in shaping behaviour at the individual, group and organisational level. She specialises in the areas of: personal impact, self-awareness and leadership capability. She is the former founder and owner of Minds for the Future, a thriving Melbourne based psychology practice, which she profitably sold in 2015 and it continues to prosper.

Her clients describe her coaching style as ‘energising’, ‘thought-provoking’ and ‘pragmatic’. She challenges thinking and empowers her clients to take control and apply their best. Many of her long standing clients view her as their trusted advisor and valuable sounding board.

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