Making work work for you

Work – it’s all about the traditional nine-to-five, right? But what if that kind of routine just doesn’t work for you and your wellbeing? Meet Poppy, a young entrepreneur who’s found a way to balance her health with her career.

Poppy Greenwood, 22, was born in the UK, but lived abroad for a lot of her childhood. When she moved back, she realised something wasn’t quite right: her mood was often low, and she experienced feelings of panic. Soon after, she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

“My anxiety revolves around not being able to leave a space,” she explains. School was particularly difficult, as there was such a rigid structure. Feeling trapped in classrooms or assemblies triggered Poppy’s anxiety, but she worked with professionals to tackle these issues.

"I didn't feel I could speak up. I felt I had to prove myself."

Having struggled with her own mental health, Poppy dreamt of being a psychologist so she could help other people. She was also really interested in the beauty industry, and explored this passion while she was at uni. As well as blogging about skincare ingredients and self-care, she ran a website where she earned a small amount of money by linking to her favourite products. Throughout university, Poppy continued using the strategies she'd developed in her teens to help keep her anxiety under control.

"Everyone else is doing this, why can't I?"

So when in 2015, Poppy landed a dream placement as an intern for a luxury retailer, she thought her toolkit of coping strategies would do the trick: “I thought I was a bit of a veteran when it came to dealing with my mental health issues, but the internship blew that out the water.”

Despite being excited about her role and the company she was working for, Poppy found having to stay in one space for a set period of time too much, and travelling in the hot, confined tube gave her panic attacks. On top of that, she saw her difficulties as a failure, so she suffered in silence, telling herself, “Everyone else is doing this - why can’t I?”

Mental wellbeing at work

  • Mental wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing, so do keep an eye on how you’re feeling, particularly if it’s affecting your job
  • You’re allowed to take time off if you’re feeling too ill to go to work. You can also talk to your manager about any reasonable adjustments that could be made to help you manage your health at work
  • Some companies have introduced mental health first aiders: employees who are trained to listen and reassure if a colleague is feeling unwell or is in a crisis. They may also be able to offer advice about other sources of support you can turn to
  • Some organisations also have Employee Assistance Programmes, which offer support with issues such as stress, bereavement and relationship breakdowns. Don’t suffer in silence!

New goals

Becoming a psychologist was still Poppy's goal at this stage in her life. But, much like her internship, that would mean working in a structured setting.

Although changing her vision of the future was tough, this realisation really got her thinking about what could work for her. In a light bulb moment, Poppy realised she could begin developing her small website of beauty recommendations into something more - an online shop of personally-curated Korean skincare.

This would be the best of both worlds. She could work on something she loved but also have the flexibility to manage her mental wellbeing. Poppy threw herself into making her business work and has really seen the difference: “I am still in a lot of high pressure situations, but I feel more in control. It’s about being able to choose to do those meetings. Now, I’m responsible for putting myself in situations, instead of feeling forced into them,” she explains.

Finding what works

Using the strategies she’s learnt in therapy, Poppy can now recognise when her anxiety is creeping up, and manage her response: “My psychiatrist explained to me that it’s like a loop in my head. I know that now and it helps. Before, if I was really anxious in a situation, I’d start shaking, and then I’d worry about the fact I was shaking and start shaking even more.” By understanding this cycle, she can acknowledge what’s happening and why and know that it’ll pass.

Poppy also makes sure she sticks to a routine during her working week to give herself some consistency. Self-care plays an important part - when she finds herself struggling most with her mental health, having a set skincare regime every morning helps her to anchor herself.

Even though her pathway has changed, Poppy still feels she is able to fulfill her goal of helping others: “I’m helping people in a different way, encouraging good self-care through my business,” she explains. She has also set up a website encouraging other young women to get into female entrepreneurship. Poppy feels that having faced really tough times in her life has given her the resilience she needs to run her business. On the most challenging days, she reminds herself: “I have faced bigger monsters.”

Poppy's tips:

  • Speak up! If you’re struggling at work, talk to your Line Manager or HR about your symptoms. If you’re in education, speak to your teachers and tutors. See what adjustments could be made to help you
  • Don’t go freelance or start a business just because of difficulties in education/regular workplaces. You need a real passion and drive for your area of expertise too. You need something positive to drive your business forwards, not just negative experiences
  • Keep a balance – your friendships and your relationships need tending to just as much as your work .

If you need support

You should always tell someone about the things you’re worried about. You can tell a friend, parent, guardian, teacher or another trusted adult. If you're struggling with your mental health, going to your GP can be a good place to start to find help. Your GP can let you know what support is available to you, suggest different types of treatment and offer regular check-ups to see how you’re doing.

If you're in need of in-the-moment support you can contact Shout 85258. It's a free, 24/7 text messenger support service for anyone in the UK. Text the word “SHOUT” to 85258 to start a conversation.

There are more links to helpful organisations on BBC Action Line.

Find out more about Poppy
Self-care and self confidence
Making decisions and changing pathways