As this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week comes to a close, the Rainy Day Trust’s CEO Bryan Clover takes a considered view on mental health and the actions and support that are vital all year round.
After the year we’ve had and, with the fall-out of COVID still taking its toll on the nation, Mental Health Awareness Week (May 10th-16th) is more important than ever. According to Mind, as many as one in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England, with one in six experiencing a common mental health problem, like anxiety and depression, in any given week. So, what should you be doing to take care of our own mental health and that of your co-workers?
At the Rainy Day Trust, we are firm believers that a healthy, supported workforce is a productive one. I hope that the following will arm you with the tools you need and some simple techniques to manage your own mental health or give your colleagues and employees a boost.
A lot of mental health problems build over time until a point is reached where the whole thing is completely overwhelming and too much for many people to cope with. It may not lead to suicide, but it can lead to mental breakdown or a lot of time off work for stress.
So, how can small wins help? Most of us have a mountain of chores and tasks to deal with on a day-to-day basis; and work adds innumerable other tasks. It can all feel like too much. I’m a believer in lists. Make a list of the jobs that need doing and a quick note of when they have to be done by. As I complete them, I score them off and move on to the next one.
This way of dealing with things has a couple of benefits. Firstly, once something is completed and out of the way, then you feel like you are making a little headway no matter how small the task; whether that’s emptying the bins, e-mailing the council about a query on your council tax bill, or chasing an unpaid invoice. Each successfully-concluded task is a small win, and a little ego boost. In the same way, a big task can be broken down into smaller ones to make it seem more achievable. Secondly, as you near the end of the day or week, you see a diminishing list and get that urge to crack on a bit and either clear it or sort out a few more. That, in turn, brings a stronger feeling of accomplishment.
Small wins can also relate to different goals. After a major trauma, we can feel as if we are just drifting and not in control of our lives but we can create artificial short-term goals, giving us something to aim towards. Maybe completing a small project, or a savings target. When you’ve completed it, you create another one; perhaps a little bigger or more complex or a little further out into the future. When you reach that one, you repeat the process. Each time you manage a small win and confidence builds again.
Remember, you are in control of the target, so can make it as easy or tough as you choose. The point is, that you create it, so hold your destiny in your own hands. When my daughter, Evie, died this helped me manage time in a way that didn’t feel endless. It created focus and a destination.
Get outside and get creative
How many times have you heard someone saying that being outside is good for you? Usually, it is accompanied by something relating to fresh air and not being in front of a screen, phone, the TV, and so on. Someone might suggest walking, getting out in nature or doing a bit of gardening.
Stress and anxiety have a way of taking over our minds, forcing themselves front and centre at the most inconvenient time: in the middle of a meeting, or during a detailed discussion on an important subject. When it happens, it can be incredibly challenging to overcome it and get back to normal. If there are deeper problems relating to debt, family problems, redundancy or bereavement then it can be overwhelming, and the temptation is to bury it deep, hide and keep going. I can tell you from personal experience that this doesn’t work. It will come and bite you at some point, you cannot hide from it.
So, how does going for a walk combat something so enormous? It isn’t just walking. Doing something creative, like painting, gardening, or writing, achieves the same end result.
Being creative means that you have to concentrate on what you are doing. That gives your mind time to rest from whatever is causing it a problem. It’s still there afterwards but it isn’t wearing you down constantly. Oddly, doing something very simple, like walking or taking a photo, has a disproportionately large positive impact.
Interestingly, being creative – or even just walking – uses both sides of your brain alternately because the left side of your brain controls the right side of your body and vice versa. So, when you prune the rose bushes, hold the stem in one hand and cut with the other. This is called bilateral movement. Regular exercise is known to reduce blood pressure and the ‘fight or flight’ response.
By using your brain in this way for just a simple process, it allows your brain to process whatever is troubling it at a sub-conscious level. Moreover, if you walk with someone else, you will slowly match their pace, which apparently improves memory and recall, as the act of being in sync with someone else improves self-esteem and wellbeing. Regular exercise may also boost mood by increasing the production of a brain protein called BDNF and that helps nerve fibres to grow.
If you have someone working for or with you that is struggling with mental health issues, in whatever form, then why not just have a chat and suggest something like these techniques to help them start to understand what is happening? Maybe give them a creative task to do that is work-related? Design a new poster for staff meetings? Draw up a new tweet? Create some planters for the office? If they have hobbies like photography or writing, then encourage it. It will cost you very little or nothing but could reap huge rewards.
Have a chat over a coffee
When I say ‘chat over a coffee’ I don’t mean gossiping about the neighbour’s bin habits or whether Manchester United will ever be as good as when Alex Ferguson was in charge. I mean, talking about your wellbeing. Talking about what is worrying you is most definitely not a sign of weakness, it is a sign that you have the strength to take control of what is bothering you.
For most of us, I suspect that when we have a worry, we sit quietly and think it through or even try and ignore it completely. The trouble with that approach is that you can often end up revisiting the same thought over and again. You don’t make any actual progress into dealing with or solving the problem.
If you can talk through a problem with someone that you trust, then your brain starts to work two or three sentences ahead of your mouth. It digs deeper and delves into the problem because you want to put across a coherent point.
It may well be that you choose not to share a revelation that you uncover with whoever you are talking to, but your brain has got there and started a process of self-awareness that is beneficial.
There are a whole range of people you could talk to: a counsellor, family member, a trusted friend or colleague. Anyone that you feel comfortable with. But as well as being honest with them, you have to be honest with yourself.
Once again, if someone you know has worries, get them to unload. You can’t always get rid of the problem, but you can start to understand it and that is incredibly important. But you must listen! And, don’t just do it once. Make it a habit. The more you talk, the more you will understand.
I hope that that this has inspired you and made you realise there are many simple things we can to help ourselves, or give colleagues a gentle nudge in the right direction. It may be Mental Health Awareness Week, but that doesn’t mean that the problems will all disappear next Monday.
For more support or help with any issues relating to mental health, please contact the Rainy Day Trust on 0800915 4627.
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