This week is Mental Health Awareness Week: a week designed to raise awareness of mental health, and how our employee experience at work can impact upon it… both for better and for worse.
There’s a load of great advice out there about what employers can and should be doing to safeguard the mental health of the people who work for them. In acknowledgement of Mental Health Awareness Week though, what I wanted to concentrate on with this blog post are the things which all of us as individuals can be doing personally to promote and support our personal mental wellbeing. Our employers absolutely have a part to play… but ultimately, the responsibility for prioritising our mental health lies with us.
So, what can we do to help ourselves? Here are my top five suggestions for the things every single one of us can do to positively impact on our mental health:
#1 Acknowledge The Shades of Grey
No, not the book ? There is a real danger with mental health that we view it as something which happens to other people, and not us. By viewing mental health as binary – in that we either have mental health problems, or we don’t – we’re increasing the risk that we fail to spot the warning signs that our mental health needs some TLC.
We need to shift to viewing our mental health in the same way that we do our physical health. Few of us would describe ourselves as immune to conditions affecting our physical health, such as colds, stomach bugs, or even a broken limb… so why would we view our mental health any differently? Our mental health can oscillate from being in a great state to being in serious need of improvement… sometimes within the space of a single day! Acknowledging that this is the case, and that we all need to take care of our mental health – regardless of whether or not we believe we’re currently ‘healthy’ – starts to remove the barriers we might feel about mental health, and actively encourages us to look out for the signs that we need to take a step back and take some time to look after ourselves.
#2 Identify The Triggers
For each of us, the triggers which negatively impact on our mental health will be very different. For some it may be interactions at work which induce feelings of stress, but for just as many it will be factors outside of the workplace – time spent sitting in traffic; tensions at home; financial concerns – which trigger a decline in how we are feeling. Those individuals who experience consistently high levels of mental health are likely to be those who have identified what their personal triggers are, and then put in place an action plan to start to minimise their impact.
#3 Structure Your Day
For most of us, completely avoiding the triggers above is likely to be difficult, if not impossible. Our day to day lives are full of experiences and interactions which, for different people, may negatively impact on their mental health in different ways.
However, that’s not to say that there aren’t things that we can do which allow us to feel more in control of these moments, or able to take time out to restore our mental health in the aftermath. Dependent on what our triggers are, we might structure our days to allow time in the morning to meditate; time on our lunch break to chat through our day with a friend; time in the evening to participate in a hobby or relax with our family and friends.
Those who appear most in control of their mental health will likely have a daily routine in place which provides regular opportunities for them to recharge and get back to their best. It is worth remembering that we are only able to give of our best to our employers and our loved ones if we also carve out the time to take care of ourselves.
#4 Learn To Say No
Most of us are conditioned to want to please others; it can frequently feel easier to say yes and deal with the consequences afterwards, than it can to push back and explain the reasons why we’re unable to do something that we feel will be detrimental to our mental health. Of course, in the workplace, we’re employed to do a particular role, and there is a requirement that we carry out certain duties in order to meet the requirements of that role. This isn’t a carte blanche to cherry pick the parts of our job that we like doing and ignore the rest!
However, if we consistently say yes to everything that is asked of us, there is a danger that we will overload ourselves – one of the quickest ways to see a decline in our mental health. This is about being both strategic and pragmatic; acknowledging what we are able to achieve, and not being afraid to push back or agree a more realistic deadline on the things that we can’t.
#5 Speak Up
If you’re someone who has experienced periods of poor mental health, you might be shaking your head at this particular point, thinking that I have no idea just how difficult it can be to speak up when you’re feeling at such a low ebb. But hear me out. What I’m suggesting here is that we speak out about our mental health not when we’re struggling with it, but when we’re actually at our best.
One of the stigmas with mental health is that there seems to be this prevailing belief that it’s something that happens to other people. The reality is that we all have our mental health, which at various periods during our life will be better than others.
If you look around your place of work, you will likely see people who appear to be strong and outgoing, who you might imagine have never known a moment of insecurity or stress in their lives. Of course, this simply isn’t the case. And so my final recommendation in terms of how we take responsibility for improving our own mental health, is to speak up when we’re able to – when we’re at our strongest – to admit to the times when we haven’t felt quite so on top of things.
By doing so, we show those who are struggling that they are not alone, in turn making it easier for them to speak up. Over time, we work together to remove the stigma of mental health – ensuring everyone is able to speak up, seek specialist advice, and get the help that they need to get back to their best.