Empowering professionals to feel calmer
It begins with awareness. How often do you consider your mental health?
Do you notice an uplift in your emotions when you’re in a good place in your life?
Are you aware of how stress manifests in your body, and when it feels difficult to cope with challenges?
In recent years, the rise of mental health awareness and the ever-evolving landscape of Neuroscience research has led to a broader understanding and appreciation of the human condition. There still remains so much to unpack about the complexity of mental health, but we’re getting there, and I feel eternally grateful for this.
I launched my third business, Calmer, back in 2016, following my own mental health struggles three years prior to this. My stress levels had skyrocketed, I wasn’t taking care of myself, I worked way too many hours, which then led to burnout and regular panic attacks. Back then, I had no idea what I was going through, I couldn’t understand what these symptoms were and how to name my feelings and emotions. Where was the research? Personally, I struggled to find it.
Through my support network, receiving coaching, and engaging in mindfulness-based practices, I gradually recovered from this unsettling time in my life, and felt better able to manage my mental health moving forward.
In this special five-page spread, it is my hope and wish to empower you to bring awareness to your own beliefs about mental health, perhaps even challenge beliefs that no longer serve you, and equip you with research-led insights, knowledge, and practical takeaways to prevent burnout and nurture good mental health.
Let’s get started!
Why “one size fits all” is not the answer
Understanding the complexity of mental health
You may have heard the term “mental health is just like physical health”. Phrases like this help us to engage in more holistic, accessible ways of talking about mental health, and move away from stigma and discrimination.
Take a moment to consider your whole being. You have a brain, a mind, a physical body, a soul, and a range of emotions. These elements are in constant communication with one another, there is no separation (more on this shortly, when we explore common myths surrounding mental health). The difference is, in simple terms, we see our physical body; it is something tangible that we can touch, feel and hold. In many ways, physical health is easier to understand and for the brain to compute; unlike mental health, which is silent. You can’t see it. It’s intangible, it isn't something you can touch or feel.
This means that each person’s experience of mental health truly comes down to their individual levels of tolerance, resilience, coping skills, and their ability to manage times of change, challenge and uncertainty. This is unique to all of us, based on our upbringing, the influences in our lives, the books we read and the information we absorb, to name a few.
Yep, mental health is complex.
From a workplace perspective, this also goes some way to explaining why some people may appear hyper productive and thrive on navigating stressful situations, while others will respond more sensitively. Every single one of us is different.
Why it matters to prioritise mental health at work
In recent years, the World Health Organisation (WHO) have recognised burnout as an occupational phenomenon, and there is a strong business case for managing mental health at work.
Stress, burnout, and mental health issues are on the rise, and yet access to mental health understanding and support in the workplace remains unequal. Something needs to change, and the good news is it can start with you as an individual.
Whether you work in tech or any other industry, when we address mental health we’re talking about the complexity of the human mind, behaviour and how our experiences and environment influence how we feel on a daily basis.
In the workplace, and in our personal lives, it’s also important to be mindful of the impact of toxic environments and relationships, and how this can impact our health and wellbeing. I believe that one of the ways we can combat this, and improve our education and understanding of mental health, is to be mindful of our language.
The words we say have power and meaning
The impact of our words can create a perception in another person’s mind that has the potential to form a belief and stay with them for a long time – even their entire lives.
With this in mind, below are a few terminologies we can consider introducing into our everyday language around mental health.
Let’s talk about:
- Mental wellness
- Nurturing, supporting and looking after our mental health
- Prioritising our mental health in the same way we prioritise our physical health
- Acknowledging the intersection of our mental, physical and emotional health, taking a holistic view of our overall health and wellbeing
- The difference between mental “health”, mental “wellness” and mental “illness”. We all have mental health and describing our state of mental health can offer more clarity.
Reframing common mental health myths
1. Mental health doesn’t affect me
It’s easy to think of mental health as separate from your everyday experience of life; you may have learnt this from a young age. Thanks to advancements in tech, Neuroscience research, and a rise in mental health awareness, we now live in a very different time with access to information at our fingertips – and we can use this information to our advantage. Life experiences, whether positive or difficult, can and will affect the state of our mental health. Much like how our physical health can fluctuate, we can view our mental health in a similar way.
2. I don’t get stressed
We all experience stress, and it’s possible you may not be aware of the signs or symptoms of stress in your mind and body. We’re not designed to be highly stressed human beings, nor is it healthy to wear high stress and exhaustion like a badge of honour. In order to prevent burnout, when we experience states of stress, we also need to come out of it. We all respond differently to stress, and recognising how stress manifests in your mind and body is a vital part of enhancing your self-awareness, and understanding how best to manage your wellbeing.
3. I have never suffered with mental health issues
I used to think this, right up until my mid-twenties when I encountered my own mental health challenges. At the time, I had no idea what I was going through as I wasn’t aware of my stress markers, and what panic attacks even meant. This is a very common experience for many people; you’re not always necessarily aware of the signs and symptoms of poor mental health. However, over time you can learn to look after your mental health and manage stress levels in a way that works for you. Even if you’re the most positive, proactive person, the truth is you can still struggle with your mental health; it’s part of what makes you human. Many of the challenges we encounter in life will bring a wide variety of emotional responses, all of which serve as signals for us to better understand ourselves and our needs.
4. Talking about mental health means you’re talking about problems
Our state of mental health can be influenced positively, neutrally, or negatively. When someone experiences issues with their mental health, this can manifest as mild, to moderate, to severe, depending on the individual. The reality is, how you feel today may be different to how you felt yesterday, and tomorrow you may feel different to how you feel today. When we’re talking about the essence of mental health, we’re referring to our psychological, emotional and social wellbeing. It affects how we think, feel and behave, and determines how we manage stress, build resilience and cope with challenges. From the moment we’re born all the way into our adulthood, our mental health is vitally important during all stages of our lives, and our upbringing, experiences and the influences in our environment will have a huge impact on how we understand mental health.
5. You only need to take care of your mental health if you have a diagnosed condition
Imagine if we stopped taking care of our physical health, and only approached health issues when we reached a crisis point or physical illness. From young, we’re taught the value of nutrition and looking after our physical bodies. In the same vein, we must educate ourselves and future generations to look after our mental health in the same way we recognise the importance of physical exercise and nutrition.
6. Men have to be strong
Historically, many men have been raised to believe in showing strength, being brave and competitive. The value of what it means to be a man has largely been placed on their ability to be strong and “keep it together” for everyone around them. Only in recent years and following an overwhelming awareness of the tragic rise in male suicide rates globally, have we started to see more of a cultural openness towards men expressing their emotions. What it means to “be a man” encompasses so much more than sheer physicality – such as developing strong mental, emotional, social and spiritual characteristics. Additionally, whatever your gender identity, you’re a human being first and foremost, and every human being deserves the right to express themselves in a healthy way.
7. Revealing vulnerability or struggles with your mental health shows weakness
Quite the opposite. World-renowned thought leaders such as Brené Brown and Mike Robbins highlight the power of vulnerability through their extensive research. Consider how much strength and courage it takes to share your feelings with someone you trust, to acknowledge your vulnerability and ask for help. It is a hugely powerful step to embrace your true authenticity, as this ultimately leads to a greater sense of bravery and resilience.
8. If I’m struggling with my mental health, I need medication
There’s certainly a place for medication, that is time monitored and reviewed to assess its effectiveness. For some, it provides the lift in mood that they need to help them get through a particularly difficult time, and for others medication doesn’t respond well at all. So, what then? It is important to look at how we manage our mental health from a holistic perspective: Who in your personal and/or professional network can offer emotional support? Are there any support groups for like-minded people? How can you prioritise your sleep, diet and exercise? What activities brings you joy? All of these factors contribute towards taking care of your mind, body and soul.
9. Once someone has an issue with their mental health, they will always struggle
As human beings, we have limitless potential within us, and therefore struggling with our mental health does not define who we are. For example, you are not an anxious, depressed or stressed-out person – you are someone who is experiencing anxiety, depression or stress. This experience isn’t the full sum of who you are and what makes you “you” and equally, you may feel different from one day to the next. Following one or multiple experiences of mental illness, some people encounter ongoing mental health issues, and others make full recoveries. It is dependent on so many considerations, including genetic and environmental factors.
10. The workplace isn’t somewhere to bring your problems
It may come as no surprise that I believe the opposite to be true. We are complex human beings, and the reality is that circumstances outside of our control can often impact our ability to concentrate at work. Fostering a workplace culture that encourages openness and ease in relation to talking about mental health can lead to more meaningful conversations with people you trust, heightened empathy and a wider appreciation of our human diversities.
Your mental wellness toolkit
What does self-care mean to you?
There are endless ways to explore self-care. For me, primarily, it is a state of mind, and giving yourself permission to take a bit of time for yourself. Whether it’s a small act or a grand gesture, it starts with how we view and value ourselves.
Although each day can present new challenges, it’s important not to underestimate the power of self-awareness; there is great strength in this. Having the awareness to know what small changes you’d like to make to boost your wellbeing is a key first step.
Here are a couple of techniques to help you tap into a sense of peace, stillness and calm, with a chance to reflect outside of your busy day to day life.
Mindfulness is a well-researched practice that originates from ancient eastern philosophy and was introduced to the Western world in the 1970’s by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. The practice offers you the opportunity to enhance your sense of self-awareness, in your mind, body and environment, with an attitude of curiosity and kindness to yourself. There are many mindfulness-based techniques and practices that aim to reduce emotional distress, observe challenging thoughts and feelings, and re-train the brain to focus on positive experiences.
Meditation is one of the many ways to practise mindfulness. There are multiple benefits to connecting with deep, conscious breaths; it helps to expand your lung capacity, improve your respiratory system, sharpen your focus and calm the nervous system. It is not mandatory to sit on a cushion surrounded by candles (although I’d definitely recommend it!). The point here is that you can practice meditative breathing any time and, in any situation, to help you come back to a grounded state.
- Whether you’re standing or sitting, embraces stillness as you gently roll your shoulders back and align your spine. Take a deep breath, in and out. Tap into your inner peace and calm.
- Now take another deep breath in and out, and close your eyes. Notice your thoughts with kindness, notice what you hear, feel, smell and taste. Take your time slowing down the breath and connecting with the present.
- Now notice one thing you feel proud of, in this moment. Hold that sentiment in your heart as you take another deep inhale, feeling the breath lengthen and expand throughout your body, and exhale.
Heightening your five sensory receptors, while nurturing self-kindness, helps to down regulate the stress response in the brain, connect you to the present moment, and focus on what is in your control. Detach from past events, let go of what the future holds, and focus on what you will choose to do, here and now.
Five mindful questions
Here are a five mindset tools to bring more awareness to your feelings, intentions, and environment. This can be a regular practise if you choose – let inspiration guide you.
1. Honour the first 30 minutes to 1 hour of the day. Whatever activity you enjoy, gift yourself the time to start the day with a positive boost to your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. This not only benefits you, it will benefit others around you too.
2. What am I doing for my wellbeing today? It could be simply planning a few micro breaks to step away from the computer, planning to catch up with a loved one, or reading a chapter of a book you love – these small acts play a big part in building self-awareness and accessing the choices you have.
3. What time of the day do you feel most energised? Plan your most important tasks for the day during the timeframe where you feel most productive, to help maximise the effectiveness of your work. Whether you’re a morning person or feel more energised later in the day, take time to reflect and plan according to what you discover.
4. Be mindful of your boundaries. In a world digitally switched on 24/7, it is our responsibility as individuals to be mindful of our relationship to technology and distractions that could be taking us away from what’s important. Give yourself permission to put boundaries in place to honour your time, your work and your relationships.
5. Have something to look forward to. It can be anything, whether big or small, but planning positive things throughout the week will help balance out any challenges that may arise.