On World Mental Health Day I have been reflecting on the impacts of work on my mental health. Whether we are employed, self-employed, work in a team or fly solo as a freelancer, work plays a massive part in our lives and therefore on our mental health and wellbeing.
Over the years there have been lots of things that have caused me stress and anxiety in relation to work and I thought I would share just some of the key things that I have realised support me to manage the pressures of work.
Build safe and nurturing relationships It has been really important to me to build relationships with colleagues and peers who I know I can trust and who will not judge me. Sometimes this is hard to do in the workplace as the politics and priorities of business can sometimes get in the way. When it has been hard for me to know if it is ok to share some of my thoughts and worries with colleagues in the workplace, I have turned to a trusted network of peers to be able to share confidentially and seek advice.
This has sometimes been about how to manage performance issues within my team, occasionally about worries in relation to a manager or boss and sometimes a crisis of confidence in my own ability.
Knowing I have a psychologically safe space to share has been an amazing support. And knowing I have people who genuinely have my back means I can ask for support, advice and sometimes even a coffee/ gin and tonic.
I have also come to realise that it is important to know it's ok to let go of relationships that no longer bring me joy or have a positive impact on me. It's really hard to do, especially in a professional context, as it is riddled with the complexity of how those people will impact on you in a business context. Will they bad mouth you because they are upset you have distanced yourself, do they genuinely want good things for you so let you move on or will they somehow cause you difficulties in your working life. My learning is definitely find a compassionate way to step away from these negative relationships as if you are worried about those things it says a lot about how that person is impacting on your wellbeing.
Talk about it This absolutely links to the above. Creating an environment in your team, workplace or with peers where everyone knows it's ok to be open and transparent with what you might be struggling with and how you are feeling can really make such a difference.
Having worked in mental health services for sometime I do feel lucky that I have been in working environments where there has been less stigma attached to talking about mental health. There is always more than can be done though.
A lot of this is about trust and about positive role modelling and leadership. As a leader and especially as a communicator I feel like it is my duty to be open in m own communications as well as supporting others I work with to feel confident that they can talk about what's on their mind. Bottling things up won't help in the long run and actually being open and sharing when things are difficult for you can really build credibility with those you work with and for.
This sounds super obvious but taking a break is crucial to your wellbeing at work and I mean this on a number of levels. During the working day take a break to help you feel more creative. Do something physical like go for a walk as this will help you feel refreshed. If I work from the home office I try to build some exercise into my day as it is too easy to miss out on physical activity when you are commuting or dashing between meetings. I take my lunch break and go for a run when I can to make the most of home based working.
A change in working environment can also really help to alleviate stressful feelings and refocus your mind. Try to find ways to work from different offices, meeting space even a cafe if it helps you to change things up. It will help your energy levels and productivity.
And finally on this point remember how important your work life balance is. Make sure you book time away from work whether thats for a holiday, some time nesting at home or visiting friends and family. Don't keep working until you mentally burn out. Plan time away from work that is meaningful to you, helps you to switch off and gives you something to look forward to. This year I realised I hadn't had a week off six months and I was so ready for it. I was running on empty and not delivering my best work because I just needed to rest.
It's ok to put yourself first
We often find it hard to accept that it is ok to put ourselves first. In the midst of deadlines, emails, meetings, delivering for clients, managing suppliers, supporting colleagues (the list could go on), it is easy to think it's not ok to put your needs first. Business priorities always seem to take precedent but sometimes you must prioritise your own priorities. It's definitely about striking the right balance.
We do need to stop feeling guilty about this. It is not selfish, it's self-care. We can only deliver our best if we are feeling our best.
We are all human Sometimes it is easy to forget that we are all human beings, whole people with lots going on in life outside of our job or role at work. We all experience difficult situations in our lives. Mine have included a divorce, my mum being sectioned under the mental health act and losing loved ones. We all have a back story and it is bound to affect our work.
All of the above helped me to get through those difficult times. Being able to talk with colleagues and bosses to say I may not be on my A-game at the moment because I have things going on at home was a relief. Taking time away from work to deal with and process things was critical. Having people around me who gave me support and looked out for me, asking if I was ok and if they could help with my workload was overwhelmingly kind.
Our experiences make us who we are, give us unique insights and make us valuable colleagues and peers to others. We should learn to value this and each other.
So, on #WorldMentalHealthDay2019 it would be great if we could all make a pledge to try to make our workplaces healthier and happier. Let's treat our colleagues and clients with compassion and even more importantly let's treat ourselves with that same compassion.