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Mental Health Matters: Putting yourself first

As a Time to Change ambassador with Rethink and MIND, each year I give a presentation to my work colleagues and other local businesses about mental health awareness for Time to Talk Day. This year however I won’t be, as I feel I need to focus on my own wellbeing. Choosing to focus on ourselves, particularly when we work, is often very hard to do. So how can we strike the right work-life balance when we need to be making self-care a priority?

It’s Not Weakness

You’ve probably heard this analogy a hundred times, but it is a simple way to way challenge this stigma; if you break your arm, no one expects you to just suck it up and get on with life as normal. You need a cast, maybe physio, you need extra help from friends and family while you heal. If you are experiencing a mental health problem, you need to treat it the same way. Taking care of yourself in this way is in no way a weakness, in the same way that refusing a cast for a broken arm doesn’t make you strong.

If you need to take some time to prioritise your mental health, it might help to explain it to those around you such as your employer in the same terms (or show them this blog post). By acknowledging that you need some time to heal and by being proactive about it, you reduce the risk of long term problems. You can get better and get back to work as normal. If you think about it as a broken arm, ignoring it could result in long term pain or permanent disablement, so we make an effort to let it heal properly. Our mental health deserves the same attention, with the result for you being that you have time to recover, and for your employer it means they get you back to your awesome best.

If your employer needs further encouragement to support your mental health, it can't hurt to drop the Stevenson-Farmer Independent Review into Mental Health in the Workplace in front of them, that found the cost to employers who neglect their staff’s mental health equates to £42 BILLION pounds a year.

Self Care is the New Keep Fit

The stigma around self care is being challenged by the rise of self-care influencers. Think about it; how many posts do you now see on social media of peoples cosy socks and cups of tea, delicious looking buddha bowls or life-affirming mantras? It’s cool to look after yourself now, and the explosion of things like Hygge and the KonMari method, now is the time to focus on finding comfort and joy in ordinary life.

There is a whole new world of self-care beyond kale smoothies and running half marathons, and the fact that they are trendy makes them so much easier to incorporate into your work-life routine. Go get some lovely things to put on your desk, buy some fancy tea to share with your colleagues, or learn to fold your clothes in a way that you feel joy every time you open your drawers in the morning to get dressed. Small acts of self-care add up, and it doesn't feel like a chore to try and put yourself first in this way.

It’s Not Work You vs. Real You

You are not two different people. Your “real world” problems come with you to the office however hard you try and keep them separate. It’s better to accept and accommodate this fact than to put yourself under strain trying to maintain two distinct and separate lives.

Time to Talk encourages conversation as a way of challenging the stigma around mental health problems. A lot of us probably go into the workplace with a fake smile plastered on our faces, answering the usual “Good morning, how are you?” with the typically courteous (and somewhat British) “I’m fine, how are you?”, regardless of how we truly feel.

That’s not to say we should go into work and pile all of our problems onto your colleagues, but consider a slightly different response; “I’m having a bit of a bad day actually”, “I’m feeling stressed” or “I feel like I might struggle to concentrate today” helps to open up the possibility of conversation, and show your fellow colleagues that they can respond honestly too. It’s how conversations get started. You don’t have to go into detail about why you feel the way that you do, but sometimes just letting someone at work know that you’re having a bit of a difficult time makes it feel easier to cope as you aren’t expending all your energy trying to maintain the act of “being ok”.

As an employer, acknowledging the fact that your employees can’t just wipe all their problems the second they step into the office and accommodating for the it, can help you build amazing employee relationships, increase your staff retention, and even in the case of this CEO’s response to an employees request for a mental health day, improve the appearance of your entire business!

10 IDEAS FOR SMALL ACTS OF SELF CARE AT WORK

  1. Get a mug that makes you smile
  2. Have a plant on your desk; you keep the plant happy and in return in gives you nice clean air
  3. Create or find a safe space you can retreat to for a quiet 5 minutes (cup of tea recommended)
  4. Go Marie Kondo on your desk; declutter and add things that spark joy!
  5. Keep an extra jumper or a blanket at work for those aircon overkill days
  6. Keep a big water bottle nearby
  7. Get a change of scenery in your breaks, even if it’s just a trip to the kitchen
  8. Allow yourself little treats; a hot chocolate here, or a cupcake there. Even better when shared!
  9. Create a workplace wardrobe that you love wearing and makes you feel great
  10. Make yourself a really lovely lunch, something you’ll look forward to

More Information

If you want more information about supporting your own or others mental health in the workplace, there are some great resources online;

Time to Change - An initiative to challenge the stigma around mental health, with links to further information, advice on starting conversations, and real life stories.

Fit for Work - Free occupational health advice to help people manage their health and make the return to work

Mind - The mental health charity, with information on types of mental health condition, how to get help, and a dedicated section on the workplace with a heap of resources for both employees and employers

Pentascape is a proud supporter of Time to Change, working with our employees to protect and improve their wellbeing, and to educate the wider community.


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