Wired and over-tired
Most of the leaders I work with are caught up in the busyness treadmill, continuously rushed for time, and not getting through their neverending to-do lists. And with change and disruption happening faster, more frequently and more dramatically than we are used to, it can be too hard to see the wood for the trees.
This is showing up in our mental health trends. In any 12-month period, 20 per cent of us will experience a diagnosable mental illness. But the stats also reveal that only half of the people with a common mental illness are getting professional help. So many of us are struggling more than we need to.
Recognising the signs
In my mental health mastery workshops, people tell me that they lack confidence in
recognising the signs and appropriately approaching colleagues they are concerned about. It is important that we educate ourselves on how to recognise the signs of potential mental health issues within ourselves and others.
There are a range of physical, emotional, mental, and behavioural signs that help us to distinguish between our natural response to day-to-day stress and a developing mental health problem. What we are looking for are changes in how we would usually think, feel, engage, and show up to our everyday activities. There is no one size fits all.
Some examples of what to look out for include:
- Emotional responses: under-reacting or over-reacting to triggers, situations, and events.
- Mental cognition: brain fog, indecisiveness, excessive worry.
- Physical changes: weight loss or weight gain, difficulties sleeping or excessive sleeping.
- Behavioural shifts: withdrawing from activities or excessive participation in activities.
Put your own oxygen mask on first
It’s not possible to drive around on an empty tank of petrol for more than a few kilometres. If your wiper fluid isn’t filled, you’re in trouble when rain smears the windscreen. Tires need the right amount of air to provide a smooth ride. Oil changes must be performed regularly to keep your car running and dependable. Even when you take good care of your car, parts wear out and emergencies still occur.
Many of us are feeling exhausted by overwork, social restrictions, constant connectivity, and continual distraction. We are not completing the self-care maintenance needed to sustain our energy and wellbeing.
Not only is it OK to take care of your own mental wellbeing, it is also important. There is a reason why airline safety emergency instructions always say to “put your own oxygen mask on before helping others”.
Mental exercise for mental fitness
Many people struggle with the term self-care; reframing this as mental exercise may be a helpful way of prioritising daily wellbeing practices.
While most of us readily agree that physical exercise is a core foundation for physical health, we don’t necessarily consider mental exercise as an important foundation for mental health.
And the good news is that including mental exercise into your day isn’t as onerous or time consuming as you may think.
A handful of quick-start, evidence-based tips for incorporating mental exercise into your routine:
- Physical exercise that incorporates a mix of cardio, strength and flexibility is also great for mental health. Two for the price of one! How good is that?
- Breathing skills help you regulate your nervous system and stress response.
- Mindfulness activities where you enjoy a sense of flow and timelessness – playing music, gardening, swimming, drawing.
- A mindfulness meditation practice that gives you the ability to recognise what is going on in your head at any time and choose to put down your mental stories.
- A sleep routine that includes winding down time and 7-9 hours’ regular sleep.
Connecting with others
Often, we don’t reach out and share our own struggles because we tell ourselves that we don’t want to burden others. But what if I was to tell you that social connection is the number one protective factor for mental health and the number one booster for wellbeing?
And that regardless of who starts the conversation, the wellbeing benefits are experienced by both people sharing?
Having the courage to share your vulnerability and ask for help is not only helpful for you, but also shows others that it is safe for them to be vulnerable and reach out for help, too.
Tips for starting a check-in conversation
- Choose a private, quiet, relaxed, and informal setting for your conversation. If you are in the office, go out and grab a coffee. If you speak mostly on the phone, suggest a walk-and-talk catch up. If most of your interactions are via Zoom or Teams, suggest a virtual coffee catch up.
- Start with an open-ended neutral conversation starter that cues this as a personal conversation and not a professional work in progress. Topics like binge-worthy TV, sporting games, or hobbies work well.
- Be specific about what you have noticed when you ask how they are. This shows you care about their wellbeing. “I haven’t seen you in meetings lately. It is unlike you not to socialise with the team, I am concerned about you, how are you at the moment?” This differs from “Are you OK?” which is generic and can be answered with one word: good, fine, busy, stressed.
- Listen and empathise. Acknowledge and show appreciation for what they are experiencing. “I appreciate you are going through a tough time, thank you for sharing. What can I do to support you?”
Get help, you are worth it
Many people don’t reach out for help because they believe they should be able to cope on their own or there are others more deserving of help. Or they may be concerned about how others will judge them if they share how they are feeling.
But it is perfectly natural to find life challenging at times. And being proactive in getting professional health advice, and support with learning coping strategies and developing your wellbeing skills, will make your healing journey more effective.
There are a range of options for help getting started, depending on where are, how you are feeling, and your communication preferences:
- My Compass, from the Black Dog Institute is a free online tool that helps you identify what you are feeling and learn strategies to deal with unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. blackdoginstitute.org.au
- Websites like the Singapore Association of Mental Health, MindHK and Therapize India provide fact sheets, online chat, email options and phone helplines 24/7
- Your doctor can provide diagnosis, guidance on options, and a mental health plan that provides cost-effective options for help.
Prioritise your most important asset – you
Mental wellbeing isn’t a ‘nice to have’, it is necessary. It is necessary for our health, energy, connection, creativity, relationships, performance, and this list goes on.
Many leaders I work with know the importance of prioritising personal wellbeing, but very few are putting self-care into practice, as they are too busy focusing on supporting everyone around them. So, I invite you to start small, but make a start.
We now have over 10 years of research showing the business case for investing in wellbeing. When we prioritise our health, wellbeing, and happiness first, our productivity, problem solving, innovation, creativity and achievement increase by up to 30 per cent.
This was originally published in the May edition of Inside FMCG magazine