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How can we self-care in challenging times?

Mental health first aid

Being cut off from the usual support and social interaction of the workplace for a prolonged period can have a serious effect on your state of mind and general well-being. How do you manage your mental health during challenging periods? How do you stay connected and balance the demands of family and work?

Personally, I am finding the current situation very mentally challenging. I know I am very lucky in many ways but the physical absence of friends and family, not going anywhere and being on immune suppressant mediation all takes it’s toll on my mental health. I encourage you to just try and embrace every day as it is and have self-compassion for what you are feeling every day. In this post, I am sharing the things I’ve implemented to help me and I hope they may help you too.

Reframing and positive messages

When we worry, we tend to exaggerate the situation. Looking at challenges from a different perspective can remove worry related to things that are beyond control. This approach is called Cognitive Reframing:  

  • Challenge the evidence – how bad is it really?
  • What does the evidence tell you?
  • Is it justified or not?

How could you look at things differently? Don’t focus on what went wrong but look at all the aspects that make it right. If you need to switch off from the news, from social media, from negative family members; who all make things sound worse, then do. Actively manage the amount of negative messaging coming at you.

Take Control

We naturally worry about a lot of things; including much that is outside of our control. An useful exercise you can try is to draw two circles on paper, one inside the other. In the inner circle write down everything that is within your control and in the outer circle write down everything that is worrying you but is outside of your control.

Then think about what can you do to help you during this period? Could you monitor your health e.g. by using a fit bit to keep track? Could you keep a diary of how you feel to help you download your worries? Could you keep a gratitude journal to help you focus on the positives in your every day?

What you can’t control is what is happening outside your remit, this could be what other people say including work, the government. Therefore, these things should be a lower priority. Worry about the things you can control. The aim is to spend 80% of your worry time on what you can control.

Develop a Routine

Having and sticking to a routine makes us feel safe. It helps our brain find patterns and familiarity which reduces our stress level. Make sure you

  • Keep regular hours
  • Set aside a place for work
  • Treat your remote work like your office role, get dressed!

This type of routine will be beneficial if you have family or housemates around you as they will see and understand when you are in work mode. Routines will help overcome isolation and your mental wellbeing. Some days, a routine will be the only thing you can cling to mentally. Be kind to yourself by giving your brain a pattern of behaviour to reduce your anxiety.

Family, relationships and friends can provide pressure and worry. Focus on what you want to do together next; a trip out or a holiday. If that’s too far ahead, which right now may be the case, then just talk about the small joys in your day e.g. what has flowered in the garden, what’s for dinner, what small household chore was achieved, what wildlife have you seen or whether you managed to get a click and collect slot. Small joys all add up and help your mental frame of mind.

It’s important to recognise that even with routines, you will experience stress and anxiety. Acknowledge and expect a higher emotional load and adapt your routine by introducing a shorter working day or make time for self-care. It is going to feel a roller-coaster and that’s okay. Accept that some days you will feel every feeling, some days you will be numb and some days you may never get out of bed as you feel so sad; that’s okay, be kind to yourself as tomorrow is another day.

A Sense of Purpose

Having purpose keeps you focused. You probably have long-term objectives, now is the time to set yourself small goals for a month, week or even the day:

  • Think about things that you’ve been wanting to do but never found the time. Pick one.
  • What could you complete today or this week?
  • Allocate time for these aims.

Focusing on a work purpose or a voluntary role can really help with finding a sense of meaning at this time. Having a buddy can also really help with accountability. Partnering with someone else in the same situation and sharing your plans e.g. ask, “How you are doing?”, “What did you manage today?”, “What will you do tomorrow?”

“Be careful not to dwell on what you didn’t manage to get done. Instead focus on what you did manage to achieve and congratulate yourself on the small wins.”

Reward yourself

Typically, we might reward ourselves with a nice meal or a trip to the cinema. Now we need to find other ways to reward yourself. Look for the joy in the little things and find half an hour to take ‘time out’ like

  • Spend time in the garden (get your vitamin D top up)
  • Watch a funny video that will make you smile (my personal favourites are cat videos and musicians!)
  • Read a book that isn’t work related, just because you can
  • Video or call a friend who is a ray of sunshine to speak to

Connect

We are social creatures and need to connect. Many of us may be introverts. We still need to feel a sense of belonging, being part of society. Luckily, we have digital technology available. Facebook, Twitter, Zoom, WhatsApp are a great way to stay connected. Be careful with these tools, the content you view can be negative.

Catch up with friends, add this to your routine. Focus on the positive, funny stories, happy memories, future plans. Cultivate social connections. Talk to a professional if you need, they are there to listen and won’t judge.

A useful way to position friend and family catch-ups is to ask for everyone to contribute one positive thing that’s happened to them in the week. If the conversation becomes too negative, explain this is not helpful and ask if either the conversation could be more action focused on how to help or more positive. It’s okay to set-ground rules and boundaries with friends and family to help manage your own mental well-being. You’ll be helping them too.

Exercise

The comfy sofa can be a slow energy drainer. Make sure you exercise like walking, running or cycling. Try not to sit around at home doing nothing. Get outside if you can – it’s proven to help your mental health. Alternatively try videos for Pilates or Yoga. Ensure exercise is part of your routine even if its 30 mins exercise in the afternoon.

I accept that it may not be possible every day. Despite the general advice some days I feel unable to step outside. That’s okay. But remember that at least every other day can be really helpful, even if it’s just to stand on some grass with your shoes off and stare upwards at the sun or the rain. That connection with nature can really help.

Sleep Well, Eat Well

We need between 6-8 hours’ sleep every night. Working from home it’s tempting to stay up late and break that sleep routine.

  • Keep your sleep routine healthy.
  • Stick with your normal bedtime and normal getting up time.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol, caffeine and sugar, it will affect your sleep.
  • Try a mindfulness app such as Headspace (my favourite) or Smiling Mind (free app)
  • Take this same approach to eating. Make sure you eat well and aim for a balanced diet. Take care of your food intake, to eat a well rounded nutritional diet. You’ll need all your vitamins and minerals right now!

These are all steps you can introduce to help your mental well-being during challenging times. I am doing all these actions myself and of course, some days are better than others. If you want to reach out and connect please contact me on rebecca@workbrighter.co.uk.

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