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Why the Best Gift to You in 2021 is Your Mental Wellbeing

As 2020 draws to a close, are you hearing a collective sigh of relief?

It’s been a challenging year on so many levels and we’re not in the clear yet.

While many people I’ve spoken with have shared their optimism and confidence that next year will be better, it’s important to remember that:

  1. While the promise of a vaccine in 2021 is looking encouraging there is still so much that remains unknown as to their potential long-term efficacy, and whether it will be possible to immunise children.
  2. The economic ramifications arising from the pandemic will probably take a long time to recover from. Meanwhile, many more people are finding out they too will be losing their jobs. How will we support ourselves and our communities when money is tight and unharvested crops are being ploughed back into the ground meaning food prices will rise and bills still have to be paid?
  3. The impact on health is also an issue. Many people have put off going to their GPs for routine check-ups, elective surgery has been postponed and health decisions deferred.

So much stress.

So much struggle.

So much uncertainty.

The thing I worry most about beyond these things is this. We are in a mental health crisis, the extent and severity of which has never been experienced before.

The World Health Organisation recently released a report that shared how in 130 countries surveyed, 93% reported mental health services had either been disrupted or halted as a result of the global pandemic – at a time when those services are needed more than ever.

Which is why I believe the time has come to REIMAGINE mental health and what that might look like.

For too long we’ve ignored the obvious. Our mental health system has been chronically underfunded and failing badly in providing timely and adequate mental health services to those in need.

Throwing more money into a broken system won’t fix it.

What’s needed is a new approach one that recognises that:

  1. It’s important to recognise and treat mental health challenges early.
  2. Those potentially at risk and considered more vulnerable to mental mood disorders need to have their mental wellbeing checked on regularly.
  3. And this is the important bit… everyone is encouraged to look after their mental wellbeing in life and work adopting simple lifestyle practices shown by the science to be effective.

Why?

Because prevention is NO LONGER an option.

Instead of bleating about how terrible the impact of the Covid pandemic has been on our mental health, let’s stem the tide.

 

Why do leaders need to take the lead?

Well, apart from the job description, i.e. that you will lead others to safety like the shepherd taking care of his flock, you are the person with the power and the influence through YOUR own observable behaviours. When you model that leaving work on time is normal, that taking holidays and a proper lunch break is expected, that regular conversations to discuss challenges and problems employees are facing are encouraged and made the norm, THEN positive change can begin to manifest. This could look like:

  • Lower levels of stress being reported
  • Less chronic fatigue
  • Less overwhelm
  • Less emotional exhaustion

The benefits are obvious.

Other than reducing the risk of burnout what if the human costs of absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover could be lowered?

What if your business became a magnet for top talent because it’s recognised as being a great place to work?

What if you were to enjoy an increase in productivity, performance and profit?

So first off, let’s debunk the biggest myth in the modern workplace, that high stress is to be expected in the workplace.

Actually no.

While normal levels of stress can be very helpful to elevate performance, being exposed to chronic severe stress grinds us down because we’re left trapped in the mindset of fight-flight-freeze.

And when leaders and managers are under prolonged stress (what, you thought you were immune?) it becomes harder to detach from work, to feel as if you have enough time to do an excellent job and more difficult to make good decisions. Are people starting to question your judgement?

If as the leader, CEO, manager your level of stress is becoming unmanageable, that stress effect will start to trickle down and impact everyone in the organisation, who now also find it harder to manage their own work and stress levels. It becomes a stress-fest.

It’s time to take off that superhero cape and get real.

High stress leads to physical health problems – heart attack and stroke for starters, increased risk of premature death and contributes to the risk of burnout, anxiety and or depression.

Karoshi is the Japanese term for “death from overwork.” This isn’t something I believe any of us would want to be remembered for.

Putting your own health at risk is one thing, but you could also be impacting your team’s wellbeing and effectiveness.

 

There are four things to consider when putting together a workplace mental wellbeing program:

1. Keep job stress at manageable levels.

Sustainable high performance is possible when our basic physiological and psychological needs are met. We are human not machine.

That’s why good job design, ensuring adequate resources are provided and agreeing on boundaries around working hours, time off, flexible working arrangements make a positive difference.

If you like me have been working extensively from home in 2020, you’ll know just how tiring those back-to-back meetings on Zoom or Microsoft meetings can be. Getting the working environment right includes allocating time off between meetings and sufficient mental breathers across the working day, especially when working from home.

 

2. Self-care is a MUST not a maybe.

This is about those daily habits that serve to keep us well physically and mentally. It’s those things you know make the biggest difference but for too long they have been at the bottom of the priority list or not even included. Since when did the idea of self-care become seen as selfish? This is quite nonsensical. If you want to be a top athlete, you know that to run your best race, it’s all the preparation beforehand that makes the difference. Your natural resilience depends on the level of your self-care. It’s never been simply a test of endurance.

Self-care isn’t about massage and bubble baths, pleasant as they might be. It’s about making the choice every day to look after you. As Dr Sam Manger, President of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine, reminds us: every day is brimming with opportunities for self-care, with at least three for healthy food choices, when to include more physical activity, get enough good quality sleep, relax, meditate and spend quality time with those who mean the most.

 

3. Ensure psychological safety at work.

As a GP, I can’t tell you how many people I cared for who were broken as a result of toxic workplace environments. It was and remains shocking. As a leader, the competitive advantage of psychological safety is massive because it allows you to tap into the unlocked potential sitting right there in your workforce. As humans, we seek purpose and meaning, acknowledgment and recognition and positive human connection. Getting these in place provides the safety for everyone to know it’s O.K. to speak up, to ask a clarifying question, to voice a concern or ask for help. This is what leads to higher rates of engagement.

Engagement is a lag indicator, it’s far better to measure what’s true for your employees in terms of feeling safe at work. Because let’s face it have your engagement surveys ever been really been linked to an increase in productivity and performance?

 

4. Make mental wellbeing the NORM.

When it’s normal to discuss challenges individuals are facing, when stories are shared of a person’s experience of anxiety, depression or burnout, it helps others to know they are not alone, that anyone can be affected, and that help is readily at hand.

With one in six working-age people currently living with mental illness (and that’s just those who have been diagnosed) there’s “a lot of it about” frequently hidden from view.

It’s estimated that only half of those with a mental health challenge seek help.

It matters that everyone feels able to speak up, to ask for help early because it means they can access the most appropriate assistance quickly and be back on their feet faster.

Our new technology is providing a wealth of ways to look after our mental wellbeing. The app I especially like is Iyarn. It’s simple to use, quick and visually appealing – and it works.

 

If the mental wellbeing of your organisation is concerning you, I’d love to help. Simply contact me at jenny@drjennybrockis.com to discuss your needs. I have a 6-month in-house workplace mental wellbeing program available and am launching an 8-week online course and group mentoring in mental wellbeing in the New Year.

Let’s reimagine the changing face of mental health in the 21st century.

It’s time to nurture a mentally fit workplace for a happier, healthier and better new normal.

 

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.

If psychological safety, resilience and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.

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