The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
For most people, the last two years have been a rollercoaster of experiences and emotions with highs, lows, and everything in between. Our lives have been nothing like we’ve ever experienced before. With the daily news bringing us more changes and concerns, some people are really struggling to cope.
Here at REALSENSE, we’ve noticed a significant increase in demand from our customers for training courses that support Mental Health Awareness and employee wellbeing, showing us that staying well mentally and emotionally, as well as physically, is at the forefront of many people’s minds.
With the festive season in full swing, according to the Mental Health Foundation, “Christmas can be a joyful time of year for some people, through connecting to people they love and joining in with celebrations. And it can be a hard time of year for others, through feelings of obligation and over-commitment to social plans, disruption in routine or an increase in feelings of loneliness and isolation”.
With this in mind, we’ve put together some that simple tips can help you feel more in control, reduce stress levels and help you take care of your mental health in the coming weeks.
Tips for Coping During the Christmas Period
Communicate / Manage Relationships
For many people, Christmas can be a time when difficult relationships are revisited and old tensions can resurface. As well as worrying about preparing and providing food and buying the best gifts, it can be a challenging time for people who have strained relationships with their wider family, those who suffer anxiety, or people with financial worries.
Set a baseline that feels comfortable for you; whether that’s setting a budget to spend on presents, asking your family to comply with Covid restrictions or letting colleagues know that you won’t be sending Christmas cards this year, anything that you can do to manage people’s expectations and avoid confusion is all beneficial to reducing your stress levels. Keep the lines of communication open.
Think in advance about how you might handle difficult conversations and practice how to ask someone to change the subject if there’s a topic you don’t feel comfortable with. Why not think about some answers you could give if there are questions you know might be asked that make you feel uncomfortable.
Think about easy group activities that everyone can get involved in that will help to reduce tension and provide a distraction from any controversial topics. And remember that it’s OK to let people know if you’re struggling and need help, whether that’s physically or emotionally.
Writing a ‘to do’ list can help many people to cope because it helps you to plan your time more efficiently. There’s a great deal of expectation at this time of year for things to be ‘perfect’ and many people find Christmas incredibly stressful with not enough time to get everything done. We can find ourselves juggling numerous tasks on top of an already busy work, home and social calendar. Evaluate the essential tasks, prioritise the things that really need doing, delegate jobs where possible and give yourself permission to say no to the rest and cross them off the list. More importantly, make sure your planning allows time for you to relax, rest and enjoy the season.
Remember that it’s not worth sacrificing your mental health in the pursuit of perfection.
Prioritise your own self-care by putting time aside for a hot bath, a nice walk, some exercise or to watch your favourite movie. Whatever helps you feel relaxed and content, remember this is your Christmas too.
Be Aware of Alcohol Intake
Studies show that more than one in five people have been drinking more since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic so be mindful of your alcohol intake over the Christmas period. We’ll be looking at this more detail in the new year when we relaunch our Drugs and Alcohol Awareness Online Training Course but it’s certainly something to be mindful of over the Christmas holidays. Drink Aware have produced 12 Tips to Stay Safe This Christmas to help you enjoy the Christmas holidays but keep your health risks from alcohol low.
Make Time For Exercise
Exercise can help combat stress by releasing endorphins (the body’s feel good hormone). Regular exercising over the festive period can help improve your mental health and ensure you’re less stressed and more able to cope with pressures and demands.
Find an activity you enjoy doing – walking the dog, raking leaves in the garden, a family walk in a frosty forest, anything that gets you up off the sofa and outside – even half an hour of exercise is really beneficial.
Working from home at Christmastime
For a number of our customers, working from home has now become a more permanent fixture of their lives and it works well. For others, the sudden move back to working from home with Christmas around the corner can be difficult to navigate.
We developed our Homeworking Online Training to support employees working from home and to help employers maintain their duty of care to all staff. The following hints and tips are aimed more specifically at supporting homeworkers although all of them are beneficial for anyone, wherever you may be working.
Stay in Touch
Keeping in touch with the rest of your team, whether that’s by email, phone or video call is really important. Human beings are social creatures and home working can feel especially isolating at this time of year. Why not suggest a team Christmas quiz or drinks on video call, or even meet a colleague face to face if you can, wrap up warm and go for a walk in the fresh air with a hot drink and let them know how you’re feeling.
Make sure you speak to someone outside your home at least once per day. Talking to other people can help support mood and wellbeing and the old saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is well worth remembering.
Get Some Fresh Air
If you can’t meet someone for a walk, what’s stopping you from getting out there by yourself and having a quick walk around the block before work or in your lunchbreak? (Apart from the great British weather – although that’s what umbrellas and waterproofs are for). Use the time mindfully to notice your surroundings and focus on your breathing or listen to a funny podcast or some uplifting music while you walk. Even 20 minutes per day can make a big difference, with a brisk walk proven to reduce stress and increase concentration levels.
The boundaries between home and work have become very blurred over the last couple of years, with research by Aviva finding that more than 50% of home workers struggle to switch off from work or keep their home life separate from work. ‘Finishing work’ for the day has become a grey area and home and work life can quickly merge into one. Earlier this year, I spoke to psychotherapist Andy Flack about the importance of building boundaries as an important behavioural aspect of mental health self-care.
Andy suggested setting an alarm to signify the end of the working day and then ‘closing the door’ on the home office once you finish work. And if like many people, your work space is in your dining room or bedroom, even the act of putting a blanket over your desk at the end of the day can help signal the transition to your brain and help you to switch off from work.
Once you finish work, turn off your computer and phone and try to enjoy your home environment without social media or digital distractions. Some people choose a specific evening – or even a whole weekend – where they step away from all devices with the aim of reconnecting with themselves and the people around them.
The benefits of a digital detox can include:
- Reducing stress
- Allowing for a more positive perspective on life without the overwhelming constant bombardment of social media
- Better sleep – anxiety, insomnia and stress have all been linked to scrolling social media in bed at night and the blue light emitted from devices can also affect serotonin levels and disrupt your sleeping pattern
- Avoid comparing your life to other people – constantly checking your phone to check you haven’t missed a text, email or notification can increase stress levels and waste a lot of time! Additionally, checking your newsfeed and constantly seeing pictures and videos of other people’s lives can create anxiety, lower self-esteem and distract us from focusing on the present moment and the people around us. Knowing your device is off and you’re not contactable can bring peace of mind, an increased feeling of calmness and allows you to be more mindful and enjoy the present moment which is incredibly beneficial for mental wellbeing.
If a full digital detox seems too much for you right now, why not work towards it by setting yourself a goal of turning your phone off at a certain time every night (or putting it in aeroplane mode). This in itself can help improve mental health and restfulness, reduce stress levels and allow you some breathing space from the pressures and demands of digital life.
A nice meal at lunchtime, a candlelit bath in the evening, a new outfit, taking some time out to meditate or buying yourself a new book. There’s not been a lot to look forward to in recent times but even little things can help. Today I’m wearing my new sparkly Christmas tree earrings, even if they’ll only be seen on a screen during a Teams or Zoom call, sometimes it’s the little things that can give us a lift!
Further help is available
In this article, we’ve covered some of the most basic hints and tips for helping you stay mentally well, but for some people more help and support is needed, especially at Christmas.
The following organisations can all offer guidance and resources at any time of the year;
- The Samaritans.org or call 116123
- mind.org.uk or call 0300 123 3393
- CALM or call 0800 58 58 58
- Your GP surgery can be contacted for help and support or dial 111, or 999 if it’s an emergency.
With the Topic of Working from Home still dominating the news, it seems that many people have become more permanent homeworkers, at least for a part of their working week. As the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) suggests that working from home is one of the best ways of impacting the spread of Covid-19, it’s possible that more people may find themselves back in their home offices (or at their dining room tables!) as Winter approaches.
Our Home Working Online Training has been one of our most requested courses in the last 18 months, with users telling us that they have benefited from the guidance it provides to make their working day as productive as possible, and to help them strike a work/life balance. Here, we take a look at some of the hints and tips the course provides, and the ways in which homeworkers can ensure that they remain effective and efficient employees. Our hints and tips are also available in a free, downloadable PDF which you can keep and then refer to as required.
Download our FREE PDF for Tips for Healthy Homeworking
Top Tips for Working from Home
Manage Your Time
To help minimise stress, try to identify and prioritise your most important tasks and make a to-do list. Some people find that using SMART helps them to do this – making sure goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.
Create a Working From Home Routine
Start and end your work day with a routine. Set your alarm, get dressed and make sure you are at your desk with everything you need ready to start work. When possible, try to take your lunch break at the same time each day and even build in time a walk or some meditation to help break your day into manageable chunks.
Get some Fresh Air
Making sure you leave the house, breathe in some fresh air, and have a change of scene at least once a day (ideally more) is important for mental well-being. You could go for walk, run, cycle, or even just stretch your legs.
Don’t be too task-focused if you have people reporting to you or when working closely with colleagues, remember to ask how they are and be interested in what they have to say. Homeworking can be challenging for people in different ways so talk and share your thoughts with your colleagues.
Think about Your Workspace
Try to make sure your workspace is away from the main living area of your home, although ideally not in a bedroom. Lots of light and a plant can help to create a positive work atmosphere.
Make sure your chair is set up correctly to support your posture to avoid aches, pains and strains, and check that your equipment is working correctly and not hindering your work. You need to be comfortable while working and ensure you take regular breaks to minimise static movement.
Take Regular Breaks and Exercise
Move about and stretch, get some fresh air outdoors, go up and down the stairs – anything that will get your body moving. Set yourself alarms to remind you to get up from your desk and move. Have you re-evaluated your fitness routine since restrictions began to lift? Many gyms and classes have now reopened and others continue to offer online fitness programmes and training. You could also consider Pilates or Yoga to help with flexibility and aches and pains.
Focus on Food and Nutrition
Give some thought to preparing your food for the week and try to make meals simple and easy to put together for those times when a video call may go on longer than expected. It’s easy to forget to eat or miss your lunch break completely when working from home so make a real effort to do so, even set an alarm if this helps.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day (some people find that using a reusable water bottle with markings or timings on it helps them to stay on track) and try to choose healthy snacks.
Good productivity is usually best achieved by focusing on one task at a time. Why not put your phone on silent or out of the way whilst you concentrate on certain projects, or use a ‘do not disturb’ setting on messenger apps.
Try to work in a quiet area of the house where outside noise is less of a distraction and be sensible about internal noise in the house such as the washing machine spinning when you are taking calls.
Get Out and Socialise
Make sure you get out of the house and see people, see if you can arrange face to face meetings with colleagues (socially distanced if necessary) or even arrange to meet them socially if you live near to each other. Even wrapping up warm and taking a brisk autumnal walk with a colleague while discussing a project you’re working on together can work for some people.
Staying in regular contact with your colleagues is really important to ensure that you still feel a part of the team and avoid feeling isolated. Share your own thoughts and ideas with your colleagues about how to best make working from home work for all of you.
For further information, help and support, have a look at our Home Working Course, it takes about 30 minutes to complete and is the ideal tool for those adapting to working from home.
If you need more support or guidance, check out our Health and Wellbeing catalogue which includes lots of other courses you may be interested in, including our most popular course, Mental Health Awareness Training.
This week sees the arrival of World Mental Health Day 2021 (Sunday October 10th) and REALSENSE’s Kate Lindop took the opportunity to talk to Psychotherapist and Performance Psychologist Andy Flack about how we can continue to support the mental health of ourselves and our colleagues – at work and at home – over the coming months, and to find out if there are any changes we would benefit from making.
With over 16 years experience in working with clients in hospitals including The Priory, and in private practices in London and Cheltenham, Andy was introduced to us as an associate of Leadership and Coaching Specialists Zentano and working in collaboration, our Mental Health Awareness training course was born.
With World Mental Health Day approaching and winter on the horizon, I took the opportunity to catch up with Andy and find out if the common mental health care strategies that have been turned to during the global pandemic are still relevant, and what more we could be doing in our work and home lives to ensure we are mentally fit and well.
Over the last 2 years, most people have become a lot more aware about the importance of looking after their mental health, and the things they can do to take care of themselves. We’ve faced a great deal of change, uncertainty and anxiety, leading people to take charge of their own wellbeing and implement strategies to help them feel good.
With LinkedIn reporting a 101% growth in people transitioning career to become life coaches or business coaches, it’s clear that the need for wellness support is higher than ever. Here at REALSENSE, our Mental Health Awareness training course continues to be our most sought after course month after month, with employers and individuals seeking the skills and knowledge to support employee and personal wellbeing.
Andy explained to me that there are 3 main categories to be aware of when considering caring for mental health and these fall under the subheadings of behavioural, emotional, and cognitive actions and thinking. We talked about each of these in more detail and reflected on the do’s and don’ts of mental health care within each area.
Behavioural Strategies to Support Mental Health
Behavioural strategies include a lot of the hints and tips many of us have got used to following during lockdown or when working from home including:
- Moderating alcohol intake
- Making sensible food choices
- Taking a reasonable amount of exercise to release feel-good endorphins.
- Trying to maintain a structured routine
- Prioritising sleep
Although it can be difficult to follow all these steps all the time, Andy explained that the key to these is self-awareness and trying to remember to prioritise our own best interests.
I was also interested to hear Andy talking about building boundaries as an important behavioural aspect of mental health self-care. For many people, working from home has blurred personal boundaries somewhat and the process of finishing work for the day has become more of a grey area – it’s very tempting to ‘just do a few more minutes’ or to finish the project you’re working on and before you know it, work and home life begin to merge into one.
Andy suggested ‘closing the door’ on the home office at the time you finish work. And if like many people, your work space is in your dining room or bedroom, even the act of putting a blanket over your desk at the end of the day can help signal the transition to your brain and help you to switch off from work.
Emotional Strategies to Support Mental Health
Within this area of mental health care, Andy and I discussed holistic strategies such as meditation, mindfulness, and focused breathing. According to Headspace, ‘meditation can be seen as exercise for the brain’ and focusing on breathing can have long-lasting benefits including reducing stress levels, improving focus, and lowering levels of irritability.
I asked Andy if emotional care is the most overlooked area of mental health self-care and the easiest to forget or not make time for, and he insisted that we ‘ALWAYS have time!’ In fact, if life is so busy that you feel there isn’t time to stop and focus on your breathing, then this is probably when you need it the most. Even ten minutes per day has been proven to be incredibly beneficial. So, instead of scrolling through Instagram or getting distracted by your phone, Andy recommends deep breathing exercises and just trying for a few minutes per day can make a real difference.
For those people working at home, focused breathing and meditation can be an important tool to use during transition times – so at the start of the day, use it to focus your mind for the day ahead or even set ten minutes aside at the end of your working day before home life takes over again. People commuting to and from the workplace can also use this time to try to focus on their breathing and practice mindfulness (although care must be taken when driving).
There are loads of free resources online, and for more in-depth meditation programmes why not have a look at Mindful or Headspace.
Cognitive Strategies to Support Mental Health
Andy explained to me the importance of getting to know your own thinking. According to a recent study by psychologists at Queens University, the average human being can have more than 6,000 thoughts per day, and these can range from mundane to strange and unusual. However, they are all just thoughts. Allowing time to sit with your thoughts and feelings and understand your own mind is a really important part of mental health self-care.
Andy suggests the following cognitive strategies to help control your thoughts and allow you to feel less overwhelmed by your thoughts.
- Allow time to worry. Giving yourself a set amount of time (such as 10 minutes) to acknowledge and ‘sit with’ your worries can help them feel less powerful at other times of the day.
- Write it out. Journaling has been recommended as a support tool for mental health for a long time now, with experts suggesting that the act of seeing your thoughts on paper can help your brain to regulate emotions and give you a sense of perspective.
- Write a ‘To Do’ list. Whether at work or at home, have separate lists for monthly, weekly, and daily tasks, moving things around as you need to but allowing your brain the space to realise not everything has to be done at once. Acknowledge what you’re actually capable of.
- Do what you dislike first. Avoid avoiding! Research suggests that we have more willpower in the morning and are less likely to procrastinate and put off the tasks we like least. You will feel a sense of achievement if you tackle your worst chores first and get them out of the way. If tasks are too overwhelming, break them down into smaller chunks or share or delegate some parts of the task if you can. (This theory can apply to all aspects of life and home including writing an essay you’re dreading, doing certain household chores, or working on a major corporate project)
- Be aware of the narrative around the future. Social media and the mainstream media are constantly sharing bad news, intended to make us panic or cause a reaction. If you see a headline such as ‘no turkeys for Christmas’ this can instantly create anxiety and worry that ‘Christmas will be terrible’ or start a spiral of ‘what if’ thinking. Try to ask yourself if it really matters? Would it be the end of the world to have beef instead? Make sure you choose your sources of information wisely; your brain can find it difficult to distinguish between what’s a story and what’s the truth. Trying to be adaptable and flexible with your thinking and avoiding generalising can be a huge benefit to wellbeing.
Recently, with Autumn upon us, you may have had various conversations regarding the weather. According to social anthropologist Kate Fox, 94% of British residents admit to talking about the weather at some point in the last 6 hours. According to Fox, ‘weather talk is a kind of code that we have evolved to help us overcome social inhibitions and actually talk to one another’.
Andy points out, however, that we must be aware of how these social norms can influence our thoughts and be harmful to our mental health. If you encounter several people grumbling about how cold it is, how the evenings are dark and the days gloomy and miserable, this automatically starts to affect your mood. The key here is cognitive acceptance – allow yourself to accept Autumn and Winter and find the good in them.
Gaining perspective helps to minimise the negative impact the social script can have. ‘Try to see the good in winter, embrace the variety, get sunlight and vitamin D where you can and keep yourself feeling well, knowing that Spring will come as it does every year’ advises Andy.
Mental Health Awareness Staff Training – ‘think well, feel well, act well’.
A recent YouGov poll found that only 32% of respondents felt that they could talk to their boss or manager about their mental health and very few would choose to approach their colleagues to discuss how they were feeling. This highlights that there is still a serious need for more awareness about mental health in the workplace.
I asked Andy why managers should consider investing in Mental Health Awareness Training for their staff and he likened it to a football team; “A football coach or manager invests time, money and effort into training his team because he knows that the better trained they are, the better they will perform. Psychological performance is the same, the better psychologically trained a team are, the better performing they will be.” In terms of the workplace, “a mentally well team means they will perform better, and this leads to increased team productivity, leading to happier customers and therefore more profit. A mentally well workforce will be happier, leading to better staff retention and a more loyal workforce who feel supported and appreciated”.
Andy reminded me that ultimately as human beings, we should consider the medical model which states that you can’t separate your head from your body. You feel feelings in your body. People often refer to supporting their mental health as a fixing a ‘head problem’ but as our discussion has shown, a full body, holistic approach at home and in the workplace has lots of benefits – if we think well, we can feel well and therefore we will act well.
If you would like help and support for yourself or your team, our Mental Health Awareness Training course helps promote a healthy and supportive working environment and increases awareness of mental health issues. Written in collaboration with Andy Flack and Zentano, our online training course helps learners to understand the different factors that can affect their mental health and to obtain the knowledge and support for dealing with mental health issues should they arise.
The course contains a number of hints, tips, strategies, and practical solutions that focus on improving and maintaining good mental health and building resilience.
For more information about training your staff to support their mental health or to discuss any of our other training courses, please give us a call on 01332 208500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org