World Mental Health Day 2021 – REALSENSE talk to psychotherapist Andy Flack for advice and support

Posted on 7th October 2021
Mental Health Awareness Day

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.

Psychotherapist ANdy Flack

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.

Woman overwhelmed by her thoughts

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 kate.lindop@real-sense.com

Kate Lindop

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