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Mental Health? We all have it. How are you managing yours?

What do you think about when you hear or read the expression “mental health”?  Do you think about your own experiences of joy, happiness, sadness, jealousy, feeling down, low or depressed, longing, elation, satisfaction, desire, hope and any other emotional state you might experience? Or, do you only think of depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), bipolar, suicidal feelings or self-harm?

A new Understanding of Mental Health

Because, mental health is the daily experiences of feelings, sensations and emotions across a spectrum that ranges from mild to intense and positive to negative.  For so long, the new discipline of Psychology studied the human condition at its most dysfunctional.  It created models of mental health skewed towards a lack of function and normality.  Now, Psychologists are researching the functional mind as well, high achieving people, not just those paralysed by trauma and abuse, happiness not only depression, the neuroscience of joy as well as the factors that contribute to low self-esteem.

We all have Mental Health

This has opened our understanding that we all have mental health.  Yes, there are those that struggle with severe mental health conditions.  That can make it hard to function at a high level in day to day society- schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder for example.

But most of us feel mild experiences of being low, finding it hard to focus, indecision, seeing the negatives in situations rather than the positive, lacking creativity, productivity and resilience as well as battling with our inner critic.  These are daily battles that almost all of us face to a greater or lesser extent.  We lose sight of what is truly fulfilling and meaningful for us as individuals, and our sense of self and mental health suffer as a result.

Sometimes you don’t sleep enough, exercise sufficiently, eat healthily, drink too much alcohol or take more recreational drugs than is good for you and that all leaves you a little under par.  Chronic stress can erode your mental health too, leaving you low in energy, a little jaded and bruised, less responsive and tolerant as you’d like.  Even short-term stress, brought on from moving house, separation and divorce, grieving, illness and financial pressures for example, can negatively impact your mental health.

The Spectrum of Mental Health

So, mental health is not a condition.  There is only the condition of your mental health.  It lies on a spectrum and you are moving along that spectrum at every moment of every day.  Some mornings you’ll get up and you’re humming a tune to yourself.  Someone cuts you up on the commute and suddenly you’re fuming.  Or perhaps it doesn’t affect you?  Into work and e-mails, meetings, powwows by the water cooler may leave you a little low?  Or not?  Or perhaps you feel more vibrant, energised and alive as a result?

Does a late lunch leave you a bit grouchy, or missing your workout leave you less energised and alert for the afternoon stint?  What about the rush for school pick up and dropping off for after-school clubs, lessons and play dates?  An argument at home or a particularly delightful evening with your spouse and kids may lead to a totally different mental state by the end of the day.  Your mental health is zig zagging all over the place throughout the day.  That is part of the human condition.

Mental health is too fluid to be static, consistent and pigeon-holed by a few diagnoses.  Through these highs and lows throughout any day, you are met with opportunities to manage your mental health so that you can remain creative, productive and resilient.

Managing your Mental Health

A handful of tools and resources can help you manage your mental health.  Even if you are on medication for a diagnosed condition, these tools can help.  And if you are not diagnosed and recognise the ebb and flow of your mental health as you go through your day, these tools can help you manage your mental health as well:

  1. The most important thing is to have an awareness of your mental health, noticing the events and moments that positively and negatively impact your mood and feelings. Without that awareness, you cannot know that your mental health needs to be managed.  It takes a little introspection and reflection to recognise these patterns and preferences.  And if you are feeling really brave, ask someone who knows you well and that you can trust, to tell you what they notice about your mental health, honestly and kindly.
  2. Develop your emotional intelligence. Learn to express how you are feeling.  It starts with the body, noticing the feelings and sensations that are showing up as you go through your day.  Then, find the words to describe those feelings and sensations and accurately express the emotions that are connected to those feelings and sensations.  For example, when I have been sitting at the computer too long, my body feels sluggish and low in energy.  I used to worry it was because I was bored, or the work wasn’t exciting enough.  In time, I learned that the feeling comes with prolonged sitting.  If I want to buck that sluggishness from inactivity, I need to get up and move around for a while.  Maybe I’ll work out for example or go for an energetic walk.  Then I’ll return to the screen, refreshed, revitalised and alert.
  3. Talking to a trusted friend, colleague, manager, partner. Having someone to share your thoughts and feelings with is so important in managing mental health.  It solves nothing usually, but it does allow you to create some distance and get some perspective on the challenge so that you are able to work out the next step for yourself.  Creating this opportunity at work is becoming more acceptable with Mental Health First Aiders being trained to listen and signpost.  Also, managers are expected more frequently to give time and space for their team members to come to them with personal as well as work-related challenges.  It can create a lot of anxiety for managers, who can become fearful that they need to solve the problem, suffer embarrassment, will do more harm than good or may be triggered themselves.  What is often needed in the moment is a listening ear, free of judgement, prejudice, opinion or assumptions.  This is true whether at work or at home.  Work places are even bringing in coaches specifically to give their employees the opportunity to talk about personal and professional challenges.  It is recognised that this can help people manage their mental health more effectively.  Which reduces presenteeism and absenteeism and improves retention and productivity.
  4. Seeking professional assistance through a coach, counsellor or therapist.  In spite of having awareness, being emotionally articulate and having people to talk to (the first three on our list), sometimes a coach or therapist can support you in taking a deeper dive into your challenges and goals.  Therapists tend to take you to the past to explain your present behaviour.  Coaches tend to focus more on creating the future you would like to live.  And build a bridge from the present to manifest that future.  A good coach and therapist will be able to point you towards what will likely serve you best, coaching or therapy.  So, please, if you think you might want additional support, reach out to either a therapist or coach and they will be able to advise.
  5. Moving the body is great for your mental health.  It keeps you fit, mobile, active, flexible and releases endorphins that positively impact your brain and nervous system chemistry and make you feel good.  You’ll experience more vitality, energy and alertness when you work out and less if you don’t.
  6. You are not a machine.  Take breaks as you need to maintain your mental buoyancy, vitality, engagement, productivity, creativity and joie de vie.  Short breaks might include a walk to the water cooler, kitchen or photocopier or even a stretch at your desk.  Longer breaks may mean getting away from your desk for lunch and coffee breaks.  Like going for a walk, working out, getting a cycle in.
  7. If you use your phone or computer a lot for work during the day, take a break from them in the evenings and weekend. Do completely different things out of work compared to what you do at work.  Slow down. Relax and enjoy a read, a coffee, a chat with friends. Snooze. You don’t need to go on a holiday or weekend break.  Take time in your week to rest so that you can rejuvenate, revitalise and be more resilient.
  8. Diet and hydration. A balanced diet and good hydration do wonders for maintaining good mental health.  Good hydration means plenty of water and being careful about the amount of dehydrating fluids like caffeinated drinks and alcoholic beverages you consume.  In my experience, diet, sleep, breaks and rest are the least considered factors in contributing to strong mental health.  Yet they are at the foundation of good mental health management.  You do not have to rely on anyone else to achieve them.  They are easy to do, though life-style can make them challenging to achieve.  And life-style is the main stumbling block.  Find a practical way to achieve that and you have great resilience built into your life and mental health.
  9. In my opinion, sleep is the single most important factor that contributes to me eating a balanced diet, resting well, being creative and kind to myself and others.  I feel grounded and at peace when I have slept well.  This positive affect compounds over time as I continue to get good sleep.  And it erodes when I consistently get poor sleep.  Healing and processing take place while you sleep.  So getting in the hours is important if you want to face your day fully charged and frisky for life.

Over to You

How do you manage your mental health?  Are you aware of your feelings, sensations and emotions throughout the day and manage them well?  Who do you talk to when things are challenging for you?  From the list of nine, how many of them are you using to manage your mental health and well-being?  Of those you are not using, which would you choose to implement?  What are your thoughts about mental health now that you have read this blog?

Pass it on

If you found this article useful, please pass it on.  Would your place of work benefit from some training around managing mental health through coaching?  Why not give me a call.

Workshop case study- developing practical strategies to manage the pressures of everyday life

“David and I discussed at length how best to help staff to manage physical and emotional well-being, which is a key priority for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health as without a healthy workforce we will not be able to deliver our ambitious agenda.” Louise Frayne

I was approached by The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to do a workshop at their London offices.  The workshop was designed after detailed discussion with the Head of HR & Organisational Development, Louise Frayne, who was looking for content relating to stress- management, well- being and confidence.  We had “met” on an on- line discussion I was running about confidence.  Louise was intrigued about my use of the mind- body connection for greater confidence, managing stress and workplace wellness.  Because of my martial arts background, I designed a workshop that focused on mindset, body and posture.  It also centred around movement, connection and the relationship between mind and body.

“I contacted David to design and deliver workshops here at our London office to help staff develop practical strategies to manage the pressures of everyday life. David and I discussed at length how best to help staff to manage physical and emotional well-being, which is a key priority for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health as without a healthy workforce we will not be able to deliver our ambitious agenda.”  Louise Frayne, Head of HR & Organisational Development, RCPCH

Stress, Communication and the Body

We started by using the work of Paul Linden and gaining awareness of how the body responds to threat.  By eliciting a stress response, attendees paid attention to where they became tense in their bodies and how they moved when threatened.  Then they learned a centring technique by balancing and relaxing the body, bringing them to a calm and broadened awareness.  As a result, they responded to threat in a much more effective and confident manner.  We explored how and where we might use this in our personal and professional lives.

We extended this theme by looking further at posture and breathing.  How do they impact on our confidence and perception of the world?  Also, how that impacts the people we interact with. We practised scenarios and realised how some postures and breathing made for more receptive and open communication than others.  It was agreed that using these more open postures for meetings and general communication around the office and at home would be beneficial.

We continued the embodied theme by looking at boundaries and being able to maintain those boundaries in the face of challenge and conflict.  These challenges and conflicts can be external and internal, yet it is the person’s personal relationship with the challenge or conflict that is vital for success. Thinking about boundaries alone is not powerful enough.  Integrating the work in the body can make for much more empowered behaviours and statements.  Attendees chose challenges they wished to say “yes” to and “no” to. These were as diverse as requests from work colleagues, personal health challenges such as diet and exercise and behaviours that improve well- being such as relaxation.  Embodying and centring gave more powerful and assertive “yes” statements, giving inner confidence and resolve.  “No” statements could be said confidently and calmly so that it would not damage relationships.

Finally, we tied all these strands together with a communication exercise.  Using Aikido principles of flow, we built a metaphor for communication based on remaining engaged and curious in conversation through movement.  We explored the relationships between leading and following and coming to conversations with an agenda and being agenda free.  Also, we discovered that entering the relationship with our own personal confidence and strength gave us the ability to play our role well, contribute effectively and enjoy the process.  We used the centring, breathing and postural techniques learned earlier in the workshop to make for better communication in a range of relationships so that we experienced win- win outcomes.

Feedback and further workshop development

The feedback from this workshop was very positive:

“David’s wealth of knowledge and expertise was invaluable.  The first workshop introduced core principles of breathing and relaxation. Feedback was so positive that I commissioned two further workshops to build on the themes of the first workshop.  Take up by staff was enthusiastic. Feedback from staff who attended showed that they felt able to use the strategies David had shown them in a variety of settings and they particularly liked how David developed trust and rapport in the room, so everyone could talk openly, which is so important for this type of event to work well. I would have no hesitation in recommending David and his workshops to any organisation.”  Louise Frayne, Head of HR & Organisational Development, RCPCH

Louise and I discussed the content for two further workshops to be carried out the following year.

Presence, Values and the Body

We continued these themes in the second workshop six months later.  Our objective here was to explore values.  How do they impact on stress?  In what way do posture and energy affect our presence?  How does all that impact our relationships with others.  Finally, we looked at meditation for greater rest, resilience and relaxation.

Attendees noticed how posture improved responsiveness, agility, intention and commitment to values.  Focus led to more power, strength and resilience.  Combining these qualities, it was easier to express their individual values, stand up for them when challenged and work more effectively and productively when their values were aligned with those of the College.  We also drew on learning from the previous workshop, adding further strength and confidence to participants’ resolve, resilience and presence.

We finished this workshop with some simple relaxation exercises.  Requests for issues to be addressed included the negative impact the commute has on employees’ health and well- being.  I thought it would be useful to offer attendees relaxation exercises they could do on the train, in the car or while they walked to work.  These exercises could be used as a method to get to sleep or return to sleep so that they felt more rested.  We explored how breathing and muscular relaxation can reduce muscle tension, pain and discomfort.  They can also be used to calm the mind and bring mind and body to a centred space.  We also explored the build- up of negative energy in the body (through unexpressed emotion, lack of movement and exercise as well as compounded stress) and how that impacts health, well- being, relaxation, productivity and creativity.

Resilience, Emotions and the Body

The third and final workshop saw us look at resilience and managing emotions at work.  We used the metaphor of a bank account to explain how resilience works.

We focused the resilience exploration on three areas:

  • goal setting and the intention and focus to achieve those goals
  • effective emotional communication
  • how the body can be used to achieve these ends

We discussed goal setting and how it can positively impact resilience. We also looked at how set- backs and challenges can be dealt with more effectively and a more resilient mind set can be achieved through focus, commitment, body posture and intention.  In addition, we explored the power of surrounding yourself with people committed to and supportive of a similar goal.

The final section of the workshop looked at managing emotions, particularly anger.  The plan was to use the centring exercise from Paul Linden used in the first workshop, to show how it is possible to express and receive anger in a healthy way at work.  The attendees got a lot out of the different perspective offered.

In conclusion

The body is so often over- looked.  For many our primary concern is “the body beautiful”.  Perhaps that might extend to body health.  Yet, my hope is that these workshops presented new awareness of “the body powerful”.  That the resources of the body are so much more than how good it looks and physical health.  These are important factors in their own right.  And there are more.  The body can influence impact on:

  • stress
  • health and well- being
  • mental health and agility
  • living life on purpose and with meaning
  • presence
  • confidence
  • creativity and productivity
  • self- management and regulation
  • personal power and empowerment
  • employee engagement
  • communication
  • relationships with oneself and others

Caring for the body’s health increases its capacity to support us in all areas of our lives.  Awareness of our body’s sensations, feelings and emotions gives greater scope to explore the full human experience and perform at work and beyond in fulfilment.

If you would like bespoke workshops designed for you and your teams around stress management, resilience and well- being using the body, please get in touch and we can discuss your requirements.