Mental Health Check-In
There’s no denying that the challenges of the past year have taken a toll on our mental health and overall well-being. In a recent survey commissioned by Lululemon Athletica, of 10,000 participants in ten countries, only 29% of respondents reported having a healthy and strong sense of well-being. Overall, the report’s Global Wellbeing Index sits at 65 on a scale of 100, which indicates a moderate level of well-being on a spectrum of weak to strong, but optimism has fallen from 59% a year ago to only 40% of respondents feeling optimistic about the future now.
Part of the increasing wellness gap can be attributed to the collapse of work/life balance with so many of us under varying levels of shutdown orders. I know I feel like I’m working all of the time, although that’s not technically true. I have to set up strict schedules and employ sheer will-power not to enter my office on the weekends. It’s just too easy to slip into “I might as well work because I have nothing else to do” syndrome. But that’s not true either. I could exercise, watch a movie, read a book, do some gardening and reconnect with nature, call a friend. But my mind is drawn to the office – I could catch up and maybe even get ahead…which never happens. All it does is wear me down, hence the strict rules I have to enforce on myself.
I’m evidently not alone, as time pressures presented the largest barrier to well-being among the employed population, although those employed feel less stressed than those out of work. Of those employed, only 15% strongly agreed that their employer offered resources that support overall well-being, which I find shocking, especially under our circumstances. But if your employer isn’t supporting your wellness, all the more reason for you to take stock and make changes to take care of yourself. A recent CNN report by senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, provides some good strategies for improving our mental health and although we’ve suggested these actions in the past, it’s a good time for a reminder.
The Global Wellness report out of the Lululemon study also reported that people coping well with the pandemic and shutdowns focused on simple activities to support their well-being, like getting enough sleep, eating healthy, staying physically active, spending time outdoors and staying connected to family and friends. Most of us can certainly follow these practices, except perhaps for spending time outdoors if you live in inclement weather territory. If you do, try turning on extra lights indoors and if possible, keep drapes or shutters open so that you can see outside from inside.
Lululemon launched their survey and report to advance the company’s commitment to well-being, enabling holistic wellness through movement, mindfulness and connection. The study found that the drivers of being well were interconnected. Making strides in one area benefits overall well-being, so even if you can’t get outside, sleeping, eating well and connecting with others will improve your overall wellness. They also found that people with a proactive mindset are significantly more likely to be optimistic about the future by 53%, compared to those who are not proactive at 22%. If you haven’t already, it’s definitely time to take action!
We need to pay extra attention to our mental health now. Despite a boost in optimism at the closing of 2020, it has now set in for most people around the globe that 2021 does not look to be much better, and that can be depressing for many people. We’ve been under consistent duress for too long and we’re moving beyond pandemic fatigue. Great Britain has identified a composite mental health disorder, Covid Stress Syndrome, which is made up of the fear of the virus and contamination, compulsive checking of news and social media, anxieties around job-security and income, health scares, and a post-traumatic aspect linked to the on-going devastation of people around us. They project that one in 5 people in the UK will be impacted by this syndrome.
We can’t wait around for our governments or our employers to make life better. We can take the steps necessary to boost our own well-being, despite external circumstances. And you know what I’m going to say next. Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation are powerful practices to counteract the negative effects of our circumstances. As reported in the CNN story, one of these steps is naming your specific fears. In mindfulness, we name or label our feelings. This helps us to separate a feeling as a separate entity – not who we are. Thoughts and feelings pass, so by identifying and labeling thoughts and feelings, we are also reminding ourselves that they are not permanent. They are normally quite fleeting in fact, but due to the length of the pandemic, may feel like they are constant because they are constantly repeating. We can slow down or stop that process through meditation.
Keep in mind that we are surrounded by fear on many fronts right now, not just the pandemic. Political strife is high on the list. Images of the military firing tear gas on the farmers shutting down highways in India to repeated replays of the assault on the Capital in Washington DC, trigger the amygdala to release fight or flight hormones because it appears we are in grave danger. So as CNN reported, one of the easiest steps we can take is to limit our exposure to the media. It is not only a good idea to limit our sources for finding out what’s happening in the world, but it is also less stress-inducing to read about it instead of watching videos. Without the sounds of people yelling or gunfire or explosions, our systems are less reactive and we can consume the information without causing as much harm to our systems.
Starting the day with a mindfulness meditation supports both the brain and body in remaining calmer throughout the day. Remember, it doesn’t have to be anything complicated or time-consuming. Simply sit still for however long you can, focusing on the breath. Notice every detail you can about the breath, from its temperature to its depth to the rhythm of the inhale and exhale. The longer you can do this, the calmer you will feel. Quite the contrast to getting out of bed and flipping on the TV and hearing about the number of deaths from the pandemic, the shortage of vaccines, riots around the globe, impeachment and other political strife, and deadly storms. We can choose how we want to feel to start off the day – peaceful or fearful?
I was in a meeting with leaders yesterday and we were talking about how to minimize complaining since it brings down team morale. I had previously suggested that leaders create a rule in the workplace that people can only complain about something if they also offer at least one solution to resolving whatever the problem is, so I reminded them of this. One leader reported that they had tried it and their staff’s response was that they just wanted to complain, period. They had no desire to come up with a solution.
Complaining is full of negative energy and certainly focuses the brain on the worst of a situation, but most people don't realize how often they complain because it has become a habit and, like all habits, it tends to be so familiar that it becomes invisible. Most people also feel that it's a good conversation starter because it's easier to find common ground by complaining. But this is another area that we can all change to improve our well-being. Are there lots of things we can complain about right now? Sure. Is complaining doing anything to improve our situation? No. So again, we have a choice here. We can choose to feel better or we can choose to feel worse. Why would we choose to feel worse?
Finally, and again as mentioned in the CNN report, if we are feeling too sad or too overwhelmed, or depressed, we need to seek support. There are multiple mental telehealth services available, like Better Help or through your healthcare provider or hospital.
Unfortunately, we do have a long way to go in this crisis, but the biggest factor in our well-being getting through it is not what’s happening in the external world, but what is happening internally. And we have a lot more control over that than most people realize. Whether on your own or with the support of a professional, the key factor here is to recognize that we don’t have to suffer. We can take steps to improve our well-being, to protect our mental health and to find joy in life, which increases our resiliency in getting through what is hopefully the final phase of not only this crisis, but future challenging events as well.
Until next time. Have a wonderful week.
I’m excited to announce that registration re-opens for our Dynamic Coaching Certification Program on February 15th, which is now an online and self-paced program. Our aim is to make it as simple as possible for those seeking to improve their leadership skills, communication & relationship skills, and of course, for those considering a career in coaching, to use the information in this program to improve their own lives as well as those around them. Visit our website at work2liveproductions.com for more information.
We’re also busy adding stand-alone online classes to promote well-being, productivity and leadership skills, so check the website regularly to discover new opportunities. And we’re adding new guided meditations and video shorts to our YouTube channel regularly, so please take advantage of these free resources.
As we approach our one-year anniversary of switching to remote work, I also want to take a moment to commend the fantastic staff at Work2Live. They have been exemplary models for others to follow in demonstrating adaptability, flexibility, resilience and creativity. It’s definitely been the biggest upside for me in this whole crazy affair and so a big shout-out to Jessie, Melissa, Vanessa and Paola for your efforts! Despite my external circumstances, I definitely feel hopeful and excited about what’s to come in 2021.