This week is Mental Health Awareness week so today’s blog post is a short plug for one of my favourite frameworks for thinking about mental wellbeing. (See here for another one.)
The 5 Ways to Wellbeing was developed by the New Economics Foundation in 2011. It’s been adopted by many organisations, including the NHS.
For each section, I’ve tried to suggest some actions that are particularly relevant to the workplace. However, we should all recognise, particularly those of us in leadership positions, that the workplace may be a cause of stress, and we should be proactive in addressing these causes. We should also ensure that we create space to allow individuals to explore the five ways of wellbeing for themselves. That is, in ensuring people have sufficient time away from the office/computer to have fulfilling lives outside work.
Connect with other people – family, friends, colleagues.
Pre-Covid, all of the guidance around this emphasised “real-life” connection, which is harder to do when we’re all working remotely and in-person contact is discouraged or prohibited. Online is definitely better than nothing at all.
For me, the key is having the ability to chat freely (not always possible in a large online meeting, so think about one-to-ones) and not with any agenda or transactional/work purpose. For example, at my current workplace, we have a “virtual tea point” where you can drop in and talk about anything, as long as it isn’t work.
2. Be physically active
Regular activity is associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups. It doesn’t have to be intense – walking is a fantastic form of exercise.
It can be very hard to fit this in around a working day. And when stress levels are high, the temptation is always to minimise breaks. To counteract this, I try to bring in opportunities to “exercise”, for example going for a walk with a colleague instead of a sit down meeting. Or in these remote-working times, trying some Pilates poses during a team meeting.
3. Learn new skills
This is a great way to keep the brain engaged and curious. All jobs should contain opportunities for training and development, but if you don’t have that chance in work, then it has never been a better time to learn something new. Languages, computer programming, cooking – there are so many things you can learn online.
Learning new skills in a structured environment can be a great way to connect with others, too.
Research suggests that acts of giving and kindness can help improve your mental wellbeing. This doesn’t have to be time intensive, although volunteering for a charity or in the community is extremely rewarding for many people. Even just the act of saying something nice to someone can make you feel better.
Within the workplace, look for opportunities to help others and don’t be afraid to ask for help yourself. While you may not want to add to others’ stress with additional tasks, the opportunity to help you may be just what your colleagues need for their own wellbeing!
5. Take notice/mindfulness
Observing the world around you, and “being in the moment” is a great way to break up negative thought patterns. I’m fairly hopeless at meditation and noticing things, so I use tricks and challenges to help do this. For example, photograph 10 pink things on a walk.
While this feels like something that is good to do outside work, it’s also important to make a point of noticing and appreciating the work your colleagues are doing. Try to think about all the things that are going well, rather than the things that need doing.