Hello PPMA colleagues and friends
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme this year is Loneliness. To recognise this important issue, our outgoing President and now Secretary and board member Steve Davies, has shared some valuable hints and tips on improving our mental health.
“When we think about mental health, we immediately tend toward negative aspects, such as stress, not coping, feeling overwhelmed, low mood, toward depression. We rarely think about how to improve our mental health. We either feel good or not good to varying degrees.
During our working and social life we will experience many challenges and problems to overcome. These create stressors that can create feelings and a physical response which may feel threatening. However, there is nothing negative about these feelings. They are normal jolt of adrenaline and cortisol brought on by our nervous system to gives us a boost of physical energy and mental focus to confront the threat. If we can understand that this heightened state is followed by a natural calming effect, stress can be an engine of personal growth and peak performance.
The stress you experience is uniquely yours. What triggers a stress response in one person may hardly register with another. Some people feel stressed and become aggressive, while others withdraw. Likewise, methods of recovery are also unique—riding a bike, for instance, versus reading a book.
Managing stress, therefore, starts with self-awareness. The following questions can help to understand your stress.
In a typical week, how often do you feel well rested?
In a typical week, how often do you feel fully engrossed in your work? How long do these periods last? What time of day or night do they occur?
What are the biggest sources of stress in your life? In what circumstances does stress from one aspect of your life surface in another?
How do you cope with stress? Do your coping mechanisms deplete your energy or restore it? Do they help build awareness around your stress or reduce it?
These are questions you can revisit periodically as you build self-awareness. Locating and describing your stress is a process of discovery, and the more you learn the better you will harness your own stress response.
Remember, feeling stressed can be viewed positively since it can help you to focus on dealing with the problem/ challenge to be overcome. However, it is equally important to make time for recovery. As you work on focus and recovery, you also need to learn to move between these two states more deliberately. Creating transitions helps keep them separate and distinct in our brain, increasing their effectiveness and further helping us.
Key habits for recovery include:
Taking microbreaks in your day, e.g. five minutes between meetings, or stepping away from your work and making a cup of tea, stare at a plant, look at an old photograph, talk to your dog.
Get serious about sleep. Sleep remains challenging for many people, but try and aim for a reliable seven to nine hours with a consistent bedtime. Alcohol, heavy meals, electronic screens, and caffeine before bed are obvious no-nos.
Exercise regularly. Regular exercise boosts mood and helps regulate our emotions. Schedule short ten- to 15-minute bouts of physical training, including brisk walking. Even regular, low-intensity exercise boosts our energy and reduces fatigue.
Eat better and hydrate. Good nutrition is a vital part of managing stress; poor eating habits are linked to numerous ailments. Hydration is important, too. Consider making hydration a microbreak.
Just breathe. When in doubt, deep breathing can help. Even a minute of practicing deep, slow breathing reactivates our sympathetic nervous system and helps break the vicious cycle of stress.
Finally, let’s share 3 secrets of Resilient People
- Resilient people understand that bad things happen. Everyone has suffered loss of some kind e.g. bereavement of relative, friend, pet, lost a job, a break up of partnership, etc. It doesn’t mean they don’t feel pain, hurt, suffering, anguish, etc. but they also know that they will get through it and there will be better times ahead.
- Resilient people are good at choosing what to focus on. They know what they can control and they know what they can’t control. They focus on what they can do to change a situation, not on what they can’t.
- Resilient people ask themselves, is what I am doing or about to do going to help me or harm me. If bad situation arises they consider the impact on their mental health and wellbeing and take appropriate action to protect themselves e.g. through avoidance, or getting help/ support, or finding a strategy to navigate the issue.”
If you have any hints or tips of your own to share, we’d love to hear them.
Steve Davies, PPMA Secretary and Board Member