It’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK and 2021 has perhaps wrought more strain on the mental wellbeing of those working in PR and communications than any other year.
PR is already well known as a high-stress industry, so if possible, let’s take this week to protect our mental health as much as we can. Here are seven ways, from seven mental health professionals, for you to focus on looking after yourself, your colleagues and your friends when it comes to work-related stresses.
1) Take control where you can and reframe the situation when you can’t, says mental health campaigner and co-founder of The Positive Planner Ali McDowall
‘Many of us reflect on what we would like to let go of from our pre-Covid lives as we head back in to some form of normality. There is a sense of anxiety as we feel the need to dive back into toxic working relationships, busy weekends and seeing people that perhaps we don’t want to. The good news is we can have some control and what the last year has taught us is that self-care looks different for everyone. If a weekend hanging out in your own company sounds like bliss, then make it happen! If you seek connection, then get that social engagement in to your diary. It’s all about feeling empowered to do whatever feels good for you.
‘Of course, many of us don’t have control over working environments and this can add to the stress and anxiety we feel. Try and reframe it by taking a lunch break that nourishes your soul, go for a walk or sit and listen to a podcast; it’s all within your planning control. Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s a necessity.’
2) Switch off at a set time each day, says Freeletics training specialist David Wiener
‘Coping with unsustainable workloads, switching off, work/life balance, dealing with difficult colleagues and preparing to head back into the office, are all problems people are facing as the world starts to get back to some-what normality.
‘Finding a way to switch off from your phone/computer at a set time each evening will not only reduce stress and screen time, but is incredibly important when it comes to finding a strong work/life balance.’
3) Talk things out, says sleep expert and neurophysiologist Dr Nerina Ramlakhan
‘If you are struggling with the idea of heading back to the office, try talking to others around you including your team and your manager. Allow yourself the time and space to explore these feelings. Remember that although many things will return to normal, we ourselves as a society have changed and the benefits of a more flexible and less pressured future have been experienced by everyone.
‘Remember that when you are feeling anxious and overwhelmed, self-care is even more important. Eat breakfast within 30-45 minutes of waking and, throughout the day, limit caffeine and drink at least two litres of water. Remember to allow yourself the chance to rest and recover during the day, taking regular, small breaks from work every 90-120 minutes. The breaks give your brain a chance to reboot and process information, which helps you sleep deeper at night.’
4) List the things you’re grateful for, says functional medicine health coach, Peppermint Wellness founder and Wellness Unwrapped host Suzy Glaskie
‘A gratitude journal is a brilliant way to help you focus on the positive and drift off to sleep with happy thoughts rather than ruminating on the stroppy email that landed in your inbox from a client today – or the seemingly impossible amount of work on your to-do list. All you have to do is keep a special pad by your bed and write down three things each evening that you’re grateful for from that day. Once you start looking, you’ll spot them more and more easily: it could be a great piece of coverage you got – or the fact that a colleague helped you out to meet a deadline.
‘It’s comforting to know that we can only think one thing at once. That means that if we’re expressing our gratitude for the lovely text you received from a friend this morning, you can’t at the same time be ruminating on what your boss said to you or feeling anxious about your job prospects. The gratitude crowds out the negative thoughts, boosts our feelings of positivity and self-worth – and signals to our body that it can relax now.’
5) Learn to say no and pay attention to your own boundaries, says psychologist and Remente co-founder Niels Eék
‘Often, stress can be caused by feeling overwhelmed, due to taking on too much and trying to please everyone. As you head back into the workplace, learning to say no and acknowledging your own limits and workload, as well as managing your time better, can result in you feeling happier in your working environment and reduce feelings of anxiety.
‘When returning to the office, you may find that you feel less confident in large groups of people. After so long without face-to-face contact, socialising is likely to feel more tiring or stressful than usual. It is good to remember that feelings of anxiety are something that many people will be feeling. Sometimes, telling a coworker that you need some time out and having an open conversation can be the best way to work out what boundaries you all need. The most important thing is to ensure that you are articulating how you are feeling so that you don’t feel a mounting pressure to act in a certain way.’
6) Show compassion to others, says clarity, alignment and confidence coach Danny Sangha
‘The key advice I would give is in relation to being mindful that we are all experiencing the same adjustments and the resulting stresses and strains. With that in mind, let’s show some compassion to one another and look for ways in which we can provide support where it’s required to ensure that the work environment and culture is accommodating of the adjustments that everyone is making. It’s important to invest some time at the outset to set up some face-to-face time with colleagues to help re-align and build that all important rapport with one another.’
7) Managers: stop ‘leavism’ as soon as possible, says psychotherapist and www.headucate.me founder Mark Newey
‘A new word in Human Resources terminology has arisen: “leavism”. This is people feeling obligated to complete their expected workload out of hours, even where they are using annual leave to catch up! Work/life balance has been an issue for many people for years, but the problem seems to be going up several levels. This is a serious timebomb in the making for mental health.
‘It’s fascinating that in the UK we have one of the lowest productivity levels in Europe and yet we work some of the longest hours. There’s a definite pattern there.
‘Overloading colleagues with work and expecting longer hours, leads to stress, which in turn leads to a definite decrease in productivity, sometimes as much as 40%. When we’re mentally well, we get more done in less time. Managers need to re-address workload immediately, not only to help colleagues settle back in, but on an on-going basis.’
For more on protecting your mental wellbeing during Mental Health Awareness Week and beyond, check out more advice in 11 ways to mentally prepare for an eventual return to in-office working and these tips for staying motivated.