There’s no doubt that awareness of the terms “wellbeing” and “mental health” are on the increase. We continue to see more media coverage about what we should and shouldn’t be doing to have good or better wellbeing and mental health.
It’s now becoming a buzzword in the workplace and employers are recognising that taking employee mental health more seriously can benefit the business beyond things like reducing sick days.
What does wellbeing mean?
Wellbeing appears to be the adopted word by society when talking broadly about our health in general. The UK Department of Health defines wellbeing as:
“Feeling good and functioning well, comprising each individual’s experience of their life and a comparison of life circumstances with social norms and values.”
We find that the definition by Mind, the mental health charity, offers a bit more clarity. They describe mental wellbeing as “defining your mental state.” As a result, it is dynamic and dependent on the individual.
What is good mental wellbeing?
It’s suggested that if you have good mental wellbeing you are able to:
Feel relatively confident in yourself and have positive self esteem
Feel and express a range of emotions
Build and maintain good relationships with others
Feel engaged with the world around you
Live and work productively
Cope with the stresses of daily life
Adapt and manage in times of change and uncertainty.
The five areas of wellbeing
From the points noted above its clear that wellbeing touches many parts of our lives. The five common areas that define wellbeing are:
Let’s look at each area in turn to understand its impact on mental wellbeing and how individuals can make positive changes to improve their wellbeing.
Regular exercise is good for the body – it helps to keep us fit and active as well as maintain a healthier body and weight. It can in some cases reduce risk for some diseases.
Exercise has great benefits to help you maintain a healthy mind. That’s because exercise helps to boost production of endorphins (the ‘feel-good’ hormones) which can distract you from concerns or worries on your mind. It also helps you to relax, relieve stress, improve your memory and help you sleep better!
We should all try to do 30 minutes of exercise a day. This doesn’t mean you have to do a high-impact sport everyday, simply taking time away from your desk and walking locally around your office will be just as good.
If you do work at a desk make sure you take frequent breaks from the screen, get up and stretch your legs – it all helps.
Food and drink can influence our mood. Typically when we are feeling low we can reach for foods that offer little nutritional value, that make our blood sugar rise quickly so we feel ‘perked up’ and energised. The problem comes when the blood sugar drops just as quickly, making you feel sluggish and lacking motivation. Stimulants like caffeine also offer highs and lows.
It’s important to eat regularly to keep your blood sugar levels stable and to stay hydrated (ideally water in place of sugary, fizzy drinks). Think about the food you have at work. If you have easy access to crisps and chocolate, try to plan healthier snacks so you have those to hand.
Poor or disrupted sleep can impact your mental wellbeing. During sleep our body repairs itself and our brain processes the information from the day. Poor sleep has close links with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety and physical problems like a weakened immune system.
With our increased use of mobile technology, we spend a lot more time looking at screens which emit blue-light that keeps us awake. Many of us look at our phones before we fall asleep, or watch TV in bed, therefore keeping our brain switched on and possibly making it more difficult to fall asleep.
Some simple tips to improve sleep:
Sleep at regular times to establish positive sleeping habits. Aim to get 8 hours sleep a night.
Wind down before sleeping. This is really important to help you fall asleep – things like taking a warm bath, reading a book, noting down any worries or to-do lists will help your brain to prepare for sleep.
Relaxation exercises like yoga help to relax muscles and calm your body ready for sleep.
Read a book or listen to some music – avoid screen time where you can.
Stress is individual to each person however we can all relate to the feeling of overwhelm, and the fogginess that takes over focus when we feel under pressure or stress. We all deal with some stress throughout our daily lives, but mental health will suffer if stress is for prolonged periods of time.
When we feel stress our bodies produce stress hormones called cortisol which triggers the classic ‘fight or flight’ reaction. Obviously in the short-term this is a natural instinct for our bodies. When we continue to be stressed for longer periods of time our body can be left in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’ which takes its toll on our body and mind, often leaving feeling that we can no longer cope with the situation around us.
The most important step in stress management is acknowledging when stress is becoming a problem and having a negative impact on you. Your body will be giving you many clues; things like over-tiredness, headaches or migraines, tense muscles, upset stomach, insomnia, being irritable, withdrawing from social settings, increasing consumption of food, alcohol, cigarettes to name a few.
Once recognised you can then begin to identify the causes of your stress. Some causes may be more obvious than others. Remember to look at your life holistically – don’t assume that concerns at work only impact you at work.
Not all causes of stress can be changed – it’s important to acknowledge that so you don’t get stuck on trying to influence things that can’t be changed. Focus on the areas you can do something about and come up with a practical plan to reduce the negative impact they have on your life.
Supportive relationships are important to help us ride the ups and downs of daily life. Friends and family, or even external relationships like common interest groups, can offer help and practical advice or simply be that sounding board to offload the concerns swirling around in your head.
If you are dealing with ongoing mental health conditions, like depression or anxiety, then specialist support may be more beneficial. Your GP is a great place to start to find local support groups, or visit the Mind website.
Many employers now recognise the value of funding or providing specialist support as part of their employment ‘package’. Often this will be an external company providing this support to maintain a visible level of privacy and confidentiality.
Further advice on wellbeing
As you can see we’ve covered a few points in the five areas of wellbeing – each area could be covered in a lot more depth.
Over the next few weeks we'll be sharing a number of resources and pieces of advice to support employers and business owners, so stay tuned to our blog or social media pages: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.
We also have a FREE half-day seminar taking place in October - more details can be found here. Hope you can join us.
If you'd like to talk with our HR consultants confidentially about your business call us today on 01722 325833.