Tragedy struck Jake and his family in 2020. This Mental Health Awareness Week, he's shared his story of his journey back into the workplace as he battled mental health issues.
Members of our employee resource group, MindSet, have shared blogs on how the NHS 5 ways to mental wellbeing might tackle loneliness, for their own experience or to help when supporting others.
9 May - NHS 5 ways to mental wellbeing: Connecting
AlisonMindSet Business Unit Representative
The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 is “loneliness”. The past two years have severely tested our resilience with lockdowns and social restrictions meaning that we were unable to visit friends and extended family. Events were cancelled or postponed, many had to deal with illness in the family, and some had to cope with the tragedy of the untimely death of a loved one. The loneliness felt during these times has mostly gone if you have been able to re-connect with your nearest and dearest. However, if you are truly on your own, without family nearby or without a friendship group, then making connections will help enormously with your wellbeing.
Connecting is good for our mental and physical health!Humans have a natural need for social connection and like feeling valued, cared for, and supported by others. Social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and actually improve our immune systems. By neglecting our need to connect, we can put our health at risk.Having a strong support system helps people overcome challenges more easily and maintain a state of mental well-being. The National Alliance on Mental Illness identifies three beneficial elements that having a community provides:Belonging – having a sense of community helps people be their true selves while embracing their most positive qualities.Support – when you’re feeling down or struggling with something, having somebody to call and talk to can help you work through your emotions and make you feel safe.Purpose – in communities, people not only gain support, but they give it as well. Helping others will help give your life meaning and purpose.
Re-connections matter!It is very easy these days to rely on technology or social media to build relationships. Like lots of us, I am guilty of texting, messaging or emailing people rather than picking up the phone or seeing someone in person. Technology is not bad, it is just how you use it and for what purpose; for example, video calling friends and family that live far away is wonderful if you are not able to visit often.Make some time to visit friends, do something you all enjoy together! The same goes for your own family, is the time spent in your home together quality time? Enjoying a meal together, a games evening, a picnic at the park, family bike ride; times spent like this builds happy thoughts and memories.As some of us are now spending more time back at our Business Unit site, make time to meet face-to-face with some of your colleagues that you have not seen for a while, a lunchtime walk outside will revive you and also allow time for a good chat!
New connections are vital.New starts to the company need to be welcomed and nurtured by those that have the ‘experience badge’, just saying hello and introducing yourself to anyone that you have not met before will make a connection and maybe a good friend for the future!If you are alone outside of the workplace, or know someone who is, making connections will help so much with mental and physical wellbeing. A few things to consider trying are:
- Spend time volunteering with a charity that resonates with you
- Join a club (can be anything that interests you, local newsletters and magazines often have clubs listed near you)
- Help out at a church or community centre
- Get involved in team sport, mental and physical wellbeing in one!
- Join a befriending service (both of you will benefit)
- Offer to walk a neighbour’s dog, mow their lawn, take them shopping
- Join a peer support group local to you
- Car share to/from your workplace
- Setting up a “Coffee Roulette” within your Business Group (meeting someone new and finding out about them over your favourite brew)
- Finally, whatever you do to connect with others, enjoy yourself and feel the benefits!
10 May - NHS 5 ways to mental wellbeing: Being active
AmyMindSet Business Unit RepresentativeWe all recognise the benefits that exercise has on our bodies – it can improve strength, prevent aging, reduce risk of major illnesses such as stroke, cancer and type 2 diabetes and lower risk of early death by up to 30%. Many aren’t so clear however of the hugely positive impacts exercise can have on our mental health and overall wellbeing.Physical activity is not only good for your body and physical health – it’s also great for your mind!Exercise will immediately increase levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin that will not only elevate your mood but can also improve your ability to focus, improve your reaction times, memory and sleep. Studies show regular exercise can also lead to lower levels of depression (up to 30%!) and anxiety, uplift your energy and self-esteem and help you adopt a more positive outlook.Over time, exercise actually changes the brains anatomy, physiology and function – stimulating the growth of new brain cells to help prevent age-related cognitive decline, build resilience and boost our immune system… who knew simply walking the dog could do all that!Exercise not only changes your body, it can positively impact your attitude and overall outlook. You’re only one workout away from a good mood!As a qualified personal trainer, I have seen first-hand the positive impacts regular exercise can have on mental wellbeing: as they say, you’re only one workout away from a good mood!I know from personal experience if I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed at work, an hour in the gym can make the world of difference. It forces me to take a break and to focus on myself – my mind, my body, and lifting heavy! I can enter the gym feeling restless and anxious and can leave feeling energized and ready to tackle the world. If I don’t feel up to training or have limited time, simply going for a walk can really help to clear my mind, enable me to put things into perspective, regroup my thoughts and be clear on my priorities. Leave your phone behind or on silent and really try to take notice of the world around you – look up, say hello to others and appreciate the present moment.Teaching group fitness classes also leaves me with a huge sense of achievement and pride. Being able to positively impact others health, helping them to develop confidence and boost their self-esteem is truly so rewarding. There’s no better feeling than seeing a happy smiling class laughing together at the end of a session, proud of what they have achieved together! Group classes or team sports can really encourage you to push beyond your perceived limitations and also help you feel connected to others and embedded as part of the community.You’d also be surprised as to how some of the skills and behaviours you develop through exercise can be transferred into your professional and personal life. The same determination and inner-resilience built to push through a challenging workout can be leveraged when solving a complex business problem. Teamwork and communication skills developed through team sports can help you communicate more efficiently and effectively with your colleagues. Remaining calm under pressure and keeping focused on the task at hand is as equally as important when taking the final penalty shot as it is when you have tight deadlines to meet. Remember you don’t need to spend hours in the gym or run marathons to see results… try to find activities you enjoy that suit your lifestyle and make them a part of your daily routine.The thought of starting a new exercise routine can feel overwhelming and it’s important to find an activity that suits your abilities and your lifestyle. There are many small actions we can all take to improve our physical wellbeing. Remember, getting active is a personal choice – it should be enjoyable not a chore! I view the gym as my playground and on days where I’m lacking motivation, I try to keep in mind I’m so lucky to be able to exercise, to have access to some fantastic equipment and can freely walk around outside in a beautiful country.Finding an activity you enjoy can give you a goal to aim for and a sense of purpose. It can also be a great way to meet people, have a break from daily life and gain confidence. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Join a local sports club or take part in a team sport
- Explore your local area by walking or cycling outside
- Connect with others, make new friends and motivate each other in a group fitness class
- Learn a new skill or pick up a new hobby such as dancing or yoga
- Meet up with friends in a local park or garden for a stroll
- Invest in some quality family time through weekend dog walks and picnics
- Try something new like kayaking or ice-skating
- Follow an at-home workout DVD or YouTube video – get the kids involved and dance around the kitchen!
- Try to make better choices everyday such as walking to the shops or taking the stairs – it all adds up
11 May - NHS 5 ways to mental wellbeing: Taking notice
FionaMindSet Business Unit RepresentativeIn the third in a series of articles supporting Mental Health Awareness Week, Fiona considers how we might improve our mental health and wellbeing by taking notice– one of the NHS ‘5 steps to mental wellbeing’.‘Take Notice’ is about paying attention (on purpose) to what is going on around you and how you feel, in the present moment. By taking notice and being in the present, we can improve our mental health and sense of wellbeing.
What does it mean to ‘take notice’?Taking Notice means actively bringing our mind’s attention and being present in the moment, observing what’s beautiful or unusual in the world. It means being aware of our thoughts and feelings as they arise, without getting lost in them.It is sometimes hard to see how just ‘Taking Notice’ can help us feel happier and healthier. However, taking time to focus on the here and now within this busy, confusing and sometimes scary world we live in can help us enjoy life and appreciate what we have, stay calm and understand ourselves better.Take Notice is connected to mindfulness – a popular meditation practice that encourages people to notice and accept their current thoughts and feelings, whilst staying in the present moment (which means trying not to focus on the past or future).Just as exercise helps us take care of our bodies, mindfulness is a skill that keeps our minds healthy. For me, mindfulness helps me perform at my best and better navigate the inevitable ups and downs of life. Mindfulness is noticing and being curious about what is happening right now. It’s the opposite of being on autopilot when our bodies are doing one thing and our minds are somewhere else. Often thinking about the past or worrying about the future. When we’re mindful we engage our senses deliberately, and we really take in the things that we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Just as we can build our muscles by going to the gym, we can build our mindfulness muscle through regular practice, known as meditation. All it takes is a few minutes a day to see the benefits.
Ways to take noticeIn our busy daily lives, we rarely take time to stop, pay attention to what is going on right now, and appreciate the world around us. It may be difficult to know how to start taking notice, so here are a few simple examples for you to try:
Spend time in NatureThe benefits of nature are widely underestimated. Our daily lives are busier than ever before, and we are under increasing amounts of pressure, be it work or otherwise. It is challenging to carve out the time in our daily routines to do the things that truly bring us joy and make us feel at peace. I love spending time in nature and “pull” myself out of bed early every day to go for a walk in the countryside which holds me in good stride for the day ahead. For many of us, we may take nature for granted; something that is just ‘there’, but we really shouldn’t. As humans, nature is intrinsically important to us. It can have powerful health benefits if we take the time to re-connect with it every now and again. We are genetically programmed to feel happier and calmer when we are surrounded by trees, water, plants, and other natural elements so something as simple as taking a walk in a green space can do wonders for our health and show just how powerful nature can be for our mental, as well as our physical state of being. A fifteen-minute physical walk through a wooded area can reduce cortisol in our bodies by 16%, as well as a 2% decrease in blood pressure, and a 4% decrease in heart rate.In a society where stress and burnout run rampant, a simple, free, and extremely effective walk in nature can save us time and money, as well as saving our health and increasing our dopamine levels. The studies are clear – for the sake of your wellbeing, spending some time in nature is a no-brainer.
SensesA good place to start is with our five senses: smell, sight, hearing, touch and taste. Take a seat somewhere comfortable. Then, spend a few minutes noticing:
This exercise is great for calming your mind if you are feeling distracted.
- Five things you can see
- Four things you can touch
- Three things you can hear
- Two things you can smell
- One thing you can taste
MusicI love listening to all kinds of music. We often have music on in the background, like the radio or a playlist, but do not really notice it. Why not put on some music that usually makes you feel happy? Spend some time listening to it without doing any other activity. Notice what happens in your body as you listen – are you smiling? Does your body feel relaxed? Or does it feel like moving to the music? (If it does, go for it!)Think about how if felt just focusing on the music. Did it bring back memories?I’ve been playing the piano since I was 6 and find it’s a great way to take notice. It really makes me smile and ensures I give my full attention.
‘Taking Notice’ to help cope with difficult feelingsEveryone has sad, worried, or angry thoughts sometimes; it is totally normal and part of being human. Taking notice can help us cope with these thoughts though, by helping us accept and let go of them.Notice your breathing – when we feel anxious, stressed or angry, our breathing becomes fast and shallow. Noticing this, and trying to take slow, deep breaths instead, helps to calm down the body and mind, which makes us feel better.A way of practicing this deep breathing is the ‘7 11’ technique:Breathe in through your nose for 7 counts, breathe out through your mouth for 11 counts then repeat.I hope you enjoyed reading more on this topic and are left feeling inspired to take notice.
12 May - NHS 5 ways to mental wellbeing: Learning
ClaireMindSet Business Unit RepresentativeIn this, the fourth blog in our series of articles supporting Mental Health Awareness Week, Claire shares her thoughts on the benefits of lifelong learning on our mental health and wellbeing.
Did you know that learning can:
Lifelong learning isn’t always about being in a traditional classroom; anyone can learn something new and it can be in any environment – whatever suits you. Continuing to learn is good for our brains – it can keep our brain cells working at peak levels (particularly when we pair that with feeding our brains with good food and exercise). As long as we’re acquiring new knowledge, we’re keeping our brains healthier and benefiting mental resilience and age-related cognitive decline. It actually creates new neural pathways and learning new skills at every stage of life can also help us get out of our comfort zone.Learning can also help you stay connected. Joining a group, either a physical or online one, to learn a new skill can introduce you to new friends with similar interests. It keeps you in touch with the modern world, and there are many courses that are free or low cost. The increased use of technology has really opened up free opportunities for learning and the sense of personal satisfaction and pride when you complete or learn something can really boost your mood.This sense of pride and feeling of personal development can help us become fulfilled. If we take the time and opportunities to learn something new, we can help to make our own and often the lives of others better by expanding our awareness that can help us put our life in perspective. It helps us focus, concentrate and take notice of whatever we’re learning about or practising with instead of multi-tasking. We can look back with a sense of achievement and recognition.Learning can also improve our emotional balance and regulation and learning about something that interests us makes us feel happy. It can help avoid boredom and the opportunity to develop our passions and interests brings us happiness.
- Boost our confidence and self-esteem?
- Make us less risk averse and more adaptable to change when it happens?
- Helps us achieve a more satisfying personal life?
- Challenges our ideas and beliefs?
- Be fun!
13 May - NHS 5 ways to mental wellbeing: Giving
NikkiMindSet Business Unit RepresentativeIn the fifth in a series of articles supporting Mental Health Awareness Week, Nikki considers how giving, or doing kind things for others, might improve mental health and wellbeing.
If you want to feel good, find ways to do goodHelping others is not only good for them and a good thing to do, it also makes us happier and healthier too. When we give to others it activates the areas of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust. Altruistic behaviour releases endorphins in the brain and boosts happiness for us as well as the people we help.Studies also show that helping others increases our sense of meaning and satisfaction with life and boosts our self-confidence. It can reduce stress and help us feel calmer too. People who volunteer regularly were found to be more hopeful, experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety and may even live longer.Being compassionate and kind to others is hard-wired into what it means to be human and our communities flourish when people look out for each other.Doing kind things for strangers helps build co-operation, trust and a sense of safety in our communities. It also helps us to see others more positively and empathise with them. It's about self-care and community care, looking after ourselves and each other.It's not about the money – we can give our time, attention, knowledge, ideas, energy, support, thanks, and encouragement and let your colleagues know you value them. We can give the benefit of the doubt too. It's a way of connecting, even if only for a brief moment, with those we pass or interactive in our daily lives, whether face to face or virtually. It doesn’t have to cost anything or take much time – what's important is that it's an act of genuine care and thoughtfulness for another person.Giving to others needs to be sustainable and not draining, so I would like to share with you simple ways we can do this.I enjoy helping others, showing kindness and compassion. I feel that I can make a difference and I know that my actions count, so I choose to make a positive difference through my actions, ensuring that way I say and what I do aligns. There is a quote by Maya Angelou that really resonates with me, "people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel". Small moments matter, our connections with people are made up of tiny moments that can impact how we feel in the moment and add up over time.Dr Barbara Fredrickson believes that we have the potential to transform lives through the multitude of tiny interactions we have day to day, by finding ways to make them more positive. Her research is revealing that these micro-moments of positive connection have a unique impact on our biology, boosting both physical and our psychological well-being. It’s something everyone can experience. It’s not just our closest relationships that can be transformed, but also something we can share with anyone, even strangers.As part of my role as a mental health first aider and MindSet Champion at BAE Systems, I have the opportunity to speak to people from across the business. Recently, I spoke with an individual and at the end of our conversation they said they felt heard and understood, for the first time – this made me smile and glow from the inside out. This is a precious gift to give and receive; I gave them my time and my full attention, without judgement and chose to listen with empathy and compassion, by listening with the intent to understand.Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival – to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated
Stephen R. CoveyGiving to me is an act of thoughtfulness for another person, where my attention is on another person, with the intention of showing I care. I enjoy bringing in my strengths to plan creative ways to show kindness, this helps me feel energised and enables me to continue to be a happy giver and can continue to give, without feeling drained or not focusing on my own needs.Adam Grant is an expert in the science of giving and his research shows that helping others isn’t just a good thing to do, but it can also boost personal and career success… or the opposite. The difference between a 'successful' and 'unsuccessful' giver is that the former not only care for others, they know what matters for their own wellbeing too. I would recommend finding ways to make sure that how you are helping increases your own sense of connection to others; that it aligns with your values, strengths and interests, and that you understand its impact for the person or people you are trying to help. This will maximise the benefit for those you are giving to too.If helping others boosts happiness, asking for help when we need it could give the person we ask the opportunity for a feel-good boost. It can also mean they are then more likely to ask for help when they need it. Certainly communities where people feel they can rely on others to help are happier and more resilient. Asking for help builds connection - so it isn’t only for when we are struggling. We can also ask for help to share experiences, when we’d value support, or when we want to learn something new. Make sure you give them the choice about it and tell them what difference they've made for you.Every act of kindness counts. Here are some different ways we can give that don’t involve money:
- Be kind – be helpfully nosey and persistently kind and always show you care about the person and not just the work they do
- Give time – offering your skills, sharing your knowledge or resources, or just being there to listen
- Help others in good times as well as bad – helping someone to learn and grow; to develop ideas or to make and build relationships
- Cut people some slack – when someone is having a hard time and is causing difficulties for others, be generous and 'give' by backing off and letting them have the benefit of the doubt. Choose to respond with compassion, rather than judgment and seek to understand from their perspective
- Make kindness part of your routine – create the habit of checking in on your team, of thanking others or mentoring a new member of your team.
- Small or simple acts – hunt for the good in others, be an encourager, show you care, give people your attention or a thoughtful gesture.
- Acts we plan in advance – organising a charity event, helping a friend move house or clear their garden.
- Spur of the moments acts – whenever you notice a need – act and show you care, it could be making someone laugh or simply listening to them.
- Focus on what's right with those around you – relationships can fail if you continue to criticise, as humans we naturally focus on what wrong than what's right, so it takes extra effort – but it's worth it.
- There are always ways to be kind – we only need to keep your eyes open and pay attention to those around us to start seeing opportunities to help.
Acts of kindness challengeWhy not set yourself a challenge of 5 random acts of kindness a week, in addition to what you would normally do. These could be anything, small, large, spontaneous or planned. Studies have shown that variety is important in your happiness levels, so be sure to vary what you do. Timing is also shown to be important, so try to do all your new acts of kindness on one day (or as close together as possible). Keep a note of what you try and what you notice in yourself and others.Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.
Dalai LamaI hope you enjoyed reading more on this topic and are ready to start a kindness ripple effect, throughout work and into our community. I’d love to hear your thoughts and acts of kindness – feel free to get in touch.Remember – the little things we do and say can make a huge difference to others. Help people feel seen, heard, understood, valued and cared for – today and every day.