Mental Health Awareness Week 2020: A time to reflect, be kind and, perhaps, celebrate.

Debbie Watt

When I first started training, back at the start of the millennium, mental health was something people didn’t talk about and when they did it was in whispers. The received wisdom was that only 1/10 of us would experience mental ill-health in our lifetime – employees would rather say they had a bad back than take time off work due to stress.

Since then things have changed a lot! Now estimates are closer to 1/5: not because things are worse but because we have recognised how important mental health is, how good it is to talk and that ‘it’s okay to say’. Even better than this, we realise that we can foster mental wellbeing – mental health is something we can improve through positive actions, with an approach similar to physical health.

So, in this Lockdown Mental Health Awareness Week, I’d like to reflect not only on how far we have come but also on how well we are doing. Now more than ever we are seeing amazing examples of just how strong, how resilient, and how much mental fortitude people are showing in the face of the unprecedented assault of Covid19:

  • The selfless behaviour of NHS staff and carers going into work each shift
  • Parents juggling work and home schooling
  • People reaching out to their community and looking out for neighbours
  • Those shielding dealing with 12+ weeks of isolation (that’s quarter of a year and counting ..!)

Just like hard physical exercise, this ongoing mental challenge is tough, but as individuals and communities, we are rising to the challenges we face.

Although we are getting used to new ways of living, the immediate future is likely to be equally hard and may test us even more. Things that were ‘normal’, like shopping, are now an exercise in measured risk, and more and more people are facing the uncertainty of insecure employment.

I’m not going to say that everything is ok, but based on how far we have come with looking after our mental health,  I am optimistic that together we can endure and come through better than we were.

So, keep talking, be kind to yourself and others, and take heart from the fact that we seem to be stronger than we thought we could be.

Stay safe,

Debbie

Welcome to my world

How to make working from home more fun and more social

Stoneage Remote Socialising – Budweiser 1999

Deborah Watt

As much of my work is made up of telephone/skype based coaching sessions, I work primarily from my home office. I have done this for the best part of 10 years and I love it!

However, based on my memories of getting started and recent coaching sessions with clients new to this style of working, I know how hard it can be.

Once you start working from home, one of the biggest things you are likely to miss is social contact. No more chatting over coffee or tea breaks, no more drinks after work on a Friday, no more chatting about sport or TV after the weekend.

As many companies are getting better with social media, it is likely you may have meetings arranged with your team via Slack, Teams, or WhatsApp, but do you have any less formal hangouts?

This is an area where I feel it will be useful to share tips, we may be working from home for some time.

Here are some ideas from clients, colleagues and friends:

  • Have a drink and talk rubbish over a group chat at the end of the day.
  • Talk GoggleBox style via WhatsApp while you watch a program together.
  • Have an office Bake Off and post pictures on Instagram
  • Share pictures or give virtual tours using your phone of your workspace including pets.
  • Start group projects where you can share updates e.g growing chillies or herbs on your windowsill
  • Revel in the fact your morning commute can be replaced by some stretching or exercise.

What are you doing in your workplace?

Remember to keep it fun, keep it social, and stay safe.

Too tired to take my own advice

Deborah Watt

LA is eight hours different from the UK.  After I’d been back home a few days, I found that my sleep/wake cycle was still all over the place. I was full of energy when I should have been winding down for bed; and exhausted and unproductive in the morning.

After a few nights of seeing 0300 on the clock by my bed, I belatedly realised that I advise others on this all the time. 

To my clients, I always extol the benefits of sleep, for both physical and mental wellbeing and I regularly provide advice on sleep management during sessions.

So, listening to myself I:

  • Re-established a constructive bed-time routine
  • Deliberately targeted my bedtime between 2200-2300 (I know this allows me enough sleep to wake up refreshed).
  • Started my sleep routine with a cup of camomile tea. This does two things for me: it to signifies to me that I’m getting ready for bed; and it provides a warm soothing drink but without any caffeine that might hijack my sleep.
  • Engaged in pre-sleep activities to help me wind down such as reading, listening to music or mindfulness meditations (not looking at screens to play games or check emails).
  • Deliberately got up when I had been awake for nearly an hour and headed downstairs. I made myself (another) cup of camomile tea and looked out at my garden for a short time before returning to bed. Like my clients, I found this the hardest step (as ‘bed is so cosy … and I’m sure I’ll nod off in a minute’), but it really worked and I was asleep in what felt like no time (once I got back to bed).

Happily, this worked and within a few nights I was back to my old routines and energy levels. Note to self – If I’m providing advice to other people, I really should be following it myself as well!

More tips on improving your sleep can be found at:

http://www.moodjuice.scot.nhs.uk/SleepProblems.asp

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/insomnia/Pages/insomniatips.aspx

… and information about why sleep is important, can be found at:

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/insomnia/Pages/insomniatips.aspx

The benefits of volunteering as a stepping stone to returning to work

Little boy crossing stepping stones.

Deborah Watt

My sessions today have lead me to ponder on the utility of volunteering. One of my clients said that when they talked about volunteering, they were told that –
“If you’re well enough to volunteer, then you’re well enough to return to return to work”
In my experience of working with clients who have been out of the work place for over a year, this is seldom true. Volunteering is qualitatively and emotionally different from returning to work; many of the obligations of employment are absent and individuals are generally free to volunteer with an organisation they feel is meaningful to them. Coupled with a flexible work environment, this greatly reduces stress.
However…this does not mean that volunteering isn’t a powerful stepping stone on a return to work.

  • The initial application and interview process offers a useful challenge. Though less threatening than a job interview, individuals will often require support to develop skills to overcome anxiety.
  • Once successful, regular volunteering helps build routine and promotes social contact, two areas which often disappear from your life when you are not in work.
  • Once you have volunteered for a short amount of time, you see the benefit of your work. This helps build confidence and sense of self-worth. Both are negatively affected by being out of work.

In over 10 years where my focus has been on vocational recovery, I have supported many clients to move from volunteering to reengaging with paid employment. I have watched individuals build on the experiences and skills they gain during volunteering to develop coping strategies to deal with the challenges of paid employment. Where an individual has a job to return to, volunteering can help build work related stamina and act as a bridge into a returning to work on a phased return.
I have also supported individuals to change career. Where there is not a job to return to or the they cannot return to their pre-sickness role due to health reasons, volunteering can provide a window into alternative roles. Volunteering can offer an excellent opportunity to gain experience in a new area; find out if you like the work before you commit to retraining or applying for work; help you flesh out your CV; and provide a potential reference for applications.
The Benefits of Volunteering as a Stepping Stone to a Good Work Life Balance.
Beyond returning to work, volunteering can also act as a stepping stone towards developing a rewarding life. Some of our clients have continued to volunteer in their spare time once they are back in full time work as they find volunteering has become a socially rewarding activity. For example, one of our ex-clients works every other Saturday on an allotment project which supports disabled adults, another is a Trustee with a charity.

  • For myself, I have volunteered with Herefordshire Headway and the Dyspraxia Foundation as a Trustee amongst other things and I’m starting to be inspired to do a bit more…

If you would like to find out more about volunteering, here are some good starting points:

Perhaps it’s time for a change in 2017

Deborah Watt

Neil Pavitt in his book, Brainhack suggests compiling a “done” list rather than the usual demotivating ‘to do’ list. By keeping a journal of your successes, both inside and outside of work, you have a resource which can provide a boost to motivate you to achieve more. Neil also suggests changing the times you tackle tasks. Mornings and evening are best for creative thinking – the sleepy brain allows your mind to wander and generate more unexpected ideas; and the refreshed, post-breakfast, brain is best for analytic tasks.

You can also shake things up a bit by changing your routine, http://mymorningroutine.com/) gives an insight to the mornings of  a number of successful people.

Read more in this interesting Financial Times article.