I want to talk about mental health in the workplace, because sometimes I feel we can get so caught up in expectations and pressures at work that we forget we are only human.
How many of us work through our lunch break? How many of us eat at our desk without recognising what we are tasting or feeling. Do you find you switch one screen for another without giving it much thought?
We are not machines, we have only got so much energy before we burn out. So we need to look after ourselves in a conscious way, which actually makes us more efficient. There is a tendency to wait until the weekend for fun and relaxation to happen (there are several phrases embedded in our society such as 'TFI Friday" and "it's that Friday Feeling" that point to this), but that can mean we hold a lot of expectation for the weekend and there comes a pressure the 'have to' and 'ought to', especially when we may have used up all of our energy during the week and there are little resources left.
Therefore it's important we look after ourselves to support our wellness - it doesn't just have to be for the weekend. It's great having that 'Friday Feeling', but I have got to thinking that why can't the Friday feeling be any day of the week if we want it? It is not easy; I often find I get to Friday and I suddenly dread not having the routine and soon starts the new list of 'to-do's at home. It is easy to get swept up in the adrenaline of 'doing' and meeting deadlines, and so forgetting what makes us feel good and nourished and taking a breath.
Its hard to find the balance, and I am still learning myself. I went from years in unemployment, to finding a part time job, to moving to a full time one. I don't think I ever took seriously the change of pace a full time job can bring - everything feels like it speeds up and the time you had to do the little but meaningful things gets smaller and smaller. It's easy to get through the day without having taken a real break to allow myself to be fully aware of what I'm thinking or feeling, what I need or what I want. Friday can suddenly arrive and before you know it Monday is here, with the weekend just never feeling long enough! At times, I can feel a sense of burnout: too many commitments, too much responsibility, fear and anxiety, not feeling good enough, not matching up; I just want it all to stop, but then I am afraid I won't be able to get back up again.
What I am learning is that even though I have a 9 to 5 job, which takes up the majority of my time, I can still take that time out for me. I have found just going outside to sit on a bench can work wonders for the fogginess I can sometimes get in my head. It is important to step away from the desk to move, stretch, make a cup of tea and sit there with it for a moment; the emails can wait a few minutes more.
On brighter days, I enjoy going for a short walk to the nearby park and I write/map down what I want to do when I get home, so it doesn't become all about getting in and just diving in to bed. Sometimes, though, that is what I need - to get in, put the TV on and put my feet up. But I know if I did that every day of the week it would start to make me feel worse. I use my commuting time on the train to connect with others like my friends and family or make it the time for staring out of the window and focusing on my breathing and letting thoughts pass. It is becoming aware of these snippets of time, and noting them down, that helps me to feel more in control of what I spend my time doing and to know I have had that little time for me.
Other ways to help 'burnout'
Geocaching has been around since the year 2000 and only now, 19 years later I find myself discovering the joy and benefits of it. I first felt that it was too late in my life– I always believed I had to have orienteering skills, to have belonged to a scout group or achieved a Duke of Edinburgh award, to take part, and it was something you do when you’re a kid or with children yourself.
It wasn’t until it was explained to me and shown how simple it was to get started and take part, that I fully realised the benefits and how much fun it was to do. (There are millions of users on the Geocaching.com site around the world and it is simple to download the Geocache App for your phone – click here for more).
The first one that we set out to discover made my inner child jump with excitement and it reconnected me to my wild side again, the one who loves to explore. If you haven’t done this sort of thing before, don’t be put off, there are so many Geocaches out there in all sorts of places. Knowing that you don’t have to be in the middle of nowhere to find a Geocache and start your discovery is a huge perk. Very easily you might find one just down your street, or in your nearby park or green space, when you start to look. You don’t have to get knee deep in scrub and brambles to join in on the activity. In fact a few of our recent Geocache hunts didn’t take us too far off the beaten path!
One of our Geocache outings took us to the area of Churston with varying success. One we just had to give up on, whether it had been moved or whether it was just too hard to find among the trees and another we weren’t as equipped to climb and clamber for it (making sure you have the right footwear and prepare for the weather is a must, like any walk or planned adventure outside). But it was really good fun, and the time slipped away as we were absorbed in what we were doing
It is not something you can get wrong, either. There are always hints if you find it difficult. For one Geocache we needed to look through a years’ worth of comments from other ‘players’ (with photos and descriptions they uploaded) in order to find it. Nevertheless I found it addictive. When you find one and you feel you have ‘won’ you want to do it again. It’s a feel good feeling to find treasure!
My first geocache
Our first Geocache was one of a series around Saunton Down called Saunton Down Way. What I immediately like about this is that if you are inspired to do a circular walk, it is very easy to incorporate it in to an already mapped out walk on the Geocache site, but with the added fun of finding treasure or “caches”.
As I start I am handed my phone and on my screen was the location of the first cache. Once you click on it you get a description of the cache and what you are likely to find. I could then navigate to the cache using the phone’s GPS, either showing a line and distance in metres or using the ‘compass’ which shows you the direction you need to head in, like you are on a mini expedition! I favoured the latter.
Image taken from the Geocaching.com app
Having never done this before I really didn’t know what to expect to find or what It was I was looking for, or even how, I was going to find it! I was also uncertain how difficult it was likely to be. This filled me with trepidation and I couldn’t help but feel a bit silly at first. But I was also intrigued. So, we embarked on the journey, and as the compass swung around as I got my bearings, I soon hit the right direction to head in and I watched the metres drop down. Then I begun to get excited and I started to feel the kid inside me leap with anticipation. The spark of youth flashed in my eyes and my feet and I was soon engulfed in the play of treasure hunting.
We reached the area and the accuracy of metres became a little vague at this point – as it gets to around 5m you know the area you need to be searching around. It is then like looking for a needle in a haystack! Except, thankfully, the needle was in the form of a small camouflaged box. What is useful about the app is that you are not alone and using the ‘hint’ option which you can locate on the cache’s page, can be of real value. The creativity of the hint can make it more fun too, when you find the hint is in the form of a riddle.
Image taken from the Geocaching.com app
On this particular hunt we reached a fence and this is where we searched. At first I was looking around the obvious places, in small gaps in the walls and tucked in bushes. But, with the help of the hint we were able to observe in more detail what was around us and soon found the cache in the foliage on the end of a piece of sailing rope tied to the fence. Genius! I thought the hiding method was unique and very inventive, making the experience that little more interactive. It was also surprising to find that it was a little Tupperware box full of little objects people had left as small ‘prizes’ (which the Geocache website suggests you can take and replace with your own). My expectation was of a big rusting box, covered in webs, sadly neglected. This was not the case.
The most decorated cache we found on this day of discovery however had to be the beach huts. This took a surprising amount of time to find – especially as the box adorned by a row of brightly coloured wooden beach huts on the front. But this is what struck me the most – how people use their creativity in small ways, but that really stand out and the way something as small as this can bring a smile and sense of connectedness to the activity. It also really gets you to look and observe the environment around you, and encouraging you to think outside the box.
If you are uncertain, try to suspend your scepticism for one hour and try the next one down the road. If you are keen and want to know more, download the app and get going - It is free to join and start your adventure! For more ‘How’ and ‘why’, click here to go to our how to guide to help you set up for the first time.
Make connections with other people; these could be friends, family, colleagues or people that are part of a club or faith community. There may be existing relationships you can spend time developing, or there may be new relationships you could begin to invest in. It can be helpful to connect with those further away through different means, such as letter writing, phone calls, Skype etc. It can also be beneficial to connect to something 'greater,' which could be faith based, or getting out into nature. Pets count too!
Learning can of course take place in a classroom / college environment, but it can take place in less conventional ways too. Reading could be a way to teach yourself, about anything from history, or wild flowers. Teaching yourself how to play a musical instrument from YouTube videos, and watching documentaries on a topic of interest are others. Of course signing up to a walk to learn more about your local area, or to an evening course at the local college are also great ways to keep learning. Through learning we can gain confidence and a sense of achievement
This one is all about getting the body moving. It doesn't have to be a traditional workout - it's anything that requires more movement than usual, gets you up, and gets the blood pumping. Being active can mean different things to different people. Anything from walking the dog, closing the curtains and dancing to your favourite tunes, taking part in virtual sport via a games console, starting the morning with some stretching, and joining in a community litter pick can count. It doesn't have to be something that takes a lot of time - it could be as simple as taking the stairs instead of walking. Get active and cross something off your to-do list at the same time by hoovering or washing the car!
When we start to slow down, we tend to notice more, and when we start actively trying to notice more, we start to slow down. This is one is all about being present in the current moment and being fully engaged and/or aware of your surroundings and any activities you are taking part in. In doing this, our troubles tend to fade into the distance and anxiety gremlins tend to take a back seat. In a way, slowing down to notice can give us a bit of a break.
Giving to others can help us to feel good ourselves - everybody wins! Sometimes its easy to think of things that will boost others up; other times less so. It can be the smallest gesture, starting from a kind word, or text message letting someone know you're thinking of them, to more time-heavy gestures such as spending time with someone who could do with a visit or a hand with something. We can also give to our wider community through helping, whether that''s financial donations or volunteering our time - this would come with the added benefit of connecting with others, and perhaps learning too.
The mental health charity Mind have some great suggestions of how to incorporate the 5 Ways to Wellbeing into everyday life on their website here.
It was a cloudy, rainy, ‘miserable’ day. We were both cold. We were both tired. Some fresh air, it was agreed, could be helpful. It was difficult to summon the motivation, but we made it to the nearest beach for a quick walk along the seafront from the car. Having made it to the end of the short seafront, both still tired and eager to retreat back to the car, we turned around. For a brief change of scene, we walked back over the sand rather than the promenade. This brought an automatic mindfulness, staring down at the sand as we passed over it.
Among the fronds of seaweed and broken shells we found some sea glass. Stopping to brush off the sand to inspect more closely, I couldn’t help but draw a line in the sand with it afterwards; a childhood habit that seems to have become instinct! That’s when I had the idea – let’s make some mandalas.
Mandalas are a traditional Buddhist ritual, also appearing in Hindu and Jainism. The word itself means ‘circle.’ They serve two purposes; either a visual representation of the universe or a guide for meditation, and they can be constructed in two ways; either painted on wood/fabric/walls or made out of a temporary material such as sand. The temporary mandalas take weeks to make, and once finished are ceremoniously destroyed, and the sand/stone filings are released back to nature via a river or similar.
We were using them in the second ways above – as a meditation aid, making them out of sand - an impermanent structure, deliberately made and tended to which will then be destroyed. This last aspect of the creation is traditionally there to remind of the impermanent nature of everything in life. The making of the mandala is for the experience there and then, not for a prized creation to hold on to at the end.
Our versions of mandalas in the sand were much less sophisticated than the traditional, being crudely drawn/carved by pebbles. Stopping only to make the one, we soon became engrossed in creating them, not leaving until after six. Having discussed it afterwards, we had both found the same thing; being present in the moment and absorbed by the activity, we were no longer thinking of the cold and our tiredness, nor our previous want to return to rest in the warm.
In conclusion, it’s definitely something both of us would do again when trying to fight the urge to stay inside. Living in a coastal town, it’s easy enough to walk (or drive if necessary) a short distance to stare at the sea for a moment. However, if once there we are able to have a go at a mandala – even just start one - we both know it will be beneficial, both in keeping us outside in nature and in creating inner space in our minds for a while.