As I write this article, I’m sitting in the beautiful Botanic Gardens of Emerald, Central Queensland. The Queensland winter weather is just right, no jacket required, with a light cool breeze and a freshness in the air. I’m surrounded by gentle sunlight filtered by elegant palms and gum trees; and when I close my eyes, I hear the breeze rustling the leaves, the chattering of birds and cockatoos, and can smell damp grass.
This is something of a perk in my job. As a virtual assistant, I have the flexibility to just grab my laptop and mobile phone and go wherever I want to do my work. I work from home, so eventually a bit of cabin fever can kick in. You watch your family go out to school and to work and you’re sort of left behind, so sometimes I just head out and make ANYWHERE my office.
These trips out aren’t just because I can; they’re for my own mental health.
Part of the reason I decided to become a virtual assistant was for mental wellness. Anxiety has been something I have struggled with for a number of years, but fast-paced, stressful workplaces became a trigger rather than simply an exacerbator.
It’s frustrating, when you do have the smarts and skills to complete a job, and be good at it, but the workplace gets your brain so jumbled and overreactive that you come off looking like every day is your first day on the job.
I decided I needed to have better control over my mental health, but I still needed to be productive and put this brain to good use. And so, Pocket Admin was born.
What I’ve done is a more extreme personal mental health management plan, though, and most certainly not your first step towards maintaining good mental wellness in the workplace.
With plenty of strategies and resources out there on the internet, I thought I’d bring together a selection that can be applied in the workplace, on the go, and at home.
Even in a busy workplace, everyone has time to breathe. Put the phone on silent for just a minute. Close your eyes. Breathe in slowly for 3 seconds, hold for 3 seconds, release the breath gently for 3 seconds. When a situation makes you anxious, maintaining steady breathing can help flick the reset switch in your brain and help you to refocus and settle. Repeat it a few times in a row to really get the message through.
Refocus your senses
The next stage of refocussing, or done in combination with slow breathing, is the refocussing of your senses. When a situation becomes overwhelming, it can be incredibly hard to get those thoughts in your head organised. You go into an ever-spiralling loop that achieves very little, so what you need to do is break that loop!
This is where the 5 senses come into play. Hone in and focus on each sense one by one:
- What is one movement you can see? (such as the second hand of a clock)
- What is one thing you can smell? (such as someone’s lunch or cleaning chemicals)
- What is one thing you can hear? (is someone else typing? Is the clock ticking?)
- What is one thing you can taste? (are you chewing gum? Can you still taste lunch?)
- What is one thing you can feel touching you? (such as your pants touching your leg)
If it’s feeling like you need more refocussing, do two or three of each, though taste can be difficult I know. It’s all about flicking the switch in your brain, turning off the alarm, and grounding yourself.
Exercise and physical health
I’m the first to admit, when my mental health is low, looking after myself feels impossible. Generally, these are used as a preventative measure. Exercising and eating well when you’re feeling good help to prevent or reduce the occurrence mental health issues.
However, when you need to ‘get away’ then take a quick break and wander outside for some fresh air or head to the office water cooler, tearoom or kitchen for a bit of a refresh. Incorporate the refocussing techniques in the outdoor environment where there is perhaps more stimuli. Take off your shoes to feel the grass! These are the sensations that can help ground you.
Acknowledge your emotions
If you’re feeling something, don’t bottle it up. It’s a real emotion that needs to get out! I don’t mean sit at your desk and sob and scream but take that 2-minute walk and have a good rant or a good cry. Allow yourself to express it. Then refocus and get stuck into what needs to be done!
Be open – talk to someone
What’s going on inside your head might not be obvious to those around you. Unless you talk about it openly, nobody can help you. A lot of workplaces have strategies and Employee Assistance Programs in place for employees struggling with their mental health.
Outside of work, there are family, friends, community groups, online forums, help lines, doctors and therapists. With mental health issues affecting 1 in 4 people, there’s a variety of ways to build a support network that suits you.
Don’t be afraid to take a ‘mental health day’ when you really need it
Sometimes it feels impossible to get out of bed and that’s ok. Take a day to relax at home and reframe your mind. Build a blanket and pillow fort, read a good book, watch Netflix, recharge.
The important thing is not allowing yourself to hide away from the world forever. Recharge not retreat.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
You don’t actually have to call it that, if that term makes you cringe, but the premise of this journal is to reframe your day.
I use the technique, verbally, with my son when he has a bad day at school. He would say something like, “Ugh, it was the worst. Joe Bloggs got me in trouble for talking in class but I was only telling him to be quiet!”. I will usually reply with, “Yeah, that does kinda suck. How about you tell me ONE good thing about today, big or small.” And he’ll usually switch his focus to discussing something funny that happened or something delicious he got at the tuckshop.
That’s what you do with a gratitude journal. You can use it to get out your feelings and daily events, but then you need to counteract but you need to counteract negatives with positives. Something you are grateful for, even if it’s as simple as enjoying your favourite song on the radio on the way into work!
A day is filled with ups and downs, sometimes you just need to shift your perspective a bit!
Make use of the ultimate workplace mental health resources, headsup.org.au and blackdoginstitute.org.au
These websites (and many others) have brilliant resources for Employers AND Employees! Strategies for managing mental health, mental health plans to implement in the workplace, resources about mental health, and contacts for further help.
Be proactive in reducing workplace stigma surrounding mental health – implement an action plan or host a mental health awareness fundraiser in your office!