Our 5 tips for staying mentally healthy on a busy schedule

From rituals to rebellious coffee making, here are the team’s pointers

As much as the COVID-19 pandemic is a physical health issue, it is also a mental one. The pandemic’s impact on mental health is absolute. The World Health Organisation states that “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the mental health and wellbeing of people around the world while also raising concerns of increased suicidal behaviour.” 

One positive we could take from the trials of the last few years is the dawn of a viable flexible working model that has allowed a demographic of people to work that couldn’t have otherwise. With 87% of people now preferring a flexible model when it comes to their work life balance, it’s important that we walk confidently into this new future with the tools in our post-pandemic pocket to make it a success. 

Here we offer our 5 tips for staying mentally healthy during a busy working week.

1. Set some boundaries.

Pre pandemic, one of the stigmas attached to flexible working was the idea that it would slow productivity. In fact, the reality has proved quite the opposite. Instead of not getting enough work done, employees report not knowing when or how to “switch off”. The pandemic-induced culture of EPresenteeism (phew, that’s quite a word!) described as “employees feeling they should be online and available as much as possible” has created an unhealthy breakdown of boundaries between working and home life.   

To really get the most out of a flexible working model it’s important to put these boundaries in place. 

  • Define a clear start and finish time to your working day. If you are able to instigate a routine and rhythm, this can be hugely beneficial to reducing stress levels and combating the temptation to appear ever available. This might include a daily ritual of logging off a laptop and putting it away, or closing the door to an office and making the deliberate choice not to return until the appointed time. 
  • Create a dedicated workspace that can be returned to and left. If the above is not possible for you due to childcare responsibilities or the need to work outside of “normal office hours”, then creating a dedicated space for work that you tidy up once work is done could help to implement that boundary. If possible, leaving spaces like the sofa and dining table as work-free zones, can aid relaxation and help you to shut off.  

2. Have a chat.

Many have reported feelings of isolation whilst working from home. In a recent Buffer report 21% of remote workers named “loneliness” as their main problem with remote working. The lack of colleague interaction over long periods of time causing feelings of isolation that can lead to loneliness or vice versa. 

  • Pick up the phone. No person is an island and picking up the phone to have a natter, though a seemingly insignificant act, done daily could have an important impact on your sense of connection, leading to lower levels of stress. The best option, a call totally unrelated to work.

Recent experiments undertaken by the Harvard Business Review found that “people undervalue the positive relational consequences of using voice relative to text alone”. The Journal of Experimental Psychology states that “people feel significantly more connected through voice based media”.   

  • A coffee in person. With lockdown measures now easing globally, meeting up for a coffee is possible and probably something we value more now than we did pre pandemic. That said, for many of us with intensely busy schedules, a coffee just for the purpose of catching up can often get put on the back burner. Don’t leave it there. It’s time to arrange the meet up that has been waiting in the wings for weeks. 

3. Get those endorphins going.

We know, it’s the one that’s most obvious but often the most difficult to implement. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. You may well be a converted gym bunny, running half marathons in your sleep. If so, keep doing what you’re doing! But if exercise is more difficult to structure into your daily life due to family commitments or intensely busy schedules, it may prove a vital key in keeping your mind, as well as your body, healthy. 

  • Join an online gym session. If carefully choreographed gym outfits and signing up to the latest park run is not your thing, a quick YouTube yoga session while the kids play Lego (don’t stand on any) could make all the difference, releasing vital happy hormones
  • Join a community sports team. A sure-fire way to kill two birds with one stone. Joining a local team, be it rugby, badminton or bowls means you can get fit while making connections. 

4. Take a break.

As stated in point one, our harshest critics are usually ourselves. Driven people tend to work themselves harder than any boss would in an office environment. It is in this context that it becomes invaluable to take regular breaks. Taking a break leaves one feeling both mentally and physically refreshed, which helps to prevent feelings of burnout. Particularly important is the need to have time out from our use of screens. Insider says that “screen time often leads to blurred vision and eye strain.” It can also interfere with our sleep patterns as screens “emit blue light, which disrupts our circadian rhythms.” 

  • Make a coffee. In our fast-paced culture, grabbing a coffee has become something we do on the run while doing two or three other things at the same time. Instead of grabbing a coffee, make one. Be it an instant or a barista style with all the trimmings, slowing down to make a coffee (or tea) without the distraction of a phone and then sitting to drink it while engaging with a bit of nature in the garden or simply looking out the window, can be, in our fast-paced world, a rebellious and restorative act. 
  • Sit with your thoughts and nothing else.- Putting the screens down for 15 minutes every few hours and undertaking a breathing exercise can restore balance and help reconfigure you mentally for the tasks ahead. Here’s some guidance on how to get started. 

5.Be kind to yourself.

Compassion and business are not two words always synonymous with each other. This is changing, however, and there is a significant push towards companies pursuing compassionate and ethical policies and an even bigger drive from those who want to work for companies with those values. Ultimately it starts with us. When work starts piling up, it’s easy to put huge amounts of pressure on yourself. Be kind to yourself first and foremost, particularly when it comes to your failures and positive experiences will soon follow.

Undertaking all or just some of the above is a good way to begin.

The above are seemingly obvious and pointers you have likely come across before. However, it’s amazing how easy it is to find yourself once again running on empty, bad habits affecting performance and more importantly, mental wellbeing. 

Sometimes the most obvious solutions are the ones worth returning to again and again, until they become habit. At Contented we have found that heightened productivity and the satisfaction of our clients is most likely to occur when we ourselves are truly Contented.

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