Martin Fahey looks at ways of keeping mentally healthy in these strange times

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and I thought I would look at the theme for this year’s event, which is ‘kindness’.

I don’t know about you, but I get the feeling that everyone is slightly on edge these days because of the unusual nature of life at the moment.

So, taking time to show someone kindness could therefore make a real difference to their day, whether that is a family member, a friend, colleague, neighbour or even a random stranger.

Letting someone cross the road when you’re driving for example, is one way of being kind that doesn’t cost you anything but could help improve that stranger’s day.

Sending a text message of support to a working or furloughed colleague shows them they haven’t been forgotten.

Giving your wife, husband, son or daughter a hug when you first see them today will help them feel better and, if there’s been any tension in the house, can help alleviate or even remove it, not only helping improve their day, but also yours.

And that small spark of kindness from you, can help improve the tone of the day for them, helping them pass on the kindness to others.

You’ve probably heard the expression that it is “better to give than receive” but as the Mental Health Awareness Week website shows, this is actually backed up by research, with people who are kind and compassionate seeing clear benefits to their own wellbeing and happiness.

It is also worth taking a moment to look for any signs of stress in yourself as well

Martin Fahey Martin Fahey Head of Sustainability

Signs of stress

Looking for signs of stress can seem easy in others as they will become louder, or quieter, may snap your head off at the slightest thing, or may burst into tears for no apparent reason.

They may also be sleeping longer, or hardly sleeping at all, and they may be drinking more often than usual, or even drinking more excessively. 

But there are absolutely no hard and fast rules about this and some people will shrink within themselves and become more reclusive.

The key thing is to notice differences in what is their usual or ‘normal’ behaviour. Just as there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to dealing with stress, there are many different ways people cope (or fail to cope) with stress.

BUT, it is also worth taking a moment to look for any of these signs in yourself as well so you can recognise stress in yourself and find ways to deal with it.

Colleagues

Whether you are working as you always ‘normally’ do, working from home, or furloughed and missing work, it is worth thinking about your colleagues and finding ways to keep in touch.

We are all having to find ways to cope in these strange times and for furloughed colleagues, it can be really hard not to have the constant ‘buzz’ of work, or colleagues to chat to over a coffee. Time may seem to drag and it can be easy to feel forgotten.

For those working, it can seem incredibly busy and there seems little time to do everything that needs to be done. You can even find yourself forgetting to stop for breaks and reaching the end of the day thinking “where did all the time go”.

For both furloughed and non-furloughed, it can be easy to feel isolated, so it is worth making sure you arrange regular ‘meetings’ to keep in touch, whether with working colleagues or furloughed, or both at a weekly social gathering.

I’ve also got a few WhatsApp groups with various colleagues which is another way to just be able to quickly say “everything OK?”

I’ve been amazed at how effective this has been for some colleagues as a simple tool to reach out for help and support.

Helping yourself

Key to all of this though, is being able to look after yourself, as you won’t be any use to anyone if you are struggling with your own mental wellbeing.

Whether you are furloughed or working, have you now managed to find a good, healthy routine to your days? Or are they all still blurring into one?

Are you exercising enough each day? That can be a lovely long walk or a full-on marathon, but exercise will not only help you physically, it is good for your mental wellbeing as well, especially if you can get outside to enjoy nature.

We have been blessed with good weather at the moment, and are also seeing Spring turn into Summer, so there are lots of positive signs of growth and of things ‘moving forward’ which are not only nice to observe and watch but also good for the soul.

And are you getting enough sleep? I know we are all different as some can manage on 4-5 hours a night, whilst others need their solid 8-9 hours. But whatever is right and ‘normal’ for you is what you will need to achieve for your own wellbeing.

I’m a soul man

And are you also finding enough time to ‘switch off’?

It can be easy to fill any spare time with box sets and movies but how about revisiting your favourite book instead, or finding some relaxing music to listen to?

Doing nothing is also good for the soul, especially when there is a lot of uncertainty around.

And that for me is the key to all of this. We all need to find whatever it is for ourselves to help us recharge our batteries, otherwise (forgive the pun) it is very easy to end up drained and empty.

For more advise, ideas and techniques on how to cope, visit the Mental Health website

Martin Fahey is Head of Sustainability