How Prince Harry Made The Workforce Healthier
If the ‘Kate Middleton effect’ has been to add £1bn to the UK fashion industry, the ‘Prince Harry effect’ is proving to be the ability to make people feel safe talking about their mental health.
By talking about the deeply personal issues he suffered after the death of his mother, Prince Harry has done more to destigmatise mental health than years of campaigning. All at huge personal risk to his reputation, given the way his mother, Princess Diana, was ridiculed when she spoke of her desire to ‘dissolve like Disprin’ just twenty years earlier.
Although the Daily Mail would have us believe that this is a bad thing – calling for an end to ‘emotional incontinence’ and a return to the stiff upper lip – it’s a watershed moment. We know this because after Harry’s interview was published, the mental health charity Mind reported a 40% increase in calls, from people who were previously too scared to open up about their mental health for fear of being judged or made to feel ashamed of their feelings.
This is a good thing. It means that people who needed help are at last getting it, and that instead of wondering whether or not it’s okay for us to talk about our mental health, we can all start to do this much more openly. Who knows, perhaps we’ll soon be meeting Prince William’s desire for us to ‘talk about mental health like it’s normal’ and swapping tips for boosting mental wellbeing in the same way that we recommend yoga instructors or share nutritious recipes.
This openness is something the Mental Health Foundation is also trying to achieve with this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (8-14 May), which is focusing on what we can do to thrive, instead of just survive, when it comes to our mental health.
This theme of thriving, as opposed to just surviving, is important for two reasons. Firstly, it’s about time we all started talking about mental health in a positive light. Not just about how to cope when we develop issues, but also how we can harness and use greater mental health to live emotionally fulfilling lives.
Secondly, our ability to recover from the tragic and traumatic life events that touch us all from time to time is greatly dependent upon our mental state in general. If we’re just plodding through life, or feeling a bit flat, our chances of mentally recovering from a distressing life event are greatly reduced. Conversely, the more we can get our mental health to thrive in normal times, the more resilient we are and the less likely we are to develop ongoing mental health problems when life gets tough.
Six principles for getting your mental health to thrive
As part of our contribution to the Mental Health Awareness Week, Validium would like to share the following six principles for getting your mental health to thrive.
Taken from the training programmes that we run for managers and individuals, these six principles can be used to boost mental health, both inside and outside of work.
Meaningful: What’s it all about?
People who believe there is a purpose to their life and that they can align their daily activities to that purpose are much less likely to suffer from mental health problems than those who feel all at sea. For some individuals, this meaning comes from providing for their family; for others, it’s about furthering human knowledge, making things beautiful or being part of a team.
Given how much time we spend at work, and the fact that not everyone has a family or purpose outside of work, it’s important that employers think about their ‘corporate mission’ and ways of making sure all employees feel connected to this. To mentally thrive, people need to believe that their day-to-day activities count for something, so it’s important to help them align themselves to the bigger picture.
You can also give people meaning through work by talking to them about their personal values and finding ways of enabling them to fulfill these as part of their job, be it the desire to help others, lead new ways of thinking or change society for the better. Encouraging employees to undertake tasks that connect with their values not only makes them more engaged and happy, but also boosts productivity and loyalty.
Mindful: Instead of just ‘mind full’
Another important aspect of mental health is the sense of achievement and self-esteem that comes with feeling successful and that we have succeeded, not just in terms of where we are in our lives and the status our job confers, but also on a daily basis. The sense that at the end of each day, we’ve done what we set out to and can feel a worthwhile sense of accomplishment.
Unfortunately, this is becoming more and more difficult to achieve because of the amount of distraction and stimulation we’re exposed to, be it emails, interruptions from colleagues or social media. According to Harvard researchers, we spend 46.9% of our time thinking about something other than what we’re doing, and this ‘mind wandering’ is making us unhappy.
To have good mental health, we need to allow ourselves to live in the ‘here and now’ and fully engage in the task we’re doing, or if we’re travelling to work, the sights, smells and sounds surrounding us. Encouraging employees to live in the now and concentrate on the moment they’re in, instead of worrying about what’s next, is important.
Mental: Finding the right mindset
Determined employees don’t beat themselves up when they get something wrong or stay in their comfort zone for fear of making a mistake. They enjoy stretching their abilities and give themselves permission to get things wrong so that they can learn. Common sense as this is, far too many of us are putting too much pressure on ourselves to get things right first time, in a way that’s incredibly detrimental to our mental health.
Similarly, we have a tendency to strive for a life where everything’s perfect, instead of accepting that if life’s going well the chances are that work’s a bit of a struggle and that if life and work are both great, the car will breakdown. The simple fact is that life continually throws challenges at us. Emotionally smart people accept this and anticipate and prepare for setbacks. That isn’t to say they aren’t optimistic about the future, they’re just pragmatically optimistic. For example, when they start a new role, they anticipate what could go wrong and think through in advance who they can turn to for help or what they’ll do if they hit a difficulty.
Employers can help by encouraging employees to anticipate problems that could occur and helping them to learn from their mistakes. Individuals should also be encouraged to think through in advance who they can turn to – be it a colleague, friend, HR or the Employee Assistance Programme – when things start to get the better of them emotionally. This is important because when we feel threatened our rational brain takes a step back and we enter a primitive ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mindset. This mindset is useful for running away from or hiding from muggers, but not so useful for negotiating with colleagues. Employees need to be educated about these various mindsets and ways of creating the right mindset to make healthy decisions.
Physical: Nurture your body to feed your mind
The Mental Health Foundation is currently lobbying government to get rid of the distinction made between ‘body’ and ‘mind’, urging health professionals to consider psychological wellbeing at the same time as treating the physical symptoms of a condition. That’s because there’s a proven scientific link between our physical and mental health. If someone suffers from insomnia or eats too much junk food, they may well have an issue with sleep or food, but the chances are there’s also a deeper problem around anxiety, depression or another mental health difficulty. Similarly, if you don’t eat well and constantly deprive yourself of sleep, you will inevitably start to feel more stressed and edgy than if you were looking after yourself properly.
How we look after our bodies substantially impacts on our emotional wellbeing. Our minds are physical organs that need energy to perform. Things as simple as not skipping lunch and drinking the recommended 6-9 glasses of water a day has been proven to improve memory, reduce stress and increase cognitive capacity. As has exercise and getting enough sleep.
At the same time, most people underestimate the importance of breathing properly. If you observe how you’re breathing right now, the chances are you’re taking short, shallow breaths. So an incredibly simple but highly effective way to boost your mental health is to take a moment every day to practice deep breathing. It’s incredibly calming for the nervous system and lets our bodies relax.
Emotions: Do things that bring you joy
It might sound obvious, but for our emotional health to thrive, we need to do things that bring us joy or make us laugh, such as connecting with nature, friends and family, listening to music, doing a hobby we love or sport we enjoy.
We all lead such busy lives that we convince ourselves we don’t have time for these things. Yet it’s only by doing the things that bring us joy that we can fill our emotional tanks up enough to achieve more in other areas of our lives. Think how much more productive you feel after your first day back after a nice holiday or fun weekend away.
With people connecting more and more online and less and less in real life, it’s easy for friendships to slip and opportunities to do the things that you used to love to become less and less. So it’s important to proactively fill your diary up with fun activities wherever you can. If you’ve already started to feel socially isolated or moved to a new area, it’s even more important to find local activities that you might enjoy doing and take up doing things that give you joy, even if it’s just going to see a band you love or borrowing someone’s dog for the weekend.
Social: Connect with others
Humans are not designed to live in isolation. Research shows that prolonged loneliness is worse for your health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Feeling lonely is so bad for us that it’s actually worse for our health than physical inactivity or overeating. That’s because when we’re lonely we enter into a heightened state of stress, which shortens our breath and tenses our muscles. Increasing the risk of heart disease by 29% and the risk of stroke by 32%, reducing life expectancy by seven years.
With more and more employees feeling isolated at work, employers can help by creating shared breakout areas for people to use to eat lunch together, instead of eating in isolation at their desk. Homeworkers, who have an increased tendency to feel isolated, could be encouraged to think about the decisions they’re making and any ‘low mood’ being experienced. If they’re choosing to eat dinner at their computer or not leaving the house at all during the day, they could be encouraged to have lunch with a friend once a week, pick up the phone occasionally, instead of always using email, and to draw a clear line between work and life so they can play with their children or talk to their partner in the evening.
Outside of work, everyone needs to be encouraged to connect socially with others, whether by getting a group together to complete some challenge, such as a 5K run, helping a local charity or doing more to reconnect with existing friends and family.
For more information about how our resilience training can help your employees and managers to boost mental health, wellbeing and colleague engagement, please talk to your existing Validium relationship manager, call 01494 685200 or email [email protected]