Prevention is better than cure: a Tool
One important aspect of mental health, as with physical health, is that prevention or early intervention is the best cure.
If you have a sore ankle when out running, best to investigate and rest as soon as it hurts, rather than waiting until it’s so swollen and painful that you can’t walk on it, requiring serious medical attention, perhaps an operation and time off work. The same is true for mental health. For example, it’s much better to understand and deal with early feelings of stress before you need time off work and medication. It’s about finding a way to improve how you are feeling, if possible, before it gets to the stage where you require extensive psychotherapy or anti-depressants.
I decided to design a tool to help you both maintain your mental health and intervene sooner rather than later if your mental health begins to take a dip. It is Mental Health Routine that we can all learn to follow as part of our day to day lives.
My poster evolved from conversations during my Loneliness in the Workplace workshops (a recorded version can be viewed here), and I am grateful to my employer clients for providing feedback.
I thought it would be helpful to provide a pdf version for you to download and share with your colleagues, team, friends and loved ones. I’ve included the download at the end of this article.
Prepare – Check in – Act
Understanding what you need to a) maintain your mental health and b) improve your mental health when you need to, is best done when you’re feeling well. Using the sore ankle comparison, you already know to try painkillers, maybe an ice pack and resting up on the sofa; you also know to build up strength: you don’t run a marathon or sprint 100m on day 1.
Think about what you like to do to feel better. As well as what cheers you up, what calms you down, energises you, makes you laugh, soothes feelings of anger, helps you concentrate better, feel connected to others? I heard an example for someone where putting a wash on gets the day started, and I like to punch cushions if I feel angry, so the list really is personal to you!
Talk about it with those around you: what do they like to do, what works (and doesn’t!) for them. As well as generating ideas, it helps develop your connections with them too. It could be a good exercise to do with your colleagues from work as part of a team meeting.
I put together this “How do you feel?” interactive tool which has some ideas too.
If you are an employer, you might consider lining up a service from qualified professionals, such as my in-house counsellor offer, ready for if / when the time comes.
Most of us check in with how we are physically without necessarily realising it. If we have a headache, we just know! For mental health, many of use have been conditioned to ignore how we are feeling, but it is a skill we can learn. Consciously asking ourselves “how am I doing?”, and those around us “how are you?” is a way to start that process.
It may help to set specific times or situations when you do this, it could be when you make a cup of tea, brush your teeth, set an alarm on your phone, or when you catch up with friends or colleagues. It’s about finding a routine that works for you and doesn’t become a chore that eventually you can’t be bothered with.
Having prepared, and practiced check-in, it is likely we will catch a change in mood before it gets too serious, and can call on the list we made in the “Prepare” stage.
A team effort
Last and perhaps most important of all, is that this is not an exclusively solo effort. In a previous post on dimensions of connection , I discuss how vital human connection is, and explore the four aspects of connection and the part they play in our mental health.
My Mental Health Routine poster is designed from a workplace point of view, but can easily be adapted for home. Arranging get togethers, both remote and in-person (when we are allowed again), formal and informal, and other ways of connecting, checking in and supporting each other are all important.
And remember, you aren’t responsible for solving someone else’s mental health difficulties, any more than you would be for their sore ankle. If necessary, signpost them to resources available, such as any mental health support on offer from your employer.
If you’d like to understand more, including setting up a workshop for your team to discuss mental health or learning more about my in-house counselling service, please do get in touch.
email@example.com, or 07968 767232
I always welcome even the most tentative discussion.