I needed all my own strategies to stay calm and well at the start of this panel event with Trainline for World Mental Health Day. Initially, I couldn’t manage to log on to the Zoom call. But Ronnie from Trainline’s IT department exemplified the company’s attitude to mental wellbeing in the gentle and kindly way he talked me through how to sort my wayward computer.
Right from the start, I felt that Trainline is a company which cares about the wellbeing of its staff. Chief Exec, Claire Gilmartin, set the tone when she opened the event saying that when she had taken the role six years ago, no one mentioned the importance of mental health. Now she says it is the first bit of advice she gives to others in the management hotseat: prioritise your own mental health.
Never has this been more important than in an age of Covid. What are the issues that people are facing? How do we manage, and normalise, this new reality? And what are some small everyday steps we can take to look after ourselves? Panel members Steve Loft, Mary Meadows and I all have personal experience of mental illness and are members of the Speakers Collective, which works with companies keen to look after the psychological wellbeing of their staff and reduce stigma around the topic.
We agreed that mental and physical health are indissoluble: if you look after your physical health, you look after your mental health and vice versa. We also agreed that you must share with others how you are really feeling - not just if you have a problem, but as an everyday commitment to psychological wellbeing.
We all have mental health, and must acknowledge this reality, never more so than now when people’s mental health is vulnerable for several reasons: issues include the lack of connection with others, a feeling of uncertainty, and a lack of structure in people’s working lives.
The first step to improving to normalising this new reality is talking openly and moving beyond conversations when we all agree we are fine. One way to elicit a more open conversation is to avoid chat which begins ‘How are you?’. Better is to say, ‘How are you feeling?’ And then to ask again, on the ‘ask twice’ rule.
If staff find it hard to open up, the panel recommended working with a third party who could explain your situation; realising that it is not a sign of weakness to get help, and the quicker you do, the more likely you will recover; and that Trainline management is committed to the mental wellbeing of its staff, and you are on the same side: a happier staff is also a more productive staff.
What then can we do to prioritise our wellbeing?
Practical, small steps work best. As Mary put it, now is not the time for the big stuff, little of which we can control right now.
Mary talked about the importance of everyday habits - becoming aware of them – and then checking: is this habit really okay? Or is it damaging my mental health? She also talked of the need to create some structure. Establishing a virtual commute in your mind – so listening to a podcast on your metaphorical way to work – can help. Meanwhile, boundaries are important too: the maxim ‘clear is kind, unclear is unkind’ is one she finds useful.
Steve talked about the lack of social connection, especially for those working from home: his answer was to connect with three people every day. He also recommended a five-minute rule on consuming the news.
I shared the importance of eating to maximise wellbeing: one new view of anxiety and depression is that they are exacerbated by inflammation, and that eating an anti-inflammatory diet, especially focussing on more oily fish which are rich in anti-inflammatory omega3s, and green leafy vegetables, can help. So too can trying to be present in the moment, using breathing exercises to trigger the relaxation system.
Finally, Steve talked about the importance of getting outside. We all benefit from Vitamin D. Nature’s subliminal message is that things change: this too will pass – even pandemics and events for World Mental Health Day. There was much more to discuss, but our time was up. And, thankfully, my computer behaved itself.
The Speakers Collective is a Social Enterprise. We work together with a shared commitment to challenge stigma, facilitate important conversations and promote learning on a variety of social issues. If you are looking for a speaker for an upcoming event then please do get in contact with Jo at firstname.lastname@example.org.