Five Tips To Improve Your Mental Health
Often times, Mental Health is associated with how to treat depression, anxiety or other similar challenges. But as a matter of fact, there's so much more to it! Everyday living can get a bit difficult when you're juggling many things, yet there are numerous ways one can invest in their psychological health. So in celebration of Mental Health Month, we round-up a few quick tips that will help you incorporate mental wellness to your daily routine.
We sit down with clinical psychologist and Associate Professor of Health Policy & Administration at the College of Public Health in the University of the Philippines, Dr. Ronald Del Castillo. He is also the principal investigator of the Diwa Mental Health Survey, a research study on the mental health of teenagers and young adults. To get a few expert tips on how to improve one's over-all health and outlook about mental wellness. Scroll through for more information:
How to unwind from a toxic work day?
Grab a drink with friends, take a walk, treat yourself to a nice dinner, see a movie with family, get some punishing workout at the gym, join a trendy soul(less) cycle class, get a steaming bowl of lugaw, sit in a park and take deep breaths, get to know your Grab driver on the ride home, ignore work emails after 7PM or read a book—all these and many more will soften the aches of a rough day.
There is no magic bullet to relaxing or managing our stress. The mistake lies in how we “should” be unwinding. These “should” statements fuel our beliefs that promoting or protecting our health requires special equipment, a fixed price point, or the axis of millennial branding—the self-conceit of a “candid” Instagram photo. This is too narrow and a set-up for disappointment. The ability and opportunity to unwind from a toxic work day are already there.
Is “work-life” balance attainable?
This is very possible, but we need to rethink this fulcrum. It can feel like an unrealistic goal where we stand precariously with work on one side and life on the other. This packaging, however, does not capture how we piece together many parts of who we are. For some, work is a source of joy and passion, and so, much of our waking hours are committed to it. For others, the office conjures feelings of dread, pessimism, and despair, and so, much of the day is spent eyeing the clock.
A healthier and less regimented way of piecing the puzzle is work-life flexibility, not balance. Does our office allow us to shuffle our schedule so that we can work remotely, bring the kids to school, or take a long lunch with your significant other? Can we arrive early, stay late, or both so that we can avoid the “no crisis” traffic or visit ageing parents? At the end of the day, what we wish for is an office that genuinely acknowledges and deliberately accommodates our life outside of work.
With the many demands of corporate life, how does one deal with the stress or pressure of performing “above-and-beyond”?
One way to manage work-related stress is to change our relationship with it. We do not always have control over reality, but we do have control over how we see reality. Workplace stress is no different.
The stressors come and go and are oftentimes outside of our control. However, we do have control over how we interpret those stressors. When your boss makes a snide remark about your weight or what you are wearing, you have a choice: you can brush it off and let it go or you can wallow in it and think about it all day. With an upcoming high-pressured meeting, you can see it as a firing squad that erodes your confidence or you can see it as an opportunity to showcase your talent, flexibility, and confidence. And notice, the situation will not change—the meeting will go on regardless. So why not see it in a healthier way? Much of our stress comes from how much attention we give any one moment, incident, or comment.
There are many ways to refocus our attention. We can write down one positive thing that happened in the last 24 hours. We are hard-wired to focus on the negative that we forget good things do happen. Writing it down allows us to relive the moment. Also, we can exercise, especially going for a run. It reminds us that our feelings and thoughts are connected to the wellbeing of our physical body. We can also meditate. This is sometimes misunderstood because it seems to have a new age-y kind of flavour, but if you know how to breathe, you know how to meditate. Another is deliberately scheduling fun. We think of fun as spontaneous. However, for many in corporate life, spontaneity is a luxury but scheduling is a skill. So, why not use that to your advantage? Carve out “busy” on your calendar—and be busy having fun.
Finally, practice, practice, practice. If exercise, meditation, or reading before bed has not been part of your routine, they can feel like a chore. This is also why most New Year’s resolutions end by February. Our expectations are unrealistic, lacks deliberate planning, and is easy on disappointment.
Breakdown whatever it is you want to do, especially if it is new to you. Then, try to master or perfect each part before moving on to the next. Maybe you’ll walk around your block for a month. Then, you’ll run around two blocks for the next month. You’ll then run one km for the month after that. Maybe you won’t run five kilometres until six months later. This is a long way to go about it, but it is more sustainable. It takes 21 days of solid practice for a behaviour to become a habit.
Any suggestions as to how one can invest in “self-care”?
Self-care is not one-time, big-time. It is ongoing for all time. Self-care is not a reaction or an intervention. It promotes and protects. When we grab drinks with friends, go for a punishing workout, or binge the night away with Netflix, we should be doing these not only as ways to “fix” problems but also as ways to prevent them.
This is all irrelevant without an enabling environment. It is unreasonable for our bosses to expect work-life “balance” yet do not invest adequate resources to thrive in it. Self-care is not something that only happens after work. It should happen in it. And so we need our workplaces to ensure that the fulcrum is open to all and not just the privileged or desperate. You cannot self-care your way out of low wages, irregular work schedules, or an entitled co-worker wearing the latest incompetence. If employees struggle to balance the messiness of life with the inflexible demands of work, this says more about upper management—and their trigger-happy habit of punishing subpar deliverables instead of nourishing talent and practicing kindness. Empathic leadership is linked to happier employees who feel less stress, sleep better, enjoy being at work—and surprise, surprise—are more productive.
The needs of millennial and Gen Z employees require special attention. Whereas their baby boomer and Gen X bosses might have tolerated prescriptive, top-down productivity and a self-conscious yes-sir, yes-ma’am culture, these are not the values of the current generation. No doubt the misgivings of older bosses about their so-called entitled, lazy workers are an outcrop of the attention economy. However, younger employers are on to something: they understand that work is not just a place to earn money but an opportunity to thrive and, increasingly, to make social impact. Their demand for warmth, fairness, and personal fulfilment are not entirely out of left field. If our workplaces advocate for self-care, they must model that behaviour by taking care of us, too.
So, one more suggestion for investing in self-care: look for an employer that invests in you.
How to be a better companion to your loved ones?
Communication is the timeless companion of love. Our partner, family, and other loved ones are not mind readers—nor are we. This means the whole range of communication, from the mundane of “what do you want for dinner” to the more difficult “we need to talk”. And so communication also means being vulnerable. We take risks when we share our genuine thoughts and feelings.
And we should not forget that communication is oftentimes nonverbal. We say a lot by not saying anything. Holding hands, hugs, a gentle caress on the arm or back, looking directly at the eyes, nodding our heads, sitting next to each other, and many, many more—all communicate that we are present in the moment, are mindful of our loved ones, and are excited and joyful for their presence.
Why is mental health so important?
Mental health is everything. Much of it here in the Philippines are about depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems. The disorders only account for a small, albeit important, portion of overall mental health. When we expand our understanding of mental health, we expand opportunities to promote and protect it.
For those in corporate life, it is indeed commendable for upper management to offer counselling referrals and, increasingly, to pay for it as part of company benefits. However, most of us will not need nor want counselling. How can we create a workplace culture that enables employees to thrive? How can upper management model behaviour of empathic leadership? How can employees support each other through their day-to-day interactions? Just because we work together does not mean we know how to work together. This is where mental health comes in. These are teachable moments.
To know more about Diwa Mental Health, check it out on (@diwamentalhealth) and Twitter (@diwamh).