Mental Health Awareness – Taking care of the internal and external

May is Mental Health Awareness month and so I am devoting this blog to this important topic. In coaching sessions, we often explore mental health through the lens of some specific subject areas, and I’d like to share these with you to support you to think about your own mental wellbeing. 

Defining Mental Health

For me, mental health is about the things you don’t see. Whilst a broken arm is visible, mental health isn’t. On the surface it may look like someone is doing well – visibly they look like they are coping. Internally, they may be struggling with all sorts of situations that are challenging to their mental health. 

The dictionary definition of mental health is:

“a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being”. The NHS defines it as “a positive state of mind and body, feeling safe and able to cope, with a sense of connection with people, communities and the wider environment”. What is your definition of mental health? Mine is “taking care of the internal as well as the external”. 

Taking care of our mental health

Like a flick of a switch, our mental health can be impacted. Being vigilant to the changing patterns of our mental health means that we can more effectively manage our well-being. I have highlighted below some of the common themes that show up in coaching sessions which can impact our mental health. As you read through these consider the questions and notice where you are with these topics. Would you add any topics?

Self-doubt and Self-confidence

We all shift between doubting ourselves to feeling confident at different times of our lives. For example, if we take on a new task or role, it is normal to wonder if we can do it. A client used her coaching sessions to get ready for a new role where the organisational environment was completely different to what she was used to. This impacted her confidence levels initially as it was new to her. Understanding your feelings of self-doubt when they arise can be useful to move through to feeling confident. 

To explore this further it can be useful to ask yourself:

  • Where has the self-doubt come from?
  • What are my usual coping strategies?
  • What would the confident me do right now?
  • Who could support me?
  • What does the word confidence mean to me?

Burnout and Work/ Life Balance

Work/ Life Balance is about time, energy, and challenge. Firstly, it is about having enough time for the things that matter to us. When this is achieved, we often have a sense of contentment. How we structure our lives is unique to each of us. One person may enjoy a longer working day, whereas others prefer an early finish. 

Having enough energy is about taking care of ourselves – the saying “work, rest and play” is true here. It’s about ensuring there is enough energy in the tank, and this is often achieved by all three of these words. Energy can be gained from activity as well as rest so notice your energy boosters and ensure these are part of your week.

Challenge is about having meaningful work, hobbies or projects that stretch us. The amount of stretch we each need again will differ from person to person. This is about enough comfort zone time and enough stretch zone time. At work, this could include taking on additional work that you haven’t done before, influencing at a more senior level, speaking up in a meeting and getting your point across. Outside of work this could mean studying something new, taking on a house/garden project, or volunteering.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the things that matter most to me?
  • How can I allocate time to them regularly?
  • What do I need to eliminate?
  • What does play look like for me?
  • How do I get sufficient rest?
  • What is my definition of challenge?

Isolation and Connection

We all have a fundamental need to connect with others regularly. This need can increase depending on the complexities we are facing. At work this connection might be feeling part of a team, being appreciated by your manager, having a voice at work, leading a team, being part of a social group at work, and having people you can talk to – Gallup call this having a “best friend at work.

Outside of work, this is often about the communities we live in, the neighbours, our social circles, what we do with our social lives and our friends and family. This connection can be about giving to others, for example, being a listening ear for someone else. Or it can be about receiving from others – having people to talk to about things that are going on, as well as having fun and meeting together socially. 

Ask yourself:

  • Who do I really trust?
  • Whom I can be open with?
  • What do I want to contribute to my community?
  • How can I make time to connect with others?
  • Who might need me to be a listening ear?

Inability to switch off and being at peace

Clients will often say they have the time but it’s what they do with the time that they want to change. Their downtime can be filled with thinking about all the to do list items and being unable to fully switch off. We can all appreciate how the hybrid working has also blurred boundaries which has benefits; however, one downside is the challenge of switching off. Being at peace means we find joy in the quiet moments, where we can put aside the worries, challenges and stresses and just be in the moment. 

Ask yourself:

  • What strategies help me to leave work at work?
  • What do I do with my quiet moments?
  • How could I maximise me time?
  • What changes could I make?

A Final Word – Communication

Even when we ask others “how are you”, how often do we hear platitudes like “I am fine thanks, you?” I’d like to encourage all of us to listen more and ask how people really are. Often conversations become jumbled because there is not enough listening going on, and therefore people don’t get the change to speak fully. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone else is to just listen without trying to solve. 

I wonder what topics have resonated? I’d love to hear what works for you and your mental wellbeing to mark mental health awareness month. If you would like to know more about how coaching can support you then please get in touch.

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