Mental Health Fitness for solo workers

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I spent a fascinating couple of hours this morning at the Alliotts Guildford Business Growth Forum where the topic was Mental Health Wellbeing in the Workplace.

Alliotts run regular breakfast meetings on a variety of topics for small businesses and this was their first foray into looking at mental health.  A lot has been said on this topic recently from Theresa May to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to initiatives by the Institute of Directors who are committed to raising awareness particularly with their “a little more conversation” campaign.

The panel included Lady Jane Nathan, founder of Healthcare on Demand and passionate advocate for the need to identify and help those with mental health problems; Dr Ann Fitzgerald, a counselling psychologist; Susan McGrath, counsellor and psychotherapist; Simona Hamblet, employment lawyer and executive coach and Nick White, project lead for Guildford First which is a community partnership which provides support to help reduce the stigma of mental health.

I attended with my “curious journalist” head on. It’s an area of particular interest to me and it was good to hear that businesses are starting to think about how they can support their staff in this area and consider how they are going to provide a safe place for the sensitive conversations around mental health to take place.  It’s early days but steps are being taken in the right direction.

What was interesting was that a lot of people attending were self employed and worked alone. This is true for me too and something I’m very aware of is the need for self-care.

I don’t have colleagues to give me a boost if I’m having a tough day. I don’t have a line manager to notice if perhaps I’m struggling with my job or life and I don’t have an HR department to go and discuss issues with. It’s all down to me.

There were a few conversations on this topic and it got me thinking of the things that I do to keep the balance in the right place.  I don’t always manage it but here is my list of steps I take or have taken to keep my life and work on an even keel.

  1. I got a dog.  This is not a practical piece of advice for many. But for me it has been hugely beneficial. I used to sit all day glued to my computer. This is not healthy. Now, whether I want to or not I have an hour out doors everyday in all weathers. (If you don’t or can’t have a dog at least try to get outside for a walk – it works wonders)
  2. If the sun is shining I sit outside and have a cup of tea and (and this is the important bit) I don’t take any work with me. The temptation is to just bring my phone and scroll through my emails or read a document. But no – fifteen minutes of daydreaming in the sun is like an injection of happiness that boosts my mood and productivity no end.
  3. I keep a time sheet. Mainly I do this for clients who I bill by the time it takes me to get the job done.  However I’ve noticed that I am far more productive when I’m detailing when I started and when I stopped working to go and look at social media or something.  That feeling of productivity and not wasting time is empowering.
  4. I limit social media and news sites.  This one is tricky. I have a love hate relationship with both of these and could easily spend all of my day on either of them.  This has a negative impact on my mood more than any thing else.  It takes discipline but I can’t recommend enough how important it is to limit time wasting that is disguised as research, keeping up with what’s going on etc. There’s a time and a place for this so learn to manage it.
  5. Switch my phone off in the evening and keep away from my computer.  I don’t always manage this but am much better than I used to be.
  6. Create a golden hour first thing.  This is another important one for me.  I get to my desk and work solidly for one hour. I don’t read emails or check the news because I know that my hour can disappear very quickly.  When that hour is up I have normally achieved a lot and am inspired to keep going and ignore distractions (news, social media etc) until lunch time.  It’s a much better feeling trawling through Twitter knowing that I have crossed five things off my list already for the day and I’m much more motivated to get back and tick a few more off.
  7. Be realistic in my goals. I used to create a huge to do list that was regularly copied over from one page of my diary to the next and would be very frustrated that I never achieved all I set out to do. Now I am much more realistic with just one or two key goals for the day plus a few extras that i’d like to tackle if I get time.  I also ask myself if I only achieve one thing today what should that be? It helps me to focus and feel good about what I have done rather than stewing on the things that didn’t get done.
  8. Tackle the things that I don’t want to do.  Often I’ll find there is one item that never gets done. It always seems to be hanging over me. It’s generally not urgent but it’s irksome.  I’ve found that the sooner I tackle this boring or tricky job (which generally doesn’t take long anyway) the sooner all the mental worry about not doing it goes away.
  9. Socialise – whether that’s meeting a friend; networking; going to a meeting such as this one with Alliotts.  Get out there and be a human being.

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