Depression, burnout & Co. are no longer exceptional phenomena. What remains is the question: Can you protect yourself? Are there simple mechanisms that stabilize mental health? The British think tank New Economics Foundation has identified five strategies for improved health and well-being.
1. Social contact instead of email contact
Social contacts are important for our well-being. It doesn’t matter whether we have something to give ourselves – by leading a project, contributing special knowledge or simply making our contribution to the team’s success – or whether they express their appreciation with praise and we are in the taking role: We are behind better. The exchange with other people is one of our fundamental needs.
One of the simplest approaches to more social contact with colleagues and fellow human beings is to do without unnecessary e-mails. Get up and go over to your colleague. Even if the face-to-face contact only lasts a few moments, you will experience the facial expression of the other person. You hear the tone of the voice and thereby gain a deeper understanding of the situation.
Email also throws us off balance because it takes up our time and attention and distracts us from our real work. The more emails are waiting in the inbox, the greater the loss of time. To counteract this, it is worth closing the mail program more often or only checking it at certain intervals.
And you can also use the next coffee break: ask the colleague you meet in the kitchen how his weekend was and really listen to him. When it comes to mental well-being, it’s often the details that make the difference.
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2. Small changes, big impact
Anxiety and stress are difficult to banish from working life. But it’s not impossible either, and even small steps are better than none at all. Accept that there are days when negative feelings are more prominent and even small things can be overwhelming. A knowing, tolerant handling of this fact makes it easier to deal with the fear and reduces the burden.
An effective way to reduce stress is physical activity on and off the job. PageGroup’s Transport and Commuter Study found that the stress levels of cyclists and pedestrians commuting to work are the lowest among commuters in Europe. Those who instead drive their own car or use public transport perceive the journey to be more stressful and also arrive at work more stressed. Unfortunately, we don’t always have a choice about how to get to work.
But why not skip the elevator to the office and take the stairs instead? Or use the lunch break for a walk in the fresh air? Working on mental health doesn’t mean making radical lifestyle changes. Again, it’s the little things that make the difference.
3. Pause and reflect
In a fast-moving world, hectic is the norm. Sometimes we lose sight of ourselves. Reflection and self-awareness help us understand our emotions and give us the time we need to deal with them.
The internationally renowned psychologist Daniel Goleman sums it up like this:
“When you are aware of how feelings affect your reasoning, your thinking and the way you interact with other people – then you are reflective. This is a component of emotional intelligence. We know of circuits in the brain that make us aware of our mental world that are distinct from the circuits that inform us of our physical world.”
So take more time for self-awareness. Allow yourself to think about things calmly and enjoy the moment. Take a different route to get to work, have lunch at a different restaurant. Our 24/7 connected world isn’t exactly the easiest place to live. Exercises in mindfulness in everyday life are a good strategy to feel more calm, more relaxation and more joie de vivre. At the same time, we sharpen our understanding of the people around us and of our work situation.
4. Learning to reduce stress
Mindfulness and contact with our colleagues and our environment are important for our mental health. Equally beneficial is our ability to learn new things. Nobody is omniscient. Not even experts can say that about themselves. Devoting our time to learning is both meaningful and useful in meetings, discussions and everyday work. In her book, Teaching, Tutoring and Training in the Lifelong Learning Sector, Susan Wallace, Professor of Education, writes that lifelong learning not only brings us personal fulfillment but is also a powerful mechanism for reducing stress and boosting self-esteem. You don’t have to enroll for a second degree or strive for another form of professional qualification. There are many opportunities to learn something new or expand on existing knowledge. Tackle a craft project, learn to cook, pick up a new hobby, fix your bike or take a language class. Everything that expands one’s own repertoire is a success and ultimately also serves one’s well-being.
5. Rethinking by everyone involved
Mental health is receiving increasing attention both in society and in the workplace. It is therefore no wonder that the awareness of the need for appropriate measures is becoming more and more anchored among employees, managers and directors.