A recent study found that over a third of accountants feel stressed on a daily basis. We talk to mental health ambassador and public speaker, Nick Elston, on his story of anxiety and how you can support mental health, both personally and at your workplace.
WE’VE NEVER BEEN SO CONNECTED YET DISCONNECTED
First off, feeling anxious can be a healthy response to a potentially dangerous situation. After all, it’s there to get us out of it safe and unharmed. It’s when it gets out of control that it becomes a problem.
For me, my story of mental health started as a child. I had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Due to a lack of general awareness and proper treatment, I went on to develop generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).
GAD is estimated to affect around 5% of the population and results in feelings of anxiety most days. It also means frequent catastrophizing. For instance, if I message my Mum and don’t get a reply, I’ll run through the worst-case scenarios rather than assume she’s busy. And ironically, many of these traits are also the ones that make you successful.
I excelled at school then had a successful career in office solutions and software. But I didn’t schedule in recovery time. I never let myself drop the ball. Instead, I tried to be everything I thought others wanted or expected in me and lost touch with who I really was. I felt that if I were to put forward the true Nick, that meant being judged or even hated.
Then, I broke down after a work conference at a hotel in Somerset. I decided enough was enough. I wanted to do something different and go into public speaking. Two weeks later, I returned to the same hotel and shared my story. People queued up afterwards to share their experiences. This made me realise that in life, people want to be heard. They want to be understood. And very often this is enough.
Fast forward to today, I help businesses across the UK improve wellbeing in the workplace and create an infrastructure that better supports employees’ mental health.
Here are seven ways you can support mental health in the workplace.
WELLBEING IN THE WORKPLACE
1. Create a space to relax.
Mental health challenges are the symptoms of a systematic lack of recovery. Our modern lifestyle means we’re more connected than ever before. The boundary between work and play is ever more blurred. And if you’re checking your phone every five minutes for emails, you can easily become disconnected from the present and never properly switch off.
As a society, we must prioritise proactive rest. So much of my work takes place in capital cities where breakdowns and burnout are rife. Being able to rest means you can work twice as effectively afterwards. Whether you’re a one-man band or working in an established firm, create a place to relax in your workplace. Rather than a mental health room, this is somewhere you can focus on recovery.
2. Introduce mental health first aiders.
Positive change starts from a place of shared experience and genuine empathy.
After creating a safe environment where people feel safe to open up and talk without judgement, you can elect mental health first aiders. These are people who employees know they can talk to. These conversations could take place outside of the office, ideally in a neutral space like a quiet coffee shop or park.
For this, trust is key. When you engage people in mental health issues, there is an element of responsibility. While you don’t need to give advice - and often, it’s better if you just listen - you can signpost people to mental health services such as Mind or the Samaritans.
3. Keep a journal.
Being able to put what you’re feeling into words, whether spoken or written, is a powerful exercise that can help rationalise feelings of stress or anxiety and prevent them from spiralling. If you’re struggling to sleep at night, it can also help to write what you’re worrying about on paper to help your brain switch off.
4. Look at your personal narrative.
What stories do you tell? The way we see ourselves and the world around us is completely shaped by our conditioning and self-narrative. In an anxious state, you’ll see danger everywhere.
5. Question everything.
When you wake up tomorrow morning, ask why you’re waking up at that time, why you’re eating what you’re having for breakfast, why you’re waking up where you are, etc. We all use distraction to some degree. Are you going into the day with as much intent as you could?
6. Use meditation to relax and unwind.
If you’re able to separate challenges from the emotional response attached to them, you may see them in a different light.
7. Be mindful when scrolling social media.
Social media is today’s keeping up with the Joneses. You’re comparing your truth with someone else’s highlights. Mindless browsing can leave your happiness and sense of self in someone else’s control.
When I first went to Accountex, I was too nervous to talk to the other stand holders let alone do a keynote speech. Last month, I returned - this time, as a keynote speaker #TalkingAnxiety. My journey was complete. It was one of the only talks that day based on emotion alone and it meant something.
Mental health is something many of us don’t talk enough about. Yet, you can start the conversation today and make your workplace a more supportive environment for you and your team.