Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week, with events taking place across the country encouraging us to talk openly about the issue.
This year’s focus is stress. Research shows two-thirds of people have a mental health problem in their lifetime, and stress is a key factor.
Research by mental health charity Mind has shown that work is the biggest cause of stress. At least one in six workers experiences common mental health problems, including stress, anxiety and depression.
So how can we deal with stress and enhance our overall wellbeing in the workplace? We speak to the professionals and ask their advice:
Dr Neil Stanley, author of How to Sleep Well
How many hours of sleep do we need each night?
We’re all different and, to a large degree, our need is genetically determined. Eight hours is an average, not an ideal, with anywhere between three and eleven hours considered normal.
The sleep you need is the amount that allows you to be awake, alert and focused during the day. If you’re sleepy in the day, there’s an issue with your sleep.
Any tips for achieving better sleep?
You need to have a:
The first step is to look at your lifestyle to see if there’s anything causing poor sleep, such as diet, exercise patterns, sleeping environment, personal habits, lifestyle and stress. You can then look to address the issues.
In the day: Be awake. Daytime exercise can promote good sleep. It’s also important to get adequate exposure to natural light, as this is the major signal to the brain that it’s time to be awake.
At night: Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine, signalling to the body that it’s time for sleep and allowing you to put the stresses of the day behind you.
Spend at least 30 minutes winding down before bed. Turn the TV or computer off and avoid looking at work emails. Once you’re in bed, it’s important not to try to fall asleep – the harder you try, the more worked up you’ll become. Don’t worry if you don’t get a good night’s sleep – you’ll probably get a good one the next night.
The bedroom: This should be a sanctuary reserved for sleep. The environment needs to be pleasant and relaxing, so get rid of the TV and computers and avoid looking at your phone. It should also be dark and as quiet as possible. Fresh air is good for sleep. Many experts say that the ideal temperature for the bedroom is 16-18°C.
Waking up: The body craves regularity, so keep to the same wake-up time. The body actually starts preparing to wake up about 1½ hours before you actually do, and if your body knows when it’s going to wake up, it can maximise the sleep opportunity.
What about when agents are on call?
Being on call can disrupt sleep; even if you’re not actually woken the worry that you may be can affect sleep. Approach an on-call night as any other. If you are awoken in the night, rather than crashing back into bed once you have dealt with the issue, a short wind-down can be helpful in calming the mind. If you feel sleepy the next day, don’t rely on coffee; it’s better to have a 20-minute power nap.
Lisa Willoughby, yoga teacher and founder of Willoughby Wellness
Willoughby’s key to staying healthy is to “set yourself up for success”. That means scheduling the gym into your diary and packing your gym bag each morning. “Leave it at the door so you don’t forget it, and make your life easier by going straight to the gym on your way to work, or straight after,” she says.
When it comes to eating well, Willoughby says making your own packed lunches can keep you on the right track. Include two palm-sized amounts of protein with your lunch to help you feel full.
“You can pile your plate up with unlimited vegetables to help you gain micronutrients,” she adds.
“Also include clean carbohydrates such as sweet potato or wild rice, and be mindful of the type of oil food is cooked in. Try to use simple dressings with no added sugar.”
If you’re going out for a meal, try to opt for “lean, green and clean” options, she suggests.
More health-boosting tips include drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated, and if consuming alcohol at work events, sticking to lighter coloured wines and spirits and using sugar-free mixers such as soda water.
Willoughby’s easy exercises for the back office
Plus, try the following:
It’s also important to stretch after prolonged periods of sitting down. Willoughby recommends the following stretches:
Claire Steiner, chair — Institute of Travel and Tourism Education and Training Committee
Steiner’s tips for managing stress and improving personal wellbeing:
Travel Counsellors hosted mindfulness workshops at its annual conference a few years ago to help its homeworkers improve awareness of mental health and teach them ways to improve their wellbeing.
Karen Morris, operations director at Travel Counsellors, says, “Following the success of this, Travel Counsellors decided to offer more support in this area in the form of training about mental health awareness and supporting colleagues, training to support their own wellbeing, and one-to-one counselling.”
The company has supported programmes such as mental health charity Mind’s “Time to Talk” national awareness day, encouraging people to talk about issues around mental health and providing online resources to help.
“We launched some Pilates classes at the time via our TCTV channel and have most recently introduced a mindfulness course for our TCs when on induction, and one-to-one sessions for our support team,” adds Morris.