Maintaining My Mental Health
POINT3S OF VIEW BY CO-FOUNDER Sarah Mayo
The month of May hosts Mental Health Awareness Week – a time to raise awareness in a subject that for too long has been taboo. Mental health impacts how we think, feel and behave – so it’s central to who we are, how we view the world and everything we do day-to-day, yet, it’s still a conversation that too few people are having regularly.
And mental health in the most simplistic of terms has two sides – good mental health and poor mental health. In the same way as our physical health can either be in a good place or in a not so good place, so too can our mental health be either good or not so good. But it’s not binary, it is a sliding scale and the two (mental and physical health) are also so interconnected.
But the good news is that we can influence where we are on that sliding scale (whether through speaking to a healthcare professional or a friend, as well as having supportive coping strategies in place). The more we actively consider what we’re doing to influence our mental health, the better equipped we are to influence how we think, feel and behave – at work and at home, with our colleagues and around our friends and family.
If I’m honest, it’s only in the last four years since we launched POINT3 Wellbeing, that I have truly come to understand how much influence I actually do have on the state of my mental health.
At the start of the pandemic, I noticed my mental wellbeing sliding. Living alone, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to cope being isolated for an indefinite period of time. Despite generous offers from friends and family for me to stay with them, I made the decision to stay at home with my furry friend and focused on ensuring I had a routine of helpful habits to support my mental wellbeing. While those helpful habits may seem really obvious – they were crucial for me and continue to be – in ensuring that my mental health is in as healthy a place as it could and can be.
This is why I love our ‘maintaining mental health through the five pillars’ mindset training session. It is super practical and packed with great ways to boost your mental wellbeing through the five scientifically proven pillars of sleep, nutrition, mindfulness/relaxation, movement and social connection.
The pandemic for me has, as it has for many, been a time of great reflection and experimentation. I learned a lot about myself and learned how to adapt and find new ways to support my mental health – to support the quality of how I think, feel and behave.
And so, if you’ll indulge me, I will share a few of my learnings alongside five of my favourite micro-ways to support my mental wellbeing through each of the five pillars – and why they are now non-negotiable for me day-to-day.
I say micro-ways as I hope these help demonstrate that a little really does go a long way when it comes to supporting your mental health and wellbeing. These are all things that even the busiest of people can look to build into their routines. It’s just a matter of choice. That’s not to say it’s easy… It takes practice. It takes patience. It takes prioritisation. And also, it relies on you being compassionate with yourself too, as no doubt, some days will be harder than others, and you will fall off the wagon. But as clichéd as it is, tomorrow is another day. Another opportunity to get back up again and start over.
When it comes to sleep, I always thought my optimum sleep window was 7.5 hours. The first lockdown afforded me some time to experiment with my sleep, and I soon realised that I actually need at least 8 hours of sleep, more if possible, most nights. I know that might seem like a luxury for many, but I think, feel, behave so much sharper and better after 8 hours, so it makes it an easier decision and choice for me to go to bed at 10pm when I can.
Food, glorious food
I come from a family of “foodies” – most of our conversations and plans revolve around meals! And when it comes to foods, I like most, have my favourites. Those things that I default to, especially, when times are challenging. During the first lockdown, I quickly realised that meal times were even more important – a welcome break from the monotony of another day. But the need for variety became more apparent than ever. And then I read the most impactful fact I have read in a long time from Dr Tim Spector, of the ZOE diet and lifestyle programme – that we should be aiming for 30+ different plant-based ingredients (fruits, vegetables, seeds, herbs, spices, legumes and grains) in a week – to be getting all the nutrients we need. And the average person gets 12-14! I’d never really considered variety in my diet, but this was transformational for me. And it doesn’t necessarily take more time, it’s more about making new and different choices.
I like to move it
For those that know me well know how much I love running and walking! And I spent a lot of time walking through the first lockdown. But this blog is about what I did differently and what I learned about myself. I tried a lot of new things to stay active – I skipped every hour for a few weeks, we danced it out regularly in our team meetings to our fave tunes, and I took up yoga having always thought it was never for me. But the habit that has stuck the most, is getting out first thing before work – into daylight and moving a little. It does so much good for me in terms of how I think, feel and behave. And even if I don’t have enough time for a long walk, I get out and go and pick up a coffee from my favourite coffee shop.
You take my breath away
Mindfulness is a relatively new concept to me… I spent my 30s in a whirlwind, more mindless than ever! So perhaps it’s a consequence of getting older or of the pandemic, but whatever it is, I’m super grateful for slowing down a bit, and noticing more. Noticing my breath. Did I hold my breath for the first 40 years of my life? I certainly didn’t ever consciously take a breath! My favourite mindfulness practice – bringing me into the present moment – is a gratitude meditation every night before bed. It not only helps me fall asleep but it also helps me generally feel more positive at the end of the day.
I’ve always thought of myself as an extrovert – someone who needs to be around others more than not – but what I’ve learned over the last couple of years is how much I enjoy my own space and time on my own. That said, whether you define yourself as more of an extrovert or an introvert, we are social creatures who are better together – evolution and science supports this. And the last couple of years have made me appreciate the time I have with family and friends so much more. I set the intention at the beginning of 2022 of making memories with my loved ones – doing less but putting more into the less that I do – so that those experiences are all the more meaningful and memorable.
And this final pillar of social connection is a great place to bring this blog to a close, especially as the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week (9-13 2022) this year is loneliness. Sadly loneliness is on the rise and not just amongst the elderly and socially isolated as you might think. Take a moment now to consider how the workplace for many might be the one place where they feel true belonging and connection, which they might not feel elsewhere. So, never underestimate the power of an interaction with a colleague. Try to make each interaction kind, intentional and meaningful to you both.