Research shows that looking at pictures of kittens and puppies helps us to relieve stress and relax, even evoking nurturing tendencies – all of which can make us more happy and productive in our daily lives.
So, it turns out those warm and fuzzy feelings we get inside actually keep us feeling warm and fuzzy all day…I know what I’m changing my screensaver to!
Last week, Showcase was delivered by one of our Associates, Kat Hounsell. One of Kat’s passions is helping organisations turn their visions into everyday realities, and she does this by focusing on wellbeing and performance (as well as adorable animals). During her Showcase, Kat discussed how not looking after our mental wellbeing prevents us from reaching peak performance – and if we do reach it, then we don’t stay there for long.
This May, the UK marked Mental Health Awareness Week, which followed the theme ‘Surviving or Thriving?’
The question of whether we are ‘surviving’ or ‘thriving’ is one that we dedicate a lot of time and thought to at NKD. Both in the workplace and in our personal lives, we can experience periods of time where we’re just not at our best. We’re stressed, overloaded or under pressure. It’s exhausting. For some people, these periods can take us beyond ‘normal’ stress levels, and our physical and mental health can suffer.
It might be obvious that if we’re feeling exhausted and stressed, we won’t be at our best. But, the problem is that, as a society, we’re not always great at seeing the obvious. There’s always a reason why we justify working an extra few hours when we’re almost maxed out, or insisting that we’re ‘fine’ when we’re not.
The focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week came out of a study by the Mental Health Foundation; it found that only 13% of the UK population said that they had good mental health, and that they were ‘thriving’. That’s a pretty shocking statistic. We were amazed when Kat revealed it to us, and it really brought home the need to discuss mental health today – both within our smaller communities, and as a country.
Kat spoke about the direct impact that mental wellbeing and health have on our performance – and the practical things we can do to make sure this impact is a positive one. One thing that we had all experienced more of recently was increased awareness and public openness about mental health. For example, we knew of schools that held events during Mental Health Awareness Week, such as talks and sessions where students shared their experiences of handling stress. Breaking down the stigmas and taboos associated with mental health issues is key to tackling these problems and ensuring that people have access to the care they need. In the last few years, many celebrities have used their positions of influence to raise awareness of mental health, and to humanise the various conditions that people suffer from. Understanding what conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and OCD actually are, and how common they can be, is crucial if we want to have informed and productive discussions about mental health.
With 1 in 4 people affected by a mental health problem in any year, Kat was adamant that people need to not only be aware, but also prepared, to handle mental health. For individuals, this means having techniques to manage your health. Kat gave us her 3 top lessons that she has developed over the years to make sure that she is thriving, not just surviving:
Be mindful – Noticing what’s going on. When you wake up in the morning, how do you feel? Once you’re aware, you have choices to make. This allows you to not judge your thoughts and feelings, but accept them for what they are, and make choices based on that.
#BanShould – Instead of tormenting yourself with thoughts like ‘I should go to the gym’, ‘I should do more work tonight’, focus on what you need. What do you need to do? What are you in the mood for? Your actions will then be so much more meaningful, and beneficial.
Be kind to yourself – Being kind to others often feels right, but being kind to yourself doesn’t always feel natural. What can you do right now to be kind to yourself?
The impact of positive mental health goes beyond the individual. In the workplace, organisations can suffer as a whole if their people are suffering. It is estimated that mental health costs the UK economy £30 billion per year. This loss is the result of factors such as time taken off work, replacing people who are off sick, and lost productivity. Mental health can make a real difference to a business’s bottom line.
One way to equip organisations to handle mental health problems is training up mental health first-aiders. Kat is a first-aider trained by MHFA England, an organisation that trains people to recognise the symptoms and help people who are experiencing mental health problems. The UK government has announced that every secondary school must have one mental health first-aider, and there are talks of having as many mental health first-aiders as there are physical ones within all organisations. This shows that steps are being made in the right direction, with mental health being increasingly treated as seriously as physical health.
There were 5 things that Kat suggested could help individuals, and groups, move from ‘surviving’ to ‘thriving’. Based on extensive research, the New Economics Foundation identified 5 Ways to Wellbeing that would help people to thrive:
We could think of many things we’ve done in the last week that could set us on our Way to Wellbeing, whether it was connecting with friends, signing up to give blood, or making ourselves take a ‘time out’ when we noticed we were feeling overwhelmed. Making lots of small changes can help make one big shift. If these small changes are all positive, then the big shift will be a positive one – and we can all only benefit from this.
Kat’s showcase got us thinking about the small steps we can take every day that will make a big difference. Not just for ourselves, but for the people around us as well. Mental health is an issue that affects so many of us, and the better equipped we are to support each other, the more we will all benefit. At the very least, we could start by looking at kittens and puppies every morning.
To find out more about mental health, here are some of Kat’s suggestions:
If you like to watch:
- Mind over Marathon (2-part BBC documentary)
- TED talk: How to make stress your friend
If you like to listen:
- Bryony Gordon’s Madworld Podcast
If you like to read:
- Sane New World by Ruby Wax
- Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar
- Happiful Magazine – Online magazine
If you like to research:
Loulwa Al Rasheed-Wright