A little over two years ago, I wrote a blog post exploring how I believed fear is a good emotion, leading you towards action - specifically, how fear leads to adaptability and how this is key to reducing the impact of stress, worry and anxiety. As we finish 2022’s Mental Health Week, I took some time to revisit my own words - and take a candid view on how well I listened to my advice!
First things first, we’re in very different times today than we were ‘back then’, and the legacy of the Covid pandemic still looms large over our day to day lives.
Despite seeing the back of lockdowns and home-schooling, I was discussing with colleagues the other week how ‘today’ actually feels more intense, more vulnerable, and probably more uncertain than it did back in 2020.
So why might this be the case?
I still believe fear pushed us forwards into action. For 18 months, we were all contained and shared the same common goal - we all wanted to go see our loved ones, go on holiday, see friends at the pub and play sports at the weekend. It was incumbent upon us to pursue the right path towards ‘freedom’- fear was driving us to adapt and take the right action.
Fast-forward to today, and the circumstances are very different. Covid is still present (let’s not forget that) - but our lives are mostly back to normal, yet the level of fear and anger feels larger, it’s an odd paradox. Today’s worries feel out of our control – we’re not all fighting the same battle anymore, our realities are now very individual and different.
Our fears are again calling us to action, so we must adapt again - but we’re all fatigued by what has gone before.
Back to the point of my article, in this volatile context how much of my own advice have I heeded?
What I’m working on to support my own mental health and others here at twentysix?
I continued a meditative practice for the duration of the COVID lockdown. Still, I have since let this slip, probably due to being able to get out and about again, breaking up my day with activities such as the gym, taking the kids to their many clubs or popping for a beer!
Is meditation something I would pick up again? Yes, but I believe you can achieve the same feeling of being present from other activities like a good cycle ride or swim - it’s horses for courses really, so find that space that helps you and stick with it.
In mid-2020, I took all social media apps off my phone and they’ve stayed off ever since. This has helped me stay present and focus more time on the people around me, rather than on those in the virtual world. I don’t look at social media unless it’s for work.
Taking a social media break has allowed me to read a lot more - both fiction and non-fiction. I’ve recently picked up James Clear’s 'Atomic Habits' for another read, I felt my habits were getting sloppy and I wanted to reconnect with some of the learnings and re-calibrate my routine.
Less is more
In my last blog, I talked about how the enormity of daily tasks can overwhelm you and trap you in the space of expanding to-do lists and little daily fulfilment. It’s an enormous drain on your mental resource and self-esteem - trying (and often failing) to get stuff done, not knowing what to prioritise and what to drop. We’re all people-pleasers at heart - helping others gives a great shot of endorphins to make you feel good. The only problem is that it often comes at the expense of your time.
I’m proud to say that I’ve stuck to my daily prioritisation routine - although I’ve recently adapted how I tackle productivity. I found the Ivy Lee method of 6 things per day was getting a bit clumsy and repetitive, but it did help me appreciate how momentum drives progress - and how taking smaller, more manageable steps, can build self-esteem.
Today, I have a similar but nuanced approach. I look at one priority a day - then fix time in my diary for admin and block out 45 minutes at the end of the day for follow-ups and day-ahead planning. Focuses my attention on the most important piece of work, rather than fighting 3 or 4 priorities.
Reflection is a valuable tool. It helps puncture wayward thoughts and grounds you. As a reminder, I noted previously that I close out the week by asking myself three questions:
1. What has gone well this week?
2. What have I learnt this week?
3. What will I do differently next week?
This is an area I’ve been less successful in, but make time for whenever I feel stretched or, dare I say it, stressed! When our mood drifts, we often lose sight of our successes and fixate on our negative thoughts.
I’m fortunate enough to work with a coach, and they constantly have to remind me of the positives. I’m a positive person, but often fail to recognise my achievements. It’s weird, but I think a lot of people are similar.
Reflection is something I want to get back into practicing regularly. I’d recommend it to anyone who, like me, can sometimes fail to see the upside of their weekly endeavours.
Shorten your horizons
I don’t want to mistake short horizons, with short term thinking. They’re very different - my advice here is like that in point two - break it down, do less to achieve more.
A short-horizon keeps focus on the now, whilst creating momentum towards the bigger picture. It helps a lot. Importantly, make plans accountable with an owner and an action/deadline (that includes yourself). A plan without accountability is a dream.
Break things down, plan them out, take it step by step and don’t do it on your own – collaboration hugely helps!
This is a tough one. I’ll admit, I’ve avoided things in the last 12 months - but who hasn’t! Going to the gym, being more structured with going back into the office, and turning that camera off on a call (I think you’ll all relate to these things!). However, I still have a very firm belief that getting up and getting on with things is so important to a clean and healthy mind.
I do think that lockdown has made me appreciate my time a lot more. I’m determined to do fewer things in my life but be more present in what I am doing, so I can fully enjoy the experience.
Lean on your network
I have a great professional network to lean on, from my colleagues at twentysix and MSQ to coaches and a solid family. I read once that we’re most similar to the five people we spend the most time with. Think about your five closest people - do make you better? Do they enable your aspirations? Do they listen to you and ask how you are? How do you feel when you’re with them, or when you’re not with them? If the answers to these questions aren’t positive, then you might need to rethink whom you surround yourself with - build a network that enables you to be the best you can be.
I also want to reiterate that it's okay to be open and vulnerable. No one can help if you’re pretending to be something you’re not. If you’re down, say so, people can then help pick you up, saying you’re fine won’t tackle any issues. By nature, we try not to make our issues those of others, but equally, we’re not perfect, so be proud to share.
Change will come
Change has happened at a breakneck speed in the last 2 years. As I alluded to at the start of this article, I think more change is on the way - some good, some bad. Change has made me more resilient, and more aware of myself and those around me - whilst also making me more patient and realistic with my expectations – I do think I’m a better person for it.
A note on stress…
Everything is about context. We all live in our reality and are trying, every day, to be the best we can be, with the tools (mental and physical) that we have available. Respect that stress is very real, it’s a natural by-product of our current reality (and a chemical reaction). Hopefully, some of the things I have noted here will help you manage stress and your mental health with more self-awareness and empathy – be kind to yourself, you deserve it.
At 26, we are serious about mental health. We have 5 trained mental health first aiders and try to cultivate a culture of openness and acceptance throughout our business. We promote the fact that it is OK not to be OK and actively provide materials through our employee benefits scheme (via Bupa, SimplyHealth, Zurich Health Assured and Perkbox) that gives our people at twentysix on-demand support from trained Mental Health professionals. The more we talk about Mental Health in the workplace, the better things will be for our employees, allowing them to lead a happy and fulfilling life both in and out of work.
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