Whether you’re an employee or a business owner/freelancer such as myself, managing mental health in the workplace is gravely important. Whether you’re keeping it together at your desk or worrying your way through a client meeting, working as a marketer/writer makes you somewhat reliant on your emotions. They drive empathy and creativity, at least when they don’t restrict them.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, approximately one fifth of the population of Canada will suffer some form of mental health problem in any given year. These range from more common ailments such as anxiety and depression to schizophrenia, which is known to affect 1% of the population of Canada. With numbers like these, it is little wonder that CMHA says “Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague.”
As a quick disclaimer, I am not a doctor or expert of any kind. I’m just someone who lives with mental illness every day and wants to destroy the stigma associated with it.
My Journey in Mental Illness
In my early twenties I suffered a traumatic brain injury that impaired my cognitive functioning in several ways. While it could have been much worse and in retrospect I’m grateful it wasn’t, I developed severe anxiety as a result of the injury. The sudden and shocking changes that this brought about in my life sent me spiralling into a deep depression.
For a number of years I was unfit for work, although that didn’t stop me from trying. I lost several low-skill jobs for a variety of reasons, feeling completely incapable of learning anything new.
It took a lot of patience from my friends, family, and counselors, but eventually I found a crevasse I could climb within the impassable wall before me. I started working hard at the six M’s of mental health I’m about to share with you, and within a year I created that obstacle and saw the sun on the other side; I started learning digital marketing.
My history as a freelance writer set me up well for a career in marketing, and it brings a number of my passions together, but it’s not like that realization somehow healed me. It was the solid year of work I put into these 6 M’s. I’ll include an explanation of each, along with a look into how it’s impacted my life.
While there are many ways to explain mindfulness, my favorite is to simply deconstruct the word; it means being consciously aware of yourself and your surroundings. Gratitude is a huge part of this for me. Without regularly pausing to feel intentionally grateful, it’s easy for me to lose sight of the small things that ought to keep me cheerful. Other important facets of mindfulness include treating the body, mind, and soul all with love.
Loving your body is certainly the most straightforward of the three, but in no way the easiest. Is eating healthy and exercising regularly easy? Few people would say so. And yet, doing these two things reduce stress and risk of both mental and physical illness, not to mention producing positive hormones and keeping energy levels balanced. Getting adequate sleep nurtures both the body and the mind, and activities such as learning, reading, and socializing will also bolster your brain.
Caring for the soul is perhaps the most abstract; this might mean practicing a religion or spirituality, or really anything that speaks to you at a level deeper than words.
Mini-habit: Go for a short walk at least once a day before a meal. Intentionally think about two things; what you’re grateful for, and how the food you’re about to eat will affect you throughout the rest of the day. You might be surprised how this mini-habit can turn into something more!
There are few practices as elegantly simple and effective as meditation. All you need is the ability to breathe comfortably. Does having a cushion and a quiet spot to sit help? It certainly does. But what once you become practiced enough you’ll find you can reap the benefits of meditation in a quick 5-10 minute session in your car in a parking lot, in the lunchroom or bathroom at work, or even in a corner of a crowded room.
According to Mindworks.org and a considerable amount of scientific study, meditation helps you manage stress, anxiety, depression, improves sleep quality, and has nearly immediate effects. If you could put that in a pill, how well do you think it’d sell? More and more people are learning and reaping the benefits of meditation every day
Don’t know how to meditate, but want to to get started? Check out this instructional video from Brendon Burchard, a wizard of wellness and peak performance. Brendon is also a huge advocate of the next item on my list of M’s.
More and more people are talking about and utilizing morning routines, because they don’t just set you up for a successful day; they help you feel healthier and more prepared, at least they do in my case.
The most common complaints I hear against morning routines are “I’m not that organized” and “I’d get bored”. Quick solutions: get more organized, and switch things up in your morning routine. They don’t need to be boring or dull at all, in fact, here are some ideas recommended by experts that you can try for yourself:
- Drink water!
- Practice deep breathing or meditation
- Go for a walk and/or do some yoga or calisthenics
- Listen to uplifting music
- DON’T check your email – at least not for the first hour.
You can get really creative with your start-of-day checklist. When I was in my early twenties mine included a 45-minute parkour loop. These days, it includes a few pills and a bong, which brings me to our next M of managing mental health.
Obviously I strongly advise that you consult your doctor before taking (or stopping) ANY medication. I used to love the idea of not taking anything, but that’s not an option for someone with the kind of severe anxiety I suffer from. Through years of trial and error I’ve managed to find a regimen of pharmaceuticals and herbal remedies that works quite well for me. By herbal remedies, I mean I take lion’s mane mushroom supplements and smoke cannabis.
The notion that there’s anything wrong with consuming cannabis, and the stigma and stereotypes attached to it, are ones I would happily decimate. Few things help me focus and get work done better than a strong sativa bong, which has the added benefits of cutting my anxiety and bolstering my appetite.
If you require medication, finding the right kind may take some time and will require a good relationship with your doctor. While some doctors can be difficult to work with, they do want to help and the only way to empower that is to communicate with them.
This section sort of mingles with the exercise portion of mindfulness, but not exactly. You don’t really need to work out in order to reap the benefits of movement. Sometimes just pacing (or dancing!) a bit can shake loose negative feelings and start the processes behind some healthier thoughts. To take it a step further, going out for a leisurely stroll can be amazingly beneficial, and potentially completely change your outlook on the situation.
Because of my history in combat sports and martial arts, I often shadowbox to get myself moving a bit when I feel mired in a sour mood. Whatever works for you, you’ll likely find that motion creates emotion, and that it’s harder to stay down when you’re mobile.
Music links back to what I said in Mindfulness about caring for the soul – for me having great music in my life is a much needed support. I listen to my favorite artists whenever I find the opportunity, usually having a playlist on while I work or clean or do anything else around the house. I also play guitar and sing, which I find promotes a body-mind connection and has a therapeutic feel to it.
Realistically, this does not need to be music. It could be any kind of creative outlet that you enjoy expressing yourself through. You don’t need to be incredibly skilled at it… you just need to love it, and do it. Sometimes sharing your art with others can help, but sometimes you might want to keep it for yourself, and that’s fine too.
Whether you’re a painter, a carver, or a singer, I still recommend that you make time to listen to music. Put something on while you wash the dishes or do your paperwork, and let it inspire you.
Final Thoughts on Mental Health Management
Reaching out to and leaning on others is an important factor in managing my mental health, which is one of the reasons I decided to create this post and the accompanying video on Facebook. You can find my Facebook page linked below and watch the video there. If you’d like to contact me for any reason, Facebook messenger or email are both great options.
I wish you well, and I wish you triumph in your day to day struggles. Thank you for reading.