Have you ever felt like you were teetering on the brink of emotional burnout? You’re not alone. New research for World Mental Health Day found that one-third of UK people are either burnt out or very close to it. And experts say the situation is like a mental health ‘ticking time bomb’.
The ‘Burnout’ Snapshot survey discovered that almost half of respondents had taken at least one day off work due to stress in the past two years and almost one-fifth had taken six or more days off because of it. Other new research, carried out by the Business in the Community charity, found that 60 per cent of UK employees have experienced mental health issues such as anxiety, stress and depression.
Susan Scott, psychologist and author of ‘How To Prevent Burnout’, says the research shows that the UK’s mental health is a ‘ticking time bomb’. She says: “A massive 39 per cent are either very close to burn out or are burnt out. That’s shocking and organisations need to wake up to this. The workplace focuses on performance management and engagement but is completely missing the point about wellbeing when this is what they should really be concerned about.”
Employers have a vital role to play in looking after their employees’ mental wellbeing (a key message of this year’s awareness day), but what can we do to help ourselves? Here are some tips the experts shared with The Colour File on how to keep mentally well.
- Be aware of ‘overload’ in your life
Dr Rafael Euba, consultant psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre, says one of the most important aspects of stress management is recognition. He says: “Ask yourself, ‘Do I dread starting the day? Do I have to multitask in order to be able to cope? Am I always tense? Do I have trouble sleeping, or digesting my meals? Am I irritable with my partner? Do I have problems concentrating?’ We need to assess our lives and recognize the parts that are overloaded. We then need to either unload (if possible, of course) or otherwise seek support.”
- Nurture your body and mind
Helen Rutherford, counsellor and clinical supervisor at digital healthcare company babylon health, says: “Mental and physical health go hand in hand; when you’re feeling fit and making the right nutritional choices, you will automatically see improvements in the way you feel physically and mentally.” Eat well, exercise regularly and keep active. Avoid too much alcohol and caffeine and get good-quality sleep.
- Develop a good support network
“We all go off the radar at times but staying connected with family and friends is one of the foundations of good wellbeing,” says Helen. Having a support network of people you can trust for honest advice and who make you feel good about yourself is one of the best ways to deal with life’s ups and downs.
- Ask for help when you need it
Giving and receiving support from others is a basic human need so don’t hold back from talking to people you trust about how you feel. “Don’t keep things bottled up as this can cause your negative thoughts to spiral,” says Helen, “and remember that everyone needs help at some point in their lives. After all, the same person may need your help in the future.” (Don’t know who to ask for help? See the charity contacts at the bottom of this blog).
- Take a digital detox
Study after study show a correlation between heavy internet usage and mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression – for example, 2014 US research found that as mobile phone use increases, so does anxiety. Psychiatrist Dr Ian Drever, an expert in depression, anxiety and stress, says: “Most of us fall into the trap of spending too much time on the internet but without truly understanding the toll this can take on our mental wellbeing.” From Googling health symptoms, immersing ourselves in social media or reading too much negative news, a digital detox can do wonders for the psyche.
- Promote a positive relationship with yourself
“Having a good relationship with yourself can help you obtain crucial insights into your own life and what’s important to you,” says Helen. These insights are an invaluable tool for making life-changing decisions, whether career- or family-related.
- Learn techniques to help you manage your mental health and wellbeing
“Everyone has emotional triggers and all it takes is for someone to make an insensitive comment which leaves you feeling off-balance and in low spirits,” says Helen. Developing self-awareness will enable you to start identifying your triggers, learn to understand them and how to manage them.
- Keep a journal
US research found that people who regularly wrote a diary about emotional experiences showed more activity in the emotion-regulating section of the brain than those who wrote about neutral things. Writing a diary can help you offload and process your day by exploring your thoughts and feelings. “It is important to have an outlet and this is a great one to help with your self-awareness, identifying your triggers and learning how to deal with them effectively,” says Helen.
- Do something meaningful
“Sometimes, the best therapy can be the most simple. Find time every now and then to help others,” says Helen. “Performing random acts of kindness – no matter how big or small – can boost self-esteem and make you feel positive about yourself.” Even giving to charity can help to boost mental health: a Canadian study found that people who give to charity (so-called ‘prosocial spending’) are happier than those who self-gift.