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Mental wellbeing: 5 work hacks for employees
Organisations should take steps to improve employee mental wellbeing, but what can each and every employee do?
The more you understand how to turn the dial on your mental wellbeing, the better place you’ll be in.
With that in mind, we’ve put together five easy-to-implement mental wellbeing hacks you can put into action yourself.
The novelty dividend
Routine is detrimental to mental wellbeing for two reasons. It puts your brain on autopilot, encouraging rumination and circular thinking. You also habituate to the positive stimuli in your environment over time, which can lead to feelings of being in a rut.
To combat this, you should shake up your daily routine to increase feelings of presence, concentration and flow. Even small changes can make a big difference. Here are some ideas:
- Get off the bus a couple of stops earlier or walk a different route to work
- Take your lunch break at a different time and in a different place
- Get up earlier and get to work earlier
- Work in a different part of the office and/or with different people
Handy tip: try making three conscious changes to your routine before you even leave for work. This could include when you get up, what you have for breakfast and what you wear. By shaking up your routine early, you ‘shock’ the body and mind into seeing the world differently.
Employees should shake up their daily routine to increase feelings of presence, concentration and flow.
The temporary technology time-out
The constant notifications we get from technology encourage multitasking, which is bad for your brain and can lead to that ‘frazzled’ mind feeling at the end of the day.
The importance of building up resilience to technology cannot be overstated. Closing your inbox, even for a few minutes, can have a positive effect. You can also remove yourself from technology completely, for example at lunchtime: go outside, leave your phone at work and just enjoy a slow walk, without the feeling of a smartphone weighing down your pocket and mind.
Handy tip: start small and scale to ensure you don’t overwhelm yourself, especially if your job is very reliant on technology. Close your email for 10 minutes and see what happens. If you can get to 10 minutes, you can probably get to 30 minutes.
Engineer a break from decision-making
Work is a constant series of decisions we make about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. The more decisions we have to make, the more we risk decision fatigue inducing anxiety and reducing the quality of our decision-making.
A clever hack is to temporarily take decisions out of your hands to reduce the effects of decision fatigue. How do you do this? One answer is prioritising in advance, which can be scaled depending on how much of a ‘time out’ you want.
Try the 1-3-5 list technique. Write down one big thing you need to get done that day, three medium things and five small things. By setting a natural endpoint to your workload and prioritising in advance, you mitigate the constant juggling process that leads to decision fatigue.
Handy tip: there are many workplace time management techniques available to help you engineer a break from decision-making. When it comes to time management, it’s important to choose one that really suits you if you want to turn it into a habit.
Take a mindful moment or minute
Mindfulness is being aware of what is happening inside and outside your body, helping you reconnect with what’s important, gain perspective and re-orient yourself with positive feelings.
A clever hack is to temporarily take decisions out of your hands to reduce the effects of decision fatigue.
The great thing about mindfulness is that it’s scaleable depending on how much time you have, where you are and how you’re feeling. Here are some options for what you can do:
- 10-minute mindful walk: go for a walk at lunchtime to a green space near your work
- 3-minute mindful listening: put on a song and commit to exploring every part of the song from beginning to end
- 1-minute mindful watching: look out the window, focus on a building or tree and study every part of it that you can see
Handy tip: just remembering to be present is an important part of learning to be more mindful. You can enjoy many micro-moments of mindfulness by simply keeping a stone or pebble on your desk or in your pocket. Every time you notice it, you’ll be reminded to take a breather, be present and pay attention to what is going on around you.
Use 7-11 breathing to calm your mind down
Focusing on your breathing is a popular relaxation technique, but there’s a particular pattern of breathing that’s very effective as a ‘time-out’ technique if you’re feeling stressed or anxious.
It’s called 7-11 breathing: you breathe in to a count of seven and breathe out to a count of 11. The increased count for breathing out is why this technique works to reduce stress and anxiety. Why?
Breathing out stimulates the ‘rest-and-digest’ parasympathetic nervous system, decreasing heart rate and lowering blood pressure. Breathing in stimulates the ‘fight-or-flight’ sympathetic nervous system, which has the opposite effect. By breathing out for longer than you breathe in, over a period of time, you tip the body into a ‘rest-and-digest’ state.
This has several benefits. It reduces anxiety and induces initial feelings of contentedness and sleepiness. It also reduces rumination and increases focus, because you’re concentrating on meeting the requirements of the technique. Also, when you’re in ‘rest-and-digest,’ mode, it’s much easier to think rationally and logically, improving your decision-making.
Handy tip: if you find it difficult to sustain seven breaths in and 11 out, try breathing in for five and out for nine. You can vary the counts to work for your physiology: what’s important is the count for breathing out is longer than the count for breathing in.
Like these hacks for better mental wellbeing? Take a look at our article on better energy management at work for an informed look on nurturing energy levels to fulfil both personal and organisational goals.