2020 was the year in which we realised just how fragile our life on this planet can be. It seems like just before the pandemic hit, everyone was obsessed with side-hustles, monetising hobbies, productivity hacks and packing as much into your day as possible to seek personal fulfilment.
Something has changed in the global collective. And if it hasn’t – something needs to change soon. Our health is paramount, and above all else, with our mental health being something that we need to observe and protect constantly.
Observing Mental Health Week at FDM
FDM is a company with a focus on people, and we are in the unique position of being able to observe specific effects of the pandemic on mental health on a range of demographics and backgrounds. If you have just finished university, if you have been unemployed for a period of time, or if you’re ex-military personnel, we can support you in your career progression, but at the same time regard the wellbeing of our talent with equal importance.
To raise awareness in light of mental health week, we thought of sharing our findings on mental health, as well as tips on how to cope if you are feeling distressed.
What the pandemic has taught us about mental health
A precise observation of mental health can be derived from what we have found about health in general: some people are more susceptible to face mental health issues when compared to others, the same way some people are more at risk to catch Covid-19.
Depending on your socio-economic circumstances, existing physical and psychological health, age and race, you could be more likely to develop or exacerbate psychological issues, making it even more critical for companies to have regular check-ins with their employees to make sure they are alright. This is especially important in the event of a health crisis that almost certainly takes a toll on one’s mental wellbeing.
Parenting and mental health
Many parents have felt the strain of trying to keep a sense of normalcy at home. Trying to stay positive without knowing what the future holds can be very emotionally taxing. Combine that with maintaining a schedule for yourself and others, balancing work and home life and missing the social contact that acts as a reprise from the stresses of regular life can take its toll.
Our Returners Programme has many parents that are going back to work after a career break. Communicating with them showed us that parents are the glue that holds the family together, which means that it’s essential for parents not to ignore their own mental health.
Our advice for parents when looking after their mental wellbeing is:
Make time for yourself
With so much going on, it’s now more important than ever to look after yourself. Whether that’s scheduling time for yourself to practice some self-care, working on your hobbies, or even not doing anything at all and relaxing, you really should. You deserve a break sometimes.
Don’t compare yourself to others
We think we know other people’s lives, but we never really do. Social media can make us feel worse about ourselves because people are only putting up what they want us to see. There is no escaping social media for the time being and depending on your situation it might be one of the only ways to feel connected to others. But if you are using it and then feeling bad because you think you aren’t doing enough, remind yourself that you are doing your best. For now (and most of the time), it’s more than enough.
Talk to your family about what you have
This is a time for reflection. We have so much, and we took so much for granted, but we have learnt that life is unpredictable. Talk to your kids about being grateful for what they have. Make this conversation into a regular activity you do together. It is good to remind ourselves that we have so much when the natural tendency can be to focus on what we’re missing.
Students and mental wellbeing
FDM is one of the leading employers of university graduates. After they are trained we refer to them as our Graduate Consultants and they form a majority of our talent.
During our check-in calls, we noticed that there were emerging trends in how our consultants from FDM's Graduate Programme were feeling. They were, of course, concerned about everything to do with the virus and how it was affecting them and their loved ones. They also felt uncertain about the future and what that would mean for their job prospects, and the impact this pandemic would have on the economy. Many also had trouble adjusting to the new normal – spending all their time indoors, not meeting their friends or going to social events, having to change the way they worked and studied. It’s a lot to take, and many were feeling the pressure.
One thing we didn’t want them to feel was unsupported by their workplace. We made regular check-in calls to ask about whether they were in a safe environment and if there was anything they needed from us to improve how they were feeling. Our Consultant Experience representatives are the dedicated point of contact with our consultants regarding mental wellbeing. We also provide employees access to trained mental health first aiders for any issues they may have regarding their psychological wellbeing.
Our advice to university students regarding mental wellbeing would be to:
Be cautious with news and information
Right now, the tendency might be to keep a close eye on the news. However, this might be overwhelming. If the news is not making you feel hopeful about the future but making you feel worse, you should take a break from all that and focus on activities that make you feel happy.
We also recommend doing a digital detox. There is so much negative energy on social media right now that a weekend, week, or even just a day away from it can do wonders for your mental health.
Take care of your body
There is a lot of research out there about the benefits of exercise and a good diet. Overall, having a routine can help with mental health issues. Move your body, whether it’s a form of exercise you do already, or maybe trying something new. You could do a stretch on the couch or put on a playlist and dance around your room. Just pick your pace and do a little bit every day.
Be compassionate to yourself and others
Everyone is going through so much right now. People may appear distant, or short-tempered but it’s also understandable why they seem to be so. We all deal with stress in different ways, and it’s important to remember that. The same goes for you. Many people think that they are not doing enough with their time or that they could have used life in lockdown as an opportunity to upskill, learn something new, start a new business. If you are surviving, you are doing enough. Be kind to yourself and be patient with others.
What we can learn about stress management from veterans
Veterans and military personnel offer a wealth of experience and knowledge, especially in dealing with stressful situations. We have all been in positions of boredom, restricted movement, separation from loved ones and danger from an enemy we can’t see. Military personnel must deal with these situations regularly. We asked our veterans from the FDM Ex-forces Programme for coping techniques and their advice is:
Learn effective relaxation techniques
Relaxation techniques can help you refocus, recharge and rest. If you feel overwhelmed with stress or anxiety, it is crucial to speak to a medical professional if you think it’s serious. Otherwise, you could also:
- Take slow, deep breaths
- Write a letter or make an entry into a journal
- Talk to a friend
- Imagine a favourite place
- Play cards or sports
- Read a book
According to our veterans, it is vital to maintain a proper sleep cycle. Make sure you get enough rest, and as mentioned before, eat healthy, drink lots of water and exercise regularly.
What FDM is doing in support of positive mental health
We have a whole week of activities planned for mental health awareness this month. We have tied them with the global theme of mental health awareness this year: nature. Some of the activities from our offices are:
- Encouraging outdoor meetings. We want our consultants and employees to take at least one meeting outside to be with nature and relaxed surroundings
- We are having a competition open to all FDMers to take a photo of something in the great outdoors to win exciting prizes
- Virtual movie screenings about nature conservation
- Sessions with a stress management expert
- Event with a guest speaker to talk about de-stigmatising mental health issues
- Virtual yoga
We are also going to have an online mood board where people can upload positive affirmations, meaningful quotes and anything they want to start a conversation on positive mental wellbeing.
Kintsugi and the art of broken pieces
We have all been through a traumatic time together. It took us completely by surprise and we are still trying to figure out where we stand and what to do next. Many of us have had to cope with illness, isolation and death. A mental health issue is a wound that can’t be seen but the pain is just as significant as being physically hurt and our collective trauma needs to be recognised, rather than have it fester in darkness.
There is a Japanese method of repairing broken pots known as Kintsugi. The broken pot is pieced together and gold, silver or platinum used to fill in the cracks, the philosophy being that the cracks are part of an object’s history and by filling them with gold the scars are celebrated and make the broken pot even more beautiful.
If you are having issues with your mental health, don’t suffer in silence. Talk to someone and remember you are not alone. If you know someone that is going through a rough time, reach out to them. Your empathy and understanding can be the gold that mends and heals their broken pieces.