Why are we so stressed?
When someone asks how you are, how many times have you answered “busy”? Western culture is one where the “hustle”, “kicking goals” and “busy-ness” are put on a pedestal, which means that when we’re not busy we feel lazy, or when we do have some free time, we fill it up with social occasions or crossing things off the to-do list.
We are also subject to a constant flow of stimulation and information through our various electronic devices (usually within three feet of us at all times) – news, social media, messages, notifications, reminders, podcasts, radio, Netflix – so we don’t get a whole lot of time to be still and give our brains a break, which is vital for decompressing and resetting.
There’s also the blurring of lines between work and home when we work from home and even if we don’t (responding to emails, working late, etc). There’s personal health as well as global health crises to worry about (aka the pandemic), not to mention politics, the environment and the rest. I feel overwhelmed just writing this list, so it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed in our lives.
While stress is certainly something to be aware of, it’s important to note that it isn’t always a bad thing. A healthy level of stress will increase motivation and can give us that extra push needed to get things done under pressure or reach peak performance.
It’s just a balancing act and when we allow stressors to build up inside and outside of work, it can lead quickly to fatigue or a decline in mental health.
So here’s what you can do to support yourself and your team’s mental health.
1. Maintain a good routine
The road to good mental health begins with good management of diet, sleep and exercise. Get these building blocks right and you’ll have a good start to managing stress and continuing on the journey to good mental health. We’ve seen some HR teams introduce a different focus each week (nutrition, sleep, exercise etc) and share daily tips with their team.
Sleep is the foundation to which our day is built upon. To be active and functional, our brains need eight hours of sleep every night to consolidate memories and get rid of useless information and to assist with REM sleep in the early morning. We need to experience that rejuvenating sleep that helps us process our day before midnight. If your brain can’t recalibrate overnight you’ll be left feeling all out of sorts and have issues focusing.
Exercise keeps our bodies active and healthy. There is a reason people say “healthy body, healthy mind” and that’s because exercise helps relieve tension and increase energy levels. That’s right, it’s not just the rush of endorphins after a workout that will leave you feeling great, but the lasting impacts which leave you in a better mood.
Diet: What we put into your body is also what you get out of it. Having meals that are nutrient-rich gives the brain fuel it needs to tackle complex issues and maintain focus. Try to swap some snacks for some fruits, nuts or veggies to keep up energy throughout the day.
2. Work/life balance
We are seeing more and more teams working longer and longer hours while working from home or in a hybrid team. It’s easier for the lines between home and work to blur when they’re in the same place. As HR or a manager, some tips to help your team manage their tasks and minimize the risk of burnout include:
- Encouraging people to turn off Slack and email notifications when they finish work for the day.
- Getting people to share their regular work hours so that their team knows when they’re available and when they’ve “finished” for the day.
- Ensure managers are checking in with their teams regularly to see if they’re managing their task load, or if they need additional support (we call this continuous feedback).
- Encourage your team members to lock in a lunchtime in their calendar and ensure they’re getting in their break every day.
If you’re working remotely or hybrid, it’s incredibly important that you manage your workload and day properly to minimize the risk of burnout, and ensure your team members are doing the same.
At the office, a conversation with your neighbor or by going and making yourself a cup of tea help break up your day and the benefits of these interactions and activities can be quite powerful. Getting a cup of tea means stretching your legs, moving around, giving you eyes and brain a break, and chatting to colleagues helps build social connections, which are essential for good mental health as they provide a protective buffer against anxiety and depression.
If you’re working from home, be conscious about taking regular breaks and try to make time for social chat with your team whether it’s before or after a meeting, these social interactions will also help strengthen culture and team collaboration.
FREE DOWNLOAD: Hybrid Team Toolkit
3. Respect working conditions
As we mentioned before, routine is an incredibly important part of maintaining mental health. Assist your team members by respecting their boundaries with work, if they have set hours that they have specified that they can be contacted in, don’t try and speak to them outside of those. If you’ve noticed that your team members are working outside their usual hours and are overextending themselves, it may be time to have a conversation where you set out expectations. Assure them that their work and time are valuable, but they need to balance it with looking after themselves.
4. Regular check-ins
The best way to get a gauge on team mental health is to speak with them. Organize regular catch up meetings with your team members and have a structured agenda that you can refer to (or download our free manager 1:1 check-in template!). Ask about their goals, how they’re progressing with their work, as well as how they’re going on a personal level. Ensure that you action follow-up items on the back of this meeting, accountability is key here.
Team mental health: the warning signs
If you work with hybrid or remote teams, it can be difficult to try and get an accurate read of how they’re mentally coping. Nevertheless, stress, burnout or mental health and wellbeing issues are typically accompanied by changes in behavior, like the ones below.
- A drop in concentration or performance.
- Missing deadlines or making errors.
- Lateness or absenteeism.
- Changes in mood or emotion – increased sadness, intensity or outbursts, or decreased emotion or withdrawal.
- Changes in behavior such as a normally chatty team member being quieter.
- Changes in sleeping habits or always being tired.
- Sudden weight gain or loss, or changes in eating habits.
- Withdrawal from work colleagues, friends or family.
It’s also important to be aware that sometimes there will be no signs or symptoms at all, or employees will be conscious of keeping them hidden, so it’s important to proactively reach out to check in on your team’s mental health.