You go to work, run around all day, complete 10,000 tasks, not stopping for a second. Then you do it all again the next. And the next. You get used to that lump in your stomach. To feeling stressed out. Nothing's wrong.
Work is great! It keeps the cogs turning, the world churning. But we can't forget that work isn't all there is. If you keep forgetting that there's more to life than work, maybe you'll remember this: if your head is unwell, so is the rest of you. If you want to keep working, you've got to look after yourself.
In your body, there is a pedal. That pedal is pushed flat to the floor by adrenaline. It revs you up. When there's danger, it gets you out of trouble by making you alert, quicker, stronger. Then, the danger goes away. The pedal releases. However, for a lot of us. The pedal doesn't release, it's always flat to the floor.
The thing that keeps that peddle pressed, even after the danger is gone, is cortisol. The stress hormone. Cortisol will keep you revved up, indefinitely. This is great if you're being chased by a persistent bear, not so much if you're trying to live and function in our bear-free society. Having 12 deadlines to meet in 2 days isn't dangerous, but your brain releases hormones as though it is. There is one way it can be dangerous, however; long-term cortisol release can cause a whole host of horrible effects. Such as:
- Thin and fragile skin that is slow to heal.
- It can even cause Cushing Disease.
And that's without mentioning the most obvious reason that if you're feeling continuously stressed you need to do something about it: you're unhappy.
Now, stress (and it's henchman, cortisol) aren't the only reasons why you might need to prioritise your mental health. We all suffer different strifes. Anxiety. Depression. Bi-polar. OCD. PTSD. The list is endless, and even where two people suffer the same, it can manifest itself in a million different ways. And the only person who suffers your mental suffering, is you. So stop now, and ask yourself, "Am I okay?"
However, you don't need to be in the middle of a breakdown, to need to look after yourself. Just because someone has it worse doesn't mean you're not suffering. In fact, giving yourself a break now and then will go a long way to stopping you from getting to that point.
Now for me to walk the walk. Before I tell you some of my mental wellness strategies, however, I want to preface them with this:
There is no cure. There's no one thing you can do to make everything perfect. Each strategy, each method you employ helps a little. The trick is do lots of things that help a little. Mental wellness doesn't come from one big thing, it comes from lots of little things. In other words: your mental health isn't a single celled organism. Just like the rest of you, it's made up of lots of parts, and those parts are made up of more parts, and those parts are made up of more parts...
When we started Yarno, Lachy and I knew we wanted to prioritise culture from the start. It was, and is, our belief that if you don't steer the culture in the beginning, like the proverbial banana, it will darken and turn into something much mushier very quickly. Before you know it, you've got to turn your whole company, so to speak, into banana bread.
Despite my affinity for baking, Lachy and I thought it would be best if we avoided this, and cultivated the right culture from the start. Always the radicals, we wanted Yarno's culture to be one where people are happy to be at work. However, we're not complete altruists; we had a theory that when people are happy at work, the work they produce is better.
One of the ways we cultivate our culture is through mindfulness. 2 minutes of it at the start of our weekly Team Work-in-Progress meetings. I know what you're thinking: big whoop. 2 minutes of mindfulness isn't enough to have any effect on anyone's mental health or happiness. You're right. But what did I say before? Mental wellness isn't the result of one big thing. It's the result of lots of little things. So yes, our 2 minute mindfulness isn't going to impact Yarno's collective mental health. But, it in conjunction with the other ways we prioritise our health and happiness is.
One of the other strategies we use to prioritise mental health at Yarno is a practice called "Courageous Feedback." Basically, it's our method for giving and receiving feedback that is actually constructive, and doesn't give you that horrible anxious feeling in your tummy.
Courageous Feedback is rested on this principle: positive feedback and negative feedback are equally useless if they're not specific. Saying "I loved your presentation!" might make someone feel good, but it doesn't help them in any way. What exactly did you love about it? What should they do to replicate that in the future? Similarly, saying "Your presentation was terrible" is equally useless. It achieves nothing except making the other person feel bad.
That's why at Yarno, we make a concerted effort to only give specific-positive, and specific-negative feedback. For example, I might say to Lachy, "I really enjoyed how you spoke slowly and clearly during your presentation, it made your presentation engaging and easy to understand for the client." Or conversely, Lachy might say to me, "Mark, when you spoke quickly in your presentation, it made it hard for the client to follow exactly what you were speaking about." There's actually a lot more involved in Courageous Feedback than this, which you can read about here. But, for now, I just want to highlight two important points:
- Specific feedback is constructive feedback. The other person walks away with something concrete, something they can work on.
- This contributes to mental wellness because the feedback isn't personal. Even when receiving negative feedback, you won't feel so horrible because it's not about you. It's not that they don't like you, you just need to speak a bit slower next time.
Above, I've given you just a couple of the ways we try to prioritise mental health at Yarno. We do them, not just for the perceived benefits they create, but for the intention they purvey: by taking the time, even in small ways, to demonstrate that I, and Yarno as a whole, care about the mental wellness of those around me, it shows that mental health is something that should be cared for. This, I think, is how mental wellness strategies amount to more than the sum of their parts. The perceived benefit of our two minutes of mindfulness is that we all take a moment to breath before beginning the week, but the actual benefit is the understanding that mental health needs to be prioritised and cared for by each and every one of us.
And by each and every one of us I mean you to yourself, and me to myself. That's why, as much as I care for the mental health of those working at Yarno, I also have to care for myself.
So what do I do? Yoga. Every Friday. As cliche as it is, it's "Me time." Away from the office and everyone else, I can check in with me. The trick with Yoga is that it hurts so much you can't think about anything else. All you can think about is how hard it is to breathe out for 5 seconds when you really need to huff and puff and blow the house down.
I also play hockey twice a week - grade on the weekend and masters (old man hockey) during the week. It’s a commitment for sure. It takes time away from my family but it also helps me to be the best and most present version of myself. The pitch is a place I can blow out all my cobwebs and let off a bit of steam. When I focus on that little white ball rolling on top of wet Astro turf I’m not focusing on next week’s meetings or that presentation I need to finish.
So, in all of this, remember others. Make it a priority. But don't forget about yourself. You are the sole resident of your head. If something's broken, you're the only one around to fix it. You can't fix something, however, if you don't recognise that it's broken in the first place. Take a break from running around all day. Think about how you're going to help yourself. There's no one big thing we can do to help a lot, but there's lots we can do to help a little. And the only way to start, is to start.
Mark heads up the Sales team at Yarno. He loves to chat, which is fortunate because he’s very good at it. He's our digital Swiss Army Knife, always armed with a solution to any problem.
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