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wellbeing at work

The question of how to take care of your health and wellbeing in the workplace is a matter of understanding your own needs.  We all respond differently to situations and so having an understanding of your own stress triggers and how to manage them is a good first step.

In the article that follows, The Resilience Programme team discuss the ways in which they take care of their own wellbeing at work, and share some experiences of dealing with stressful working environments!

• What does being well at work mean to you?

Tianne Croshaw (TC):  There are 3 areas for me… the most obvious is my physical wellness.  I have learned to check in with where I am at any particular moment.   In the past I would have kept pushing to gets things done, whereas now I take a moment to understand how I am feeling and I have no hesitation in seeing a Health Care Professional  if I feel that there is something that needs addressing.  And I like to have a monthly massage to keep myself relaxed!  
Next, there is mental wellness.  For me this is about being able to switch off from work and to feel good about that.  I’m able to ‘park’ any issues from the day so that there is nothing niggling at me whilst I am enjoying my free time.  I also make time to review how efficient I am being – I’ve noticed if I am making small mistakes it is better to take a step back rather than let things build and start making larger ones.  
Finally, I keep a check on my emotional wellness.  This means feeling gratitude for what is going well, and having the ability to live in the now – which I describe as a childlike quality - not living so far in the past or future that I don’t enjoy the present.  I know when I am emotionally well as I feel a sense of calm and balance, and am able to respond to challenges from a strong position. 

Maurice Tomkinson (MT):  It’s about enjoying what you do primarily.  I like to make sure I’m not overloaded, so that I have the time to do good quality work.  Working in this way means that I can be creative and get into the ‘zone’.  It is also nice to feel free from aches and pains, and to be physically well.  
I have learned that I don’t function well when I am below par and so getting enough sleep is a big part of feeling well.  I also like to feel as though I am moving forward with my work, in terms of achieving goals.

Ann Lowe (AL):   For me it is about having a clear understanding of what is expected of me, and then having the freedom to get on with the work.  I also the like having the time and space to be creative.  I’ve learned to try where possible to slow down and to do a job thoroughly. It is tempting when I have a lot to do to underestimate how long it will take to complete a task – and so now when I plan my work I make sure I give myself plenty of time to focus on a smaller number of activities – meaning that anything I get done in addition to those is a bonus!  Being well at work for me is also about being well when I am not at work – so, being able to switch off and forget about it for periods of time is really important. 

• What steps do you take to ensure that you take care of your wellbeing on a daily basis?

MT:  I check in with my goals to keep track of whether they are being achieved.  This isn’t to say that I don’t recognise that there might be periods of difficulty, where progress is delayed – it is more about making sure things are heading in the right direction.  I also find it is helpful to take time out before starting a piece of work to properly prepare – in terms of getting the right tools, resources and systems in place.  Stepping back can also help me to identify if there is a better way of doing things.  
I also find that saying ‘No’, or ‘Yes, but not yet’ can be helpful if there is a lot to do.  I delegate work where appropriate, and make sure that I have quality time to focus on work which is not mixed up with tasks that are not related to the job in hand. 
Nutritionally, I have been through a long process of experimenting with what foods are right for me – and have found solutions which work for me which might not always fit with official advice!  Finally, I don’t feel guilty about stopping to take a rest when needed. 

TC:  I make sure that I am nutritionally replenished and hydrated (Tianne says as she sips water!) and I make sure that I get enough sleep.  Although I take my job seriously and professionally – I feel that I can also laugh at myself too.  I ensure that I’m aware of my frame of mind – if there is anything bothering me I deal with what I can deal with, and ‘park’ what I can’t focus on in that moment until I have the appropriate time to do so. I have learned to let go of the things I have no power to change.  If necessary, I can change my frame of mind by using the Physiology / Language / Thoughts triad we discussed on The Resilience Programme.

AL: Number one for me is getting enough sleep.  I need a lot of it and have learned that having good quality sleep is the perfect ingredient for a productive day.  I’m involved in quite a number of businesses and projects, and so of vital importance for me is to plan my days and weeks so that I can prioritise what needs doing.  At the end of each week I plan the next, and at the end of each day I review what needs doing the day after.  I’ve learned that this investment of time in planning really pays off, as I can relax and focus on what I need to do that day knowing that all of my other tasks are scheduled in.  Outside of work, cooking is one of my favourite activities – I love to make my meals from scratch with good quality, nourishing ingredients.  Understanding the ‘fuel’ I am putting into my body is very important to me.  Cooking also gives me time on my own to think and switch off after a busy day.

• Have you ever worked in a stressful environment, and if so, how did you manage it?

TC:  Yes!  I used to work as an Assistant Manager at a Hotel.  One evening, the restaurant was fully booked and the Chef called in sick.  As well as meeting and greeting customers, taking wine orders, managing the hotel and serving tables, I also needed to prepare all of the food!  At the time I was 19 – and a part of me responded to this situation in a resilient way, whereas a part of me definitely did not.  Inside I felt stressed; however I was conscious that my outside ‘mask’ needed to remain professional.  And I must admit that it was not the best service of my career – I got through but not without complaints!  I understand with hindsight that the workload was not possible to achieve, and as a Mind Coach I know that others can relate to this sort of experience.  At the age I was, I perhaps felt that I had something to prove and did not want to say ‘No’… However if I were in that situation again I would most certainly find a way of asking for some support.

MT:  In my first job after university, I worked in an environment where there wasn’t enough to do.  Even when there was work it was uninspiring.  The environment was similarly uninspiring – in that there were no windows meaning no natural light or views of the outdoors.  Everything about it was physically draining.  To deal with this, I essentially invented my own job by taking a look at what skills I had to offer and trying to help those around me.  They had a computer there which none of the other members of staff could use, and so I learned what needed to be done and began to run programmes for my colleagues.  Management seemed happy with the initiative I was showing, and the other employees were pleased with the additional support.  Ultimately, I left the job, however the time I spent on the programming formed the basis of my career for a good few years to come!

AL:  I worked in a very busy communications department for 2 years at AXA ICAS.  There were 2 of us managing both internal and external communications for the whole business!  It wasn’t unusual for me to have a queue of people waiting to see me whilst I was on the phone to someone else, with any number of emails and answerphone messages piling up.  During this time I was also experiencing some problems at home – and so for a short while it didn’t feel like there was anywhere where I could truly relax.  I quickly realised that I needed to establish some periods of calm, where I could just ‘be’, and so decided to build in some yoga and meditation into each day.  I can honestly say that this made a huge difference.  Having a routine that allowed some quiet time meant that I felt better, and could deal with the demands of the day in a more balanced way.  From this balance, I felt better able to say ‘No’ occasionally, ask for help and also stand back and find humour in the chaos whilst it was happening!

• How do you unwind after a busy day?

MT:  I don’t have a set routine.  After I have finished seeing clients at The Hope Street Centre, I make sure that I finish off and tidy up so that I am not leaving any tasks undone for the next morning.  I don’t take work home, and often the 15 minute drive after leaving the Centre can be relaxing.  I am not a naturally uptight person and so I don’t have much unwinding to do, but I like to ensure that I get enough sleep, and leave the evenings free to do whatever I want to do.  I will also make sure my phone is switched off, and that I don’t answer emails unless they are urgent.

TC:  As well as running my two businesses, I have 3 children (all of whom are very active!).  In addition, I have my friends who I want to make time for, and aging parents who need my support.  As a result, I really do value time for me and am grateful for it.  When I finish work I will consciously tell myself that ‘I’m off now’.  This is my way of acknowledging that it is my time for me and my family.  This process also involves switching my phone off and not looking at emails.  I make sure I take 5 minutes at the end of my working day just to be on my own and breathe – it is essential for me to take myself out of the day to day thoughts, emails, TV – anything that creates that busy feeling before trying to move into an out of work frame of mind.  If I need more of this breathing space, I ask for it – and I am lucky that my children are very respectful of this.  
I make sure I am present in the moment with my family – having just had my daughter leave for university I have been reminded about how time flies and how important it is to enjoy the time together when it happens.  As a family, we go for bike rides, walks around the lake near our home… I even try to use the time when I am driving my children around in a positive way – by taking the opportunity to chat to them and find out about their lives.  
Time completely alone for me is really precious and I love it. During these times I might enjoy a hot bath, prepare myself some nice food, or watch a film under a warm blanket!  I love getting back to nature and have recently enjoyed short beaks to the Lakes and North Wales.  I use music to help me to relax or energise me, and of course I love to communicate, engage and laugh with my friends.

AL:  Like Maurice, I don’t have a set routine or answer to this, it really does depend.  As I mentioned before I love to cook, chatting through the events of the day with my friends and family can really help to get things into perspective too.  I’m lucky enough to have a beautiful view of the countryside and so standing and looking at that can help me to unwind.  Sometimes I even have the motivation to step outside for a walk!  I enjoy reading too, so rather than watch TV in the evenings I will sit in a quiet place.  I’m still learning to completely switch off from work in the evenings – sometimes there are tasks that need doing and work emails do come through on my phone.  I’ll get better at that – watch this space!

• How do you deal with relationship difficulties in the workplace?

TC:  If you have a relationship challenge – then one of you has to change your behaviour! It is unlikely that the behaviour change will come from the other person (unless of course they have been on The Resilience Programme!).  I would say that in any situation involving another person, the first step is to seek to understand, and then be understood.  This means trying to understand the other person’s perspective before seeking to get yours across – once you have understood someone else’s point of view they are likely to be less defensive.  It is also important to understand that the vast majority of people are not inherently bad – so take a metaphorical walk in their shoes and try to understand the situation standing in their footwear!  It is also important to consider what outcome you want – and focus on what you can do to achieve this.  

MT:  If a relationship difficulty comes up at work, I take the time to have a look at the situation and consider my position.  I try to understand if my response is consistent with my usual responses, as well as questioning whether it is reasonable.  If I am in doubt I get another opinion.   I would then ask myself if the situation needs to be tackled – will it get worse if I do nothing?   If I do need to take action, I work out the best way to do this – depending on the individual circumstances.  Sometimes a situation can be self-correcting, in which case I will let lessons be learned, however if the business or others are affected then I will intervene.

AL: If there is something causing me an issue at work, I always take a moment to look at myself and my behaviour.  I would ask myself, what is my role in creating the issue?  This is my first reference point and I find it really useful in taking personal responsibility for relationship issues.  I also speak to colleagues and feel very grateful that in all of my working environments my colleagues are supportive and open to honest discussions.  Of course, watching how Maurice and Tianne deal with issues has been very useful to me.

• What is your top tip for staying healthy at work?

MT:  Enjoy what you do!

TC:  Have the right attitude!  I would say that the most powerful tip would be to try and get things into perspective.  If there’s an issue – Stop, Step back and Review, and then create an Action Plan.  Here I can make use of the Wood for the Tree's analogy – being in the workplace is like being in the Woods – sometimes we need to stop and climb out and see the ariel view to see a situation, and then visualise how we might like it to be.  We can then plan for this, bringing our reality closer to the vision of how we want things to be.

AL: Slow down.  It is so easy to feel as though we have to say ‘Yes’ to everything, or work at everyone else’s pace, but I have found that slowing down not only reduces stress, it improves the quality of the work you do.  And most importantly, it means you have the opportunity to enjoy it along the way.

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