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Signs of anxiety to look out for in children

Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness or fear that, in many situations, is normal to experience – however when you feel this way most of the time it can be debilitating and massively impact how you function on a day-to-day basis.

As adults, it can be incredibly difficult to identify and manage anxiety. So, just imagine what it feels like for a child who is struggling with anxiety themselves.

What factors put children more at risk of anxiety?

While anxiety can arise for seemingly no reason, there are some situations that more often lead to children developing anxiety:

  • Bullying
  • Abuse
  • Bereavement
  • Substance abuse
  • Divorce or difficult home situation (e.g., frequent arguments between parents)
  • Moving house or school
  • Pre-existing conditions such as ADHD or autism

Signs of anxiety in children

With children spending seven hours a day at school, here are some signs of anxiety that teachers should look out for:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor performance
  • Feeling tired
  • Change in eating habits
  • Easily angered or irritated
  • Frequent toilet visits
  • Constant worrying and negative thoughts
  • Complaining of physical pain like stomach aches and headaches
  • Emotional outbursts (e.g., crying or tantrums)
  • Being clingy
  • Disruptive behaviour

What to do if a child in your class has anxiety

  • Have someone in the school start a conversation with them – preferably a teacher or teaching assistant with mental health first aid or ELSA training
  • Talk openly about anxiety in the classroom to reduce the stigma around mental health – you can use our Sock It To Stigma classroom materials to help you
  • Talk to the child’s parents and refer them to professional support if appropriate

According to the latest research, one in six UK school children have a probable mental health disorder. Aside from parents, teachers are the adults that children spend most of their time with during the day. It is crucial that anyone who works with children can recognise the signs that a child may be struggling with their mental health and, more importantly, that they know how to take appropriate action. But with no compulsory mental health training, this task can feel overwhelming and difficult.

Our Headucation 2025 campaign aims to train 150,000 teachers in the basics of mental health support by 2025. Your school could be eligible for fully-funded mental health training. Get in touch with our team to find out more.

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Why think about mental health first aid in the workplace?

We know we talk about mental health first aid in the workplace a lot, but it is increasingly important for businesses to make sure they are doing everything they can to look after their employee’s mental health. Here’s why.

Improve productivity

Staff suffering with mental health conditions may find it hard to focus and carry out day-to-day activities. There has also been a rise in presenteeism, particularly in 18-29 year olds, where employees will not take time off to deal with mental illness and will instead continue to work either at a poorer level or until they burnout completely.

Mental health conditions that are not dealt with early on can lead to more severe situations where employees end up taking extended time off.

In 2019/2020 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health, according to the HSE’s Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain report 2020.

A mental health first aider is equipped to spot when someone is showing signs of depression, stress or anxiety and can step in before it becomes a problem that has a huge impact on their day-to-day productivity.

Improve staff morale

Someone suffering with a mental health condition like anxiety or paranoia may cause them to doubt themselves, take criticism personally, and need constant approval for even minor tasks – none of which is good for the overall staff morale. By having Mental Health First Aiders in your business, you can spot when people are struggling with anxiety and put practices or processes in place to improve their self-esteem and support their mental health.

Save money

It is estimated that poor mental health at work costs the UK economy up to £70bn each year. This is because untreated mental health conditions lead to poor productivity, presenteeism, absenteeism and high staff turnover.

However, research conducted by Deloitte found that businesses who invest in supporting employee mental health get an average of £5 back for for every £1 spent on things like Mental Health First Aid training, Employee Assistance Programmes and other mental health training.

Attract and retain top talent

While only 42% of employers believe that workplace mental health strategies are important to job hunters, research has shown that 88% of professionals consider it when searching for new roles.

Research has also shown that mental health support at work is vital when it comes to keeping staff. Businesses who actively look after their employee’s mental health could retain 78% of 18-24-year-olds who leave, 42% of their overall workforce and 25% of their critical staff. (Source)

Investing in employee mental health will help your business grow and make sure that employees enjoy working for you. Get started with our Mental Health First Aid training.

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For more support with mental health strategies in your workplace, get in touch with our team.

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Help with Health Anxiety

Health anxiety (or hypochondria) is when you become obsessed with the idea that you are – or will be – physically ill. Worrying about your health can lead you to miss out on experiences in your life and even develop physical symptoms.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, it is understandable to be more aware and wary of physical illnesses – however if you are experiencing so much anxiety about your health that you are struggling to focus on anything else, you may want to consider seeking help.

Health anxiety symptoms

You may be struggling with health anxiety if you:

  • Visit/call your GP regularly
  • Worry that medical tests and doctor’s examinations may miss something wrong with you
  • Frequently check yourself for signs of serious illness and self-diagnose
  • Constantly worry about your physical health
  • Obsessively research health information online
  • Avoid reading, watching or listening to things that talk about physical illnesses (e.g. medical dramas, case studies, etc)
  • Live your life as if you were ill even when you’re not – taking sick days, avoiding physical activity, not travelling far from home

Physical symptoms of health anxiety

Health anxiety can also manifest in several physical symptoms brought on by continuous stress and worrying, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Panic attacks
  • Dry mouth
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Aching body and muscles

Help with health anxiety

There are a few different ways you can manage your health anxiety

  • Write down and challenge your thoughts – rather than letting worries build in your mind, jot them down along with some reasons why they might not be true e.g. “I’m getting lots of headaches which means there’s something wrong with me” leads to “headaches are often a sign of stress” which in turn leads you to question what’s causing stress and address it.
  • Keep busy – when you feel the urge to check yourself or research illnesses, go for a walk or do an activity that keeps your mind distracted.
  • Face your fears – if there’s a part of your life you’ve been avoiding (such as exercise or travel), start to introduce these back into your routine to gradually become more comfortable doing them and teach your brain that these activities aren’t dangerous.
  • Talk to someone about your health anxiety – talk to a friend, your workplace mental health first aider or use services like our Breathe Café Online to get support from trained volunteers.
  • Talk to a professional – if these self-help ideas don’t work to relieve your health anxiety over time, contact a GP or mental health professional for more support.

 

Anxiety of any kind is debilitating. It can destroy productivity and takes the joy out of life.

At Shawmind, we’re here to help you enjoy your life and perform at your best through support groups, mental health training and professional advice.

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Signs of anxiety to look out for in the workplace

 

Anxiety is a normal response to worrying situations and everyone is likely to feel moments of anxiety in their lives. However, when feelings of anxiety persist it can be hard for someone to control their worries and live their lives as normal.

Knowing what signs of anxiety to look out for in the workplace can help you to a) support someone in their time of need and b) prevent the anxiety from deteriorating into other mental health conditions.

Mental health conditions overall can be hard to spot since they affect people’s thoughts and emotions – however there are a number of physical and behavioural signs that might signal someone you work with is struggling with anxiety.

Signs of anxiety in the workplace:

  • Taking unusual amounts of time off work
  • Increased pessimism and lack of enthusiasm
  • Seeking constant approval and reassurance from managers and/or peers
  • Struggling to meet deadlines
  • Overreacting to comments or situations
  • Tiredness and lack of energy
  • Change in eating habits
  • Forgetfulness

What can you do if you think someone is struggling with anxiety

Mental Health First Aid

If your workplace has a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA), this is a great person to mention your concerns to. Mental Health First Aiders have been trained to spot the signs of common mental health conditions in those around them but if they don’t work closely with the person affected they might miss them.

The MHFA can then start a conversation with the person to understand why they’re struggling and what next steps need to be taken.

Mental Health First Aiders are not currently a legal requirement for businesses but they have significant benefits.

Want to become a Mental Health First Aider?

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Start a conversation

If your workplace does not yet have a Mental Health First Aider, you can start a conversation with the person who is struggling yourself. Often, the stigma attached to mental health prevents those suffering from reaching out for help – so by initiating the conversation yourself you may encourage them to open up. If you have a story of your own that you’re comfortable sharing this can be a great way to further reduce the stigma and encourage them to talk.

However, not everyone will want to talk to you so be careful to push or put pressure on them to open up. Simply let them know you’re there if they want to talk.

Ensure they take breaks

Anxiety can make people dwell on the negative parts of their life or job which only triggers more anxiety. So a good way to combat this is to help people take breaks to remove themselves from the anxiety triggers and focus on the things they enjoy.

It can be hard to enforce breaks at work, especially if it’s busy so you might want to try encouraging people to spend more time on the things they enjoy rather than trying to get them to spend less time dwelling on the bad. E.g. if the person enjoys reading, you could set up a book club amongst your colleagues to encourage more time reading outside of work rather than simply telling the person to stop thinking about the negative parts of their day.

Go for walks together

The effect that a walk outdoors can have on a person is amazing. The physical activity of walking (or doing any exercise) releases chemicals in the body that reduce stress, anxiety and depression while being outdoors has a whole raft of similar benefits triggered by increased daylight and exposure to plants.

Going on these walks together also ensures that the person will take a break from their day to do it as you’re holding them accountable. You may even find that they open up to you about their mental health during these walks being out of the office environment and away from their triggers.

Encourage them to seek support

If someone you work with is struggling with anxiety, encourage them to seek support from a mental health professional or organisation like Shawmind. Getting the right advice as early as possible can prevent mental health issues from deteriorating into a life-threatening situation.

There are several mental health organisations that offer a variety of services depending on a person’s needs. At Shawmind we have a Whatsapp number that anyone can use to get support alongside a selection of support groups including our Breathe Café and ManCave.

Important: you are not responsible for making sure a person seeks mental health support. All you can do signpost appropriate services and then leave it up to the individual to take it further.

Everyone is likely to struggle with their mental health at some point in their lives. Let’s make sure your business is able to help your employees when they’re struggling. Want more advice about looking after mental health in your workplace? Book onto one of our mental health training sessions or get in touch.

 

 

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What does mental health first aid training cover?

This April is Stress Awareness Month. With 55% of sick days in 2019/20 being directly attributable to workplace-related stress, anxiety and depression*, we wanted to look at one of the best ways to provide workplace support: by having mental health first aiders in your organisation.

To become a mental health first aider (MHFA) you need to attend an accredited course, there are several to choose from.

But what do you cover in mental health first aid training?

Knowledge of Mental Health Challenges

The first step to being able to help those in your organisation with their mental health is to have a thorough knowledge of the various mental health challenges that people face. Understanding exactly what mental health issues employees are struggling with (e.g. stress, anxiety or depression) can help you to build trust and provide appropriate support.

What factors affect mental health

Understanding what factors affect a person’s mental health and wellbeing can not only help you anticipate when someone is likely to be struggling based on their environment, but it can also help you to take preventative measures to protect their mental wellbeing in the first place. If you knew that the workforce was about to become stressed because of certain factors like deadlines or personal commitments – wouldn’t you want to do everything in your power to help them?

Identifying signs of mental health struggles

Not everyone will feel confident enough to come to you when they are struggling with their mental health so you must know what signs to look out for. By being on the lookout for these signs you can reach out to people who haven’t yet talked to you and implement tactics in the workplace to protect their mental health from deteriorating further.

How to support someone struggling with mental health

Once you’ve identified that someone in the workplace is struggling with their mental health, a large part of your role as a mental health first aider is to provide initial support and guidance. In mental health first aid training, you’ll learn how to best support individuals based on the mental health challenges they are struggling with. You will also learn about the mental health first aid action plan that you can follow for each individual who needs help with their mental health, and how to work with your colleagues to develop a workplace wellbeing plan.

Enhanced interpersonal skills

Being a mental health first aider in the workplace requires you to have strong interpersonal skills such as non-judgemental listening. This course will help you develop those skills so that your employees and/or colleagues feel comfortable talking to you about their mental health and so that you feel confident providing support.

Resources & support for individuals

As a mental health first aider, you are the first point for support and guidance. For complex or long term mental health conditions you will likely need to signpost individuals to professional resources and support services such as helplines, GPs or private therapies. During your mental health first aid training, you will be educated about the various resources that are out there and when they would be the most appropriate next step for those in your workplace. These may also be guided by your company’s wellbeing policies.

How to look after your own mental health in your MHFA role

The adage “you cannot look after anyone else if you’re not looking after yourself” rings true for mental health first aiders too. ‘Everyone has mental health’ is one of the first things you learn on the MHFA course. Just like physical health. As a mental health first aider you will be taking on the challenges that everyone else in your organisation is facing which can be emotionally draining and stressful on top of your regular work responsibilities. Our mental health first aid training will teach you how to manage your own mental health and wellbeing while carrying out your MHFA role.

 

Want to become a mental health first aider? Book onto our next training

 

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How mental health affects education

NHS research suggests that 1 in 6 UK school children struggle with mental health. Mental health challenges make it difficult for children to achieve high grades, form friendships and make positive choices that can impact the rest of their lives.

Traditionally, educators have focused on improving ‘academic excellence’ – which of course is still a primary objective for schools. However, given how much of their lives children spend in an education setting, shouldn’t the focus also be on improving their overall wellbeing?

Mental health & academic performance

Many children actually achieve low grades because their mental health challenges cause:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of optimism
  • Difficulty sleeping

All of which makes it hard to focus on school work and put in their best effort. So if you want to improve grades, you need to make sure each child’s mental health is taken care of.

That’s not to say that only low-performing children are struggling with mental health – many high performing students struggle with stress, anxiety and other challenges brought on by their high workloads. These children are at risk of burning out or turning to risky methods of release such as substance abuse or gang-crime.

Mental health & behaviour

Children who struggle with their mental health can be prone to irritability, emotional outbursts, aggressive behaviours or boredom that leads to disobedience and disruption. Children exhibiting these behavioural issues are often punished with detentions or suspensions to reduce the risk of disrupting other students.

Behavioural problems caused by mental health challenges make it difficult for children to form relationships with their classmates – especially when school leaders separate them from the rest of the children.

Friendships and connections with classmates can improve academic performance, understanding of the subject, teamwork skills and self-esteem. Ideally, schools should work on children’s mental health challenges that are leading to behavioural problems in the first place before removing the children from what can be a highly-beneficial classroom setting.

Mental health & school attendance

For many children, struggles with mental health cause them to skip school or call in with physical illnesses. The stress and anxiety caused by workload, peer groups and social pressures can be overwhelming for anyone – let alone a schoolchild.

Similarly, the stigma that still exists around mental health problems can lead to bullying (or the fear of it) in children that have identified and acknowledged their mental health challenges.

If children don’t feel mentally well enough to attend their lessons in the first place, how are they meant to get an education?

How can schools help with mental health?

Spot signs of mental health struggles

Teachers spend a lot of time with children during the week, during that time they should be on the lookout for signs of mental health problems. Some common signs of mental health challenges in children are:

  • Tiredness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of confidence
  • Reduced socialising
  • Big changes in weight
  • Losing interest in things they used to enjoy
  • Frequent absences
  • Complaints of physical pain like headaches and stomach-aches

Reduce mental health stigma

To encourage children to come forward when they are struggling and to reduce bullying that occurs when they do, schools need to reduce the stigma around mental health. We have many guides and activities that you can use for children of all ages to help them understand mental health and start conversations without fear of judgement.

Trigger Publishing also have a great selection of children’s books to teach them about mental health.

Mental health training for teachers

With teachers expected to be the mental health first responder in the classroom, school leaders should make sure they train teachers in the basics of mental health to be able to more easily spot the warning signs and provide appropriate support.

Shawmind is dedicating itself to training 151,000 teachers by 2025 in the basics of mental health support at no cost to the school. That means we aim to equip mental health first responders who will reach 2.5-million school children. If you’re a teacher or school leader interested in mental health training, get in touch with us.

We need the support of local communities and businesses to help fund this training. It costs just £5 per child to train a teacher in the basics of mental health support – imagine the difference you could make by donating or booking one of our mental health training courses.

 

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Teachers’ journey throughout the pandemic

What was going through your head when the first lockdown was announced? I know my first questions were ‘How long will we be in this lockdown for?’ and ‘When will I be able to see my friends again?’ But then I realized there would be some people out there that had a lot worse things to worry about, ‘Will I lose my job?’, ‘Will I be able to pay my rent this month?’, so really, I didn’t have it bad at all. But after hearing about all the children being taken out of the classroom and thrown into online learning, my thinking changed: 

‘What did our teachers have to go through?’ ‘What was is like to be a teacher during the pandemic?’ ‘How did teachers manage their wellbeing during all of this?’

 

When the first lockdown was announced

I personally heard people say negative things about teachers when the first lockdown was announced, but I think those people may have been too quick to judge. We forget sometimes that teachers are human beings just like you and me. Teachers have fears, stresses, anxiety; and they have other family members to take care of too, just like everyone else. They also don’t work the standard 9-5 that people assume they do. They start early in the morning, finish sometimes late into the evening, and even then, they take their worries and stresses about their pupils home with them. For many, teaching is a calling and not just a job.

I spoke with head teacher Kelly MacKay who, in January, was dealing with flooding in her local area, on top of her duties as head teacher of a primary school. Then, shortly after the flooding chaos, she was hit with the lockdown announcement. As head teacher, the first thing Kelly had to do was prepare the staff and parents for the pandemic. Remote learning had to be put in place, parents had to be notified of the changes that would be taking place, at the same time Kelly still had to conduct her normal head teacher duties. 60% of primary school parents across the UK later reported that they were struggling with the remote learning, so getting this system working as smoothly as possible added to the stress and pressure that Kelly, like so many other head teachers, was placed under. Not only that, but also wellbeing training had to be put in place so that the teachers could still do their job effectively and stay well mentally and emotionally. Kelly’s school managed to provide their students with remote learning within one week of the announcement. Amazing!

Switching to remote learning

After speaking with author, part-time lecturer and former head teacher David Gumbrell, I have realized that one positive thing that came from the pandemic for teachers is that the relationships between themselves and other teachers became so much stronger. There was the realization that the connectedness between staff members was what made remote learning work. They had to be resilient and work together as a team to be able to do their jobs successfully.

I think I can speak for most people when I say we all have some sort of routine we each follow day in day out. Having a routine gives us feelings of safety and security. When teachers had to go from face-to-face learning to remote learning, a whole new routine had to be created for themselves and for their students. David came up with a strategy to break up his lectures while still providing work for his students. This was so important because the students were getting the education they needed as well as having breaks in between to support their wellbeing and carry on interactively with their class. Throughout the pandemic it is so important to create strategies and routines. One strategy David kindly shared with me was simple: self-compassion. He informed other teachers that they had to take care of themselves first to be able to help and teach their students successfully. Self-compassion is composed of three parts: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. These three parts mean that you are understanding and kind to yourself, you realize you aren’t the only one that feels pain and then overcoming your pain and suffering through mindfulness. Self-compassion is all about loving yourself through the pain and suffering you are feeling.

Preparation strategy

Many people have some sort of mental health related issue at some point in their lives, and teachers are no exception. So imagine how the pandemic has affected the number of those teachers who might have already been suffering with anxiety and stress for example, before the pandemic. The government provided funding for teachers to help their student’s mental health but, how are teachers supposed to provide their students with help when they themselves are struggling? We need to help our teachers with their wellbeing so that they can help their students – our next generation! It has been proven that children mirror the behaviours of their role models and those they spend a vast majority of their time with; we need our teachers to be happy and mentally & emotionally healthy so that children can mirror their positivity.

Adam Parkes, who specializes in teacher wellbeing kindly shared with me one of his strategies for helping teachers during the pandemic. He told the teachers that he works with to ‘visualize the worst-case scenario’. This may sound counter-intuitive, but everything else that then happens instead will seem like a bonus! And ‘Prepare to test positive for COVID-19.’ By following this advice, teachers could then plan and prepare to work remotely and would already have everything in place to carry on, should COVID strike.

 

Support our teachers

Steve Waters, a former teacher who is now working with schools to create strategies for teacher wellbeing, says that in a recent poll of head teachers in the UK, a staggering 47% said that they were planning to leave their jobs after the pandemic. We were already in need of teachers and the pandemic has now compounded the problem. It has really caused teachers to view their jobs in a completely different light. According to Steve, the way that schools and their results are being inspected during the pandemic really needs to be re-considered as it is driving our teachers to leave their jobs which will then have a massive negative impact on the education of our next generation.

As Adam Parkes said, ‘Don’t let our teachers feel like they are pawns in a game.’ Don’t forget that teachers are just human beings like you and me, they are going through the exact same stresses caused by the pandemic, that you and I may share, on top of giving your children and everyone else’s children the education they need and deserve.

Resilience, self-compassion, connectedness, kindness, flexibility, active listening and expecting the unexpected. These are all things teachers have had to learn and apply to their everyday life whilst still coping with the already-present stresses of the teaching. We need to support our teachers now more than ever!

Shawmind aims to train 151,000 teachers in the basics of mental health support over the next 5 years – you can help us achieve this goal!

 

 

Article written for Shawmind by Angelica Shaw

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The importance of looking after your wellbeing when you work from home

When the UK went into a national lockdown in March of this year, it’s probably fair to say none of us expected the impact would last as long as it has. Now in our second lockdown, we’ve returned to a familiar routine of staying at home and only leaving for essential reasons. As part of this, many of us have returned to our desks at home – if we even returned to the office in the first place.

Although there are numerous reasons we should be taking additional care of our mental wellbeing during this uncertain time, this article will focus on people working from home and the unique set of challenges that brings.

Of course, working from home has been positive. We’ve had more time to spend with our friends and family where possible, or time to prioritise health and exercise. Many of us have also been able to save the money we’d typically be spending on the daily commute.

Indeed, these are key reasons why 44% of workers plan to ask for permanent flexible working arrangements after coronavirus restrictions are fully lifted. The research, from Direct Line, also confirms that the pandemic is making employers think differently about their response to flexible working requests and their office space needs. That could be great news for any employees wanting to make the switch to home working.

But as you might have experienced during either of the lockdowns, there are some drawbacks too. It can be hard to find a balance between work and your home life, for example. It may be tempting to check your emails outside usual hours, or extend the working day. It’s easy to see how work can creep into the time you’re supposed to be spending relaxing or unwinding from the day. This is when it can affect your wellbeing.

And it is something which happened during the lockdown, with ONS data from April 2020 showing that 30.3% of employees at home worked more hours than usual.

With more people than ever potentially working from home, here are some of the ways you can look after your wellbeing:

Create a clear divide

If possible, have a designated space for working. Ideally this would be a room where you can shut the door – to keep out distractions while you’re working and to shut work away at the end of the day. But not everyone has the space to give up an entire room. Instead, you might have dedicated space in a quieter room of the house – somewhere you can tidy your laptop away at the end of the day.

The important thing is a clear divide between when you start your working day and when you finish it. Of course, some days you might do additional hours and this might have been something you did in the office too. But when it becomes a habit, it can affect your wellbeing. You need to be able to switch off in the evenings and have time to yourself.

Use a schedule 

If you need to be strict with yourself, create a schedule for the day. And be detailed – include times for showering and getting ready, as well as when you have a lunch break (away from your desk). Not only does this allow you to schedule in key tasks and meetings, but it ensures you don’t forget about essential day-to-day things you’d do without thinking if you were commuting to the office.

Bad habits are common for home workers, so you’re not alone if you’ve been staying in your pyjamas all day or skipping lunch. But pay attention to these habits and start to do something about them. A schedule is a great way of making you do things daily, turning those bad habits into good ones.

Take regular breaks 

How often do you take breaks when you work from home? In the office, natural opportunities for a small break from your screen occur quite often. Making hot drinks, someone coming over to your desk, bumping into someone else in the corridor or having a catch up after a meeting. Having your colleagues around might also encourage you to have a proper lunch break.

But at home – especially if you’re working alone – you have to create these opportunities to have a break yourself. It’s important for your productivity and to avoid burnout. You must allow yourself to have a break and you shouldn’t feel guilty for it.

Continue exercising and socialising where possible 

Although it’s tricky to predict what will and won’t be allowed at the moment, it is important to keep up exercise and socialising while you’re working from home. Exercise is as important for the mind as it is the body. Typical working from home positions are desk jobs, meaning you’re sedentary for most of the day. Getting up and moving – whether it’s a walk, run, online workout or yoga – is crucial. Some people even ‘walk’ to work by doing a lap around the block before they sit down at their desk.

As for socialising, people have been very creative in how they keep in touch with friends. If you can’t meet up in person yet, do plan some time to catch up with friends on the phone or online. Depending on who you live with, working from home can be quite isolating. You need to create opportunities to talk and socialise with other people.

How do you look after your wellbeing when working from home? Share your suggestions with us.

 

 

Article written for Shawmind by Mark Gray
Mark Gray is a freelance graphic artist and content writer from Berkshire, UK. He enjoys travelling, attending tech conferences, surfing, and gaming. He is also a newbie in the small business world but has big dreams in store for him.

 

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Relationships and Mindfulness in Quarantine

The current times are often described as unprecedented. Most of us have been presented with new experiences and challenges to overcome. It continues to be a time where our limits are tested. Not only does being in lockdown or quarantine challenge us personally, it can also challenge our relationships.

Mindfulness is something often recommended to help people re-engage with the present moment. While everyone has the potential to practice mindfulness, it is something you need to learn to do and keep doing to improve. It can bring awareness and caring into everything we do – so in these troubling times it can not only help us personally, but also in our relationships with others.

Being in a relationship in quarantine

You could have gone into lockdown with your partner, or ended up spending the time apart. Both situations may have their own challenges. If you’re apart, it’s hard to have the same quality time together. Video calls are a lifeline, but they are no substitute for real human contact. Although you miss your partner, you may find it difficult to fully communicate and connect with them.

But if you’re together, spending more time in the same space than ever before, you may end up arguing over little things. It isn’t surprising that difficulties arise as people figure out how to live and work together, perhaps without having the same hobbies and social interactions they would otherwise have outside the home.

 

How mindfulness could help your relationship  

Relationship problems are always common, and being in quarantine together makes these problems even more likely to occur. The stress and anxiety of dealing with the COVID-19 situation can take its toll on anyone’s mood, and this can easily create a tense atmosphere.

Mood swings already occur alongside mental health problems, and hormone imbalances such as low testosterone can also contribute to this. The stress of COVID-19 is likely to bring these symptoms to the surface, and make them even more intense.

You need a way to communicate and try to understand each other, including why the same disagreements keep happening. It’s not about “who’s right and who’s wrong”. It’s about understanding behaviour patterns, and influencing them for the better.

Whether these problems are new to your relationship or you feel at your wit’s end, mindfulness could help – especially during these challenging times – for the following reasons:

  • It helps us to be more attentive. With a focus on being in the present, mindfulness helps tackle the problem of being distracted – by phones, emails and so on. You learn to redirect attention to the current moment. That can really help partners listen to one another and feel more connected.
  • It can reduce your negative emotional reactivity. According to Psychology Today, studies have shown that practicing mindfulness for eight to ten weeks can change the brain’s regulation areas. It reduces the part which can send the brain into ‘fight or flight’ mode and inevitably cause problems.
  • It enhances self-awareness. When we spend more time in the present, we can learn about ourselves and observe our thoughts. It can help us identify earlier if we’re tempted to act out in unhealthy ways and then restrain this impulsive behavior.

 

Tips for mindfulness

The great thing about mindfulness is anyone can do it. It doesn’t require any special skills, or knowledge. Anyone can become a master!

You can do it while you’re eating, when you’re on a walk, or even just sitting still. To start practicing mindful meditation, sit quietly and focus on your breath. Begin to notice your thoughts, any feelings in your body and the things you can hear around you.

The idea is to focus back to the present if you notice your mind starts to wander elsewhere.

However you decide to start being mindful, the following principles apply:

  • Pay attention to how you feel – both physically and mentally
  • Accept those feelings, without judgement
  • Choose to return to the present when your mind wanders

Remember to always be kind to yourself. It’s natural for your mind to wander or distractions to take your attention away. You just have to learn to accept, observe and return. If you and your partner dedicate time each week to practicing mindfulness, you could start to see the rewards in the time you spend together as you become more aware, understanding and empathetic.

Mark Gray is a freelance graphic artist and content writer from Berkshire, UK. He enjoys travelling, attending tech conferences, surfing, and gaming. He is also a newbie in the small business world but has big dreams in store for him.

 

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Men’s Mental Health: be innovative in the way you adapt to the change in your circumstances

Men really don’t ask for directions, and most also don’t speak about the mental wellbeing challenges that they go through. Either we feel we don’t want to burden our partner, or we feel it’s weakness, or perhaps even just write it off to ‘tiredness’ or ‘normal stress’ that will pass… This is really unhealthy.

The pandemic has pushed a lot of us into new territory as we have had to come to terms with back-to-back online meetings, rapid-response emails, stuck hours on end in our ‘online prison’ as we’ve adapted to working from home and the time-saving tools provided by the lack of a commute. This was all good and well in March, when we first went into lockdown and we aimed to beat the virus in short order…

Then the reality set in: the virus is not going away any time soon, we are not going to be able to do the things we did in February; see the people we saw, see our relatives, travel and explore like we once did… Downward the mental health spiral.

It doesn’t need to be this way, as I was reminded the other day when speaking with a good friend of mine with a terminal illness, and reminded again last night during our ManCave session: we need to reframe our thinking about our current environment, about the situation we find ourselves in.

Here are some tools to do this:

Mindfulness, calming your noisy thoughts by learning to be present in the moment, to focus on the place and time you are at this very moment in time, is a very good way to learn to control negative thoughts.

Gratefulness: my terminally-ill friend told me about how grateful he is to have spent so much time with his kids and his wife, how lucky he feels for having had a career where he could have fun and travel the world – a very different perspective to being negative and bitter about his illness.

And finally, adapt your behaviour to these new circumstances and environment. Purposefully, mindfully, gratefully, let go of toxic things in your life – including toxic people. Work on those bad habits. Focus on what you can do to release the things that are holding you back or dragging you down.  Read more. Walk more. Talk more…and if you need to talk, we’re here to listen.

Peter Wingrove is the CEO of Shawmind

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