I was at a church wedding recently and, as is tradition, the vicar’s address was a homily about what love really is, and the things that get in the way of it. The topic lead on from a rather beautiful extract from Louis de Bernieres Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. It went as follows:
“Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being in love, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and, when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.”
So the vicar continued, there’s no shortage of love in the world – good intentions, positive feels, declarations and promises, but there are a lot of things that get in the way, he said. Money, maybe even family, work and the umbrella over all barriers, stress. Interestingly, he termed many of the things we struggle with as the ‘things we can’t talk about’. He said that if you can talk about the things you can’t talk about, then you’re onto a very good thing.
So with that rather lengthy digression, it brings me to the point, cited rather wonderfully by internationally-recognised wellbeing expert Professor Sir Cary Coope in HRZone: “the biggest challenge facing UK HR is how do we actually make wellbeing part of our everyday conversation, instead of just an add-on because we know that we ‘should’ be doing it.”
Earlier this year we spoke to men’s mental health organisation CALM, who highlighted the fact that men in particular often don’t talk about the things that are churning around in their heads and sometimes leading to disastrous consequences. On a more personal note, I was recently alerted to a friend who had been trying to make a crippling workload known to her boss and eventually, having not been heard, was put on beta blockers by her GP for anxiety and resigned from her role.
The important note here is that it’s all aspects of health – physical and mental – that need to be taken into account, and it is both important to talk about it in general, and to talk about it as an ongoing process rather than a simple question of time off when it all gets too much (which it does for all of us from time to time).
In his interview Sir Cary Coope continued by saying that key to supporting wellbeing in the future lies in the readiness of both an organisation and its employees to embrace wellbeing and the necessary changes to incorporate it seriously.
“Readiness is about looking beyond your immediate surroundings and considering the evolving business – its culture, its direction and its context…” he said: “[it’s about] developing a deeper understanding of employee attitudes, your organisational culture and the factors in society as a whole that affect our health and wellbeing.”
Of course he is entirely correct, the problem isn’t a lack of knowledge and awareness about health, wellbeing and stress, it’s about how we handle it. At the moment you can’t move for information about health foods, chemical free produce, the importance of exercise and so forth, but what’s somehow lacking amongst the pop articles of men’s and women’s magazines alike is really insightful information about how to make wellbeing a way of life rather than something we tag on at the start or end of the day.
In a conversation with yoga guru David Sye in 2012, he spoke the most sensible truth I think I have ever heard, highlighting that most of us think we will go to the gym at the end of the day or similar, and that’s the time we are allocating to our health. But our health is where we live all the time – it’s not an hour on a stepper, it’s what we’re living, breathing and experiencing all day long.
“You have to be very careful how you treat your body, it has memory, and if you give it bad memories it will have them forever. If you get on a treadmill and turn on the TV you are telling it that it’s just functional, but it’s not it’s where you live! The body is where you feel good, so if you beat it up and it can’t feel good healthily it will find another way – most people end up in the pub.”
That’s all a very beautiful sentiment, but what on earth does it mean and how, when you’re trying to make ends meet and fit 48 hours into 24, can you make the theory a reality. Well, as already said, part of it, as fluffy as it seems, is merely about all being on the same page. Then it’s really taking stock of what wellbeing means to you personally, as well as your company – work loads, physical health, hours, life, stress.
I spoke to a friend recently at one of the UK’s leading women’s magazines, where they offer a multitude of exercise classes around work hours (as they do in many offices). She’s also currently championing stand up desks, which are wonderful for that aching back feeling that seems to be unavoidable with a desk job. Small changes can make a big difference, for example, any yoga teacher will tell you that sitting on a yoga ball for example instead of your chair can reap dividends for your spine (not to mention your core strength – bonus!)
For others, it’s a more personal approach such as looking for the 15 minutes in the day to dedicate to doing something for yourself. Mindfulness is one of the buzzwords of the noughties (good old Eckhart Tolle) and it’s one of the practices of leading entrepreneurs. To make wellbeing work we have to think about it as something that we do all the time – building it into our routines rather than using it as an antidote to unhealthy routines.
By changing the way we sit for example, we make a big impact on our posture, which in turn is believed to enhance positive responses to situations around us according to studies. By going for a brisk walk (or even skipping) on your lunch break it’s more likely to increase your energy levels in the afternoon. Even being kind to yourself and treating yourself to a monthly manicure, pedicure, massage, facial (or spa break) – a couple of hours out of your week to simply indulge yourself, and not think of it as something decadent, but something you very much deserve. It can make the world of difference to your outlook.
Crucially, supporting colleagues in their wellbeing is vital for a happy and healthy working environment. Cultivating positive relationships with the people around you, including your colleagues has a huge impact on mental wellbeing, which in turn affects your choices and motivate (for diet, exercise and work itself).
Positive relationships with the people around you builds a sense of belonging and self worth, as well as making it easier to talk when there is a problem. It provides an opportunity to share positive experiences, and can give emotional support says the NHS – although we could probably have figured that one out for ourselves.
Anyway, we think that means that we’re supposed to spend some time of the day nattering to the people we work with… especially if we’re talking about the things we can’t talk about.
So, how do your colleagues make you feel happier?
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