Matters of the Mind

“There’s just something different about work and life in 2020. Maybe it’s the Groundhog Day feeling of working from home or the accumulating stress of dealing with BOTH a global pandemic and an immensely fraught political climate at the same time. Or maybe there’s a fundamental difference in each hour of remote work as compared to the equivalent hour of work in the office.”

Dan Giuliani (CEO - Volt Software Company)

It’s October 2020 when I write this. For many of us, October is MONTH 8 of living and working within our current global constraints.

 

We’ve created new routines and we’re adjusting and adapting (mostly) well. We are carrying on, forging new paths in the way we do business, and establishing better ways to engage out there in the world.

 

Yet many uncertainties, insecurities and instabilities still abound, related to more than just the pandemic.

 

There’s a lengthy list of things that rankle. From politics, climate breakdown, civil unrest and poverty, to an impending stockpiled toilet paper crisis and ongoing covidiot anarchy, to name a few.

 

Incidentally, October also plays host to World Mental Health Day (on the 10th). Whilst I advocate for supporting mental wellness everyday, this is a timely reminder of just how important it is to be supporting our minds better in this time.

 

There’s still a real threat to our survival out there. If these other things also heighten our worry and stress, then it’s easy for us to become hyper-sensitive. This prompts our brains to leap back into survival mode at a moment’s notice, resulting in more fear and anxiety. Dealing with these various constraints adds to our cognitive load which, in turn, can cause mental fatigue.

 

New studies show that, although fear and anxiety are distinct emotional states, they appear to share the same neural circuitry (mainly in our cortex). We use the cognitive part of our brain when we try to address our fear and anxiety, and they are more connected than we realised.

A Rollercoaster of Emotions

If your current day-to-day experience is anything like mine, most days are manageable, some days are amazing and joyful, and then occasionally, it all becomes a bit too much.

 

Perhaps you’ve found yourself losing time and procrastinating more, struggling to focus like you usually do? Or, maybe you’ve experienced a random mini meltdown, collapsing in angry, frustrated tears on the kitchen floor? Or, have you suddenly felt so overwhelmed by the magnitude of things, that crawling exhaustedly under the covers is all you think you can manage today?

 

We’re all responding to fear, anxiety and uncertainty in different ways, but our responses share a common root…

Our Brains are Taking Strain

Countless studies indicate that good mental health is foundational for our overall health and wellbeing.

 

From a work perspective, I often say that our brains are our number one asset. Supporting them is now, more than ever, essential for our focus, decision making and ability to work effectively. It’s also essential to keep us sane, grounded and happy.

Being Mindful about Work

Let’s consider a few ways that we can employ mindful practices to support our brains and our work better.

 

MIND SPACE

 

Meditation is a go-to mindfulness practice for many. But have you considered it in a workplace context?

 

In this Forbes article, Keith Ferrazi reveals how companies are introducing Headspace meditation subscriptions for their workforce.

 

Companies are discovering that the work benefits of a meditation practice go far beyond mindfulness. Regular meditation improves our focus, decision making and response to stress. It also increases our engagement, team cohesion and company loyalty.

 

As CeCe Morken, the COO of Headspace, shares in Keith’s Article: 

 

“The biggest benefit is in employee sentiment and engagement. Our level of anxiety and the demands on our resilience affects my attitude at work, how productive I am, how much time I might miss, and how I talk about my employer. If you’re taking care of the wholeness of the person, especially the mind, you’re improving everything that you brought them on board to do.”

 

[Personal Note: I’ve used Headspace since I first discovered it during my recovery from burnout 4-5 years ago. Based on my personal experience, I can confirm the efficacy of their product. I also love everything about the brand and what they do. However, there are plenty of other apps out there that provide a similar service. So experiment with what works for you (and your team).]

``Accumulating fatigue is a real thing... The body and mind can only take so much stress before it starts to fray. We thought this pandemic might be a sprint, but it's a marathon, so we have to adjust. Nothing is more important right now than our employees' collective mental, physical, and spiritual health. If we can give them more time to recover and enrich their lives without sacrificing productivity, we absolutely should.``

Dan Giuliani (CEO - Volt)

MIND TIME

 

The notion of the 4-day work week is picking up momentum this year. I keep reading about new case studies which confirm the benefits and efficacy it can bring to a team. Here’s a recent one about Dan Giuliani’s software team at Volt in Seattle.

 

What started as a 6-week trial during lockdown has become company policy. Dan’s team discovered that working 4 days enables them to decrease their work time by 20%, whilst still maintaining their level of productivity and increasing their job satisfaction.

 

In essence, an extra day added to your weekend gives you a bit of space. Instead of rushing to fit everything in and feeling knackered by Sunday night, you have leeway. Room to get the chores done, do something social and extra curricular. PLUS still have time to get the much needed rest and recovery time your brain and body needs before you dive into your next work week.

 

If your company can’t do 4-day weeks, there are other ways to introduce wellness practices that support mental health at work. That could be “no meeting Fridays” or specific “mindful days” once a month to encourage improved self-care. As a lot of our mental strain comes from using digital tools, how can you encourage your people to step away from the console?

MIND MORE / LESS

 

What about practices outside of work that can support our brain better?

 

Journaling is another practice that supports mindfulness. It’s something I’ve been doing practically every day for the past 4 years. So, I can vouch for the fact that getting things out of your head and onto paper helps with centring your mind and managing your stress.

 

However, I only recently discovered that writing about our stress and emotions through journaling, can also boost our immune function too. (This is from a study back in 2002).

 

Changing to hard tack, drinking alcohol has been a common response during lockdown for dealing with anxiety and distress. But when we numb our minds in this way, we can’t be mindful, as our drinking habits play havoc with our brain function.

 

I recently took a 6 week hiatus from drinking as part of an anti-inflammatory nutrition plan. I do feel better for it from a focus perspective.

 

Shortly afterwards, I came upon this article about what happens to your brain when you stop drinking. It opened my eyes to just how much alcohol can affect our memory, cognition and overall brain health.

 

Reading it may snap you out of the habit of cracking open that second or third bottle at the end of a tough week.

What Matters for the Mind

According to latest reports, Covid-19 might be around for at least 3 years. That means we’ve got to build our mental and emotional resilience, so that we can continue to function and thrive in this ongoing landscape.

 

Against this backdrop, the demands on our attention and our time will continue increasing, despite our capabilities being somewhat fixed.

 

In his final article for the Guardian, Oliver Burkeman * reflects on things he’s learnt about finding fulfilment in life. One point he highlights is that “there will always be too much to do”.

(*Hat Tip: Thanks to Jonathan Ball for sharing this article with me)

 

I agree, there will always be too much to do. So get clear on what’s important and meaningful.  Set boundaries that enable rest and recovery. Support your brain like your life depends on it, because it does.

 

Help your mind to focus on the things that matter most.

 

Your mind matters.

 

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