Three key habits for mental fitness in the corporate environment
ICAS launched its mental fitness strategy in May 2021. The three-year plan aims to break down the stigma surrounding mental ill-health in business, provide access to resources and see ICAS become a leading voice for the promotion of mental fitness.
As a former personal trainer and someone with a keen interest in fitness, which has continued and developed since transitioning into the corporate environment, I have pulled together a guide focusing on three key habits you can implement to develop your own mental fitness strategy.
One of my favourite quotes of all time is from renowned American author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, who hypothesised “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems”. This quote is adapted from the Greek poet, Archilochus: “We don't rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.”
When applying this to mental fitness in the modern workplace, despite having good intentions to safeguard our mental wellbeing, without structured systems in place it is easy for these to fall by the wayside.
1 – The fake commute
One of the few positives to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic is the increased levels of flexibility we have seen offered by employers. Working from home and having more flexibility around start and finish times makes it much easier to fit our lives around work. Whilst this flexibility is a good thing, it often means we don’t get outside to get our vital dose of fresh air + vitamin D in the morning when working from home. On average, even a 10-minute walk to and from an office to catch a train twice a day would amount to roughly 4000 steps.
There are several peer-reviewed studies that suggest even light activity in the morning better prepares us for the day ahead and kickstarts our brains. The fake commute also creates a clear barrier between work time and rest time, and we all know how easily the two converge.
Starting your fake commute can be as simple as walking, running or biking, for around the same duration or mileage as your former trip to work. “People who segment do have better work-life balances,” said Kristen Shockley, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Georgia. Whichever substitute you choose, the key is to make it a habit and prepare for it the night before.
2 - Drink enough water
This might seem like an incredibly obvious thing to highlight, but consuming water is a simple wellness strategy that it is often not even considered when developing a mental wellness plan. Many dehydration symptoms are mistakenly associated with other conditions and illnesses and could be easily eliminated by increasing water consumption.
There are several peer-reviewed studies that confirm this information, and it is now proven that drinking water decreases the risk of depression and anxiety in adults. An example research study conducted by the World Journal of Psychiatry on more than 3300 individuals, showed that participants who drank more water daily had reduced risk of depression and anxiety, and participants with the lowest level of water consumption had double the risk of depression and anxiety.
Our brains are composed of approximately 70% water, and our blood is more than 85% water. According to research, a 5% drop in body fluids will cause a 25% to 30% loss of energy in the average person - a 15% drop in body fluids causes death.
Here are some simple habitual changes I recommend when increasing your water consumption:
*Every morning, drink a big glass of water first thing after waking up; you naturally dehydrate whilst asleep, so this kicks the brain into gear
*Make sure you hydrate before you caffeinate
*Keep a large glass of water beside you when working
*Get into the habit of drinking water half an hour before meals
3 – Focus on sleep
Sleep plays a vital role in our overall mental state. We live in an increasingly inter-connected world where we are online all the time. This permanently ‘tuned-in’ state can make prioritising sleep a struggle, particularly for CAs who juggle challenging exams with a busy work schedule throughout their studies and often go on to jobs that are far beyond your typical 9 to 5.
Sleep is crucial to keep us functioning properly: it helps us to learn, improves our memory, strengthens our immunity, promotes the elimination of toxins, and encourages healing. It also has a positive impact on our moods and emotions.
Despite the average adult requiring between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night, recent survey data suggests that the average adult in the UK gets just six hours and 19 minutes of sleep per night. Busy lives, hectic work schedules and stress are the primary reasons for not getting a full eight-hour rest. When attempting to build a personal mental fitness strategy, prioritising sleep is a vital component, particularly through busy and challenging periods of work where stress levels are increased.
To prioritise sleep I would recommend winding down before bedtime, avoiding the use of screens in the last hour (their blue light inhibits the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, so it takes longer to fall asleep), and make sure to develop a routine - practise a calming activity such as reading or meditation at least 30-45 minutes before bedtime to condition your brain for sleep.
To conclude, when building a mental fitness strategy; making sure to get enough time outside, drinking enough water and focusing on sleep are three simple and easily implementable habits we can develop to safeguard our wellbeing. The modern corporate environment remains an often-challenging place - whilst we have seen some promising progress in terms of employee wellbeing, benefits and flexibility, there is still a long way to go to reach optimal levels.
Remember to always reach out to someone if your mental wellbeing is suffering. Whilst the above strategies offer simple personal solutions, if things aren’t improving, communicating this to someone is the best course of action to get the correct support.
If you want to have an informal confidential discussion to see how Rutherford Cross can enhance your career, contact Harry Young.