It’s official: Blue Monday — January’s third Monday and the “most depressing day of the year” — is here.
But unlike previous years, this Blue Monday carries extra weight. It comes after a twelve-month period in which wellbeing at work became more than just a buzzword: it became a lifeline. People all over the world have taken on the stresses and strains that come with a global pandemic, and in doing so, have learned the true value of good mental health practices.
Bruntwood Works spoke to Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology & Health at the Alliance Manchester Business School, who emphasised the need to prioritise wellbeing.
“During this pandemic, health and wellbeing of individuals and organisations has become a ‘must-have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’ priority. Even pre -Covid, the Health & Safety Executive reported that 57% of all long term sickness absence in the UK was due to stress, anxiety and depression. The health crisis has reinforced the need for all of us to look after our wellbeing. In 2021 we have another imperative, the potential stressful impact of the recession and the uncertainty about the consequences of Brexit for our jobs and way of life.”
Don’t let Blue Monday get you down. Here are five things you can do to look after your wellbeing in 2021.
1) Ask for help when it is needed
Often, it can be difficult to ask for help, but suffering in silence won’t change anything. This year, make a promise to yourself that you will seek support from friends, family and colleagues.
Talking about your problems helps you manage your response to stressful events, which is very important. “Don’t let stressful events control you,” says Sir Cary. “There is always a range of solutions to all problems.”
Talking to others lets you canvass opinions, ask for advice, and seek support when you need it. Sir Cary says that it helps to “contextualise your problems to minimise the stress of minor daily hassles.” - giving you the mental breathing room to recognise stress for what it really is: feeling like you’re not in control. This makes it far easier to manage.
2) Build relationships with colleagues
Colleagues can make excellent friends because they understand your work situation completely. If you don’t already have a trusting relationship with a colleague, put time into getting to know your co-workers in 2021.
Sir Cary reminds us that it’s important to stay regularly socially connected with friends, family and colleagues — so we need to make the effort. He advises to “do this ‘virtually’ over the COVID period, but face-to-face when you can.”
Remember: relationships go both ways. You can dramatically boost your chances of making valuable social connections by making the first move; send out some emails to ask how somebody is, how their day is going or if they fancy scheduling a coffee meeting. These little conversations happen organically in the office but less often when work is based online. Sharing your challenges and offering advice can be a great bonding experience for everyone involved.
3) Focus on work-life balance
One of the benefits of working from home is that it has helped to restore a healthy work-life balance for many people. Instead of an hour-long commute, the journey is now reduced to a short walk from bed to desk.
However, if you tend to overwork, working from home could have negatively impacted your work-life balance. That’s because the clear difference between ‘home’ and ‘office’ has now been removed, so there are no environmental cues to help workaholics ‘switch off’.
Sir Cary says you can “achieve balance in your life by deciding to not work long hours''. If this speaks to you, decide at the beginning of the day to log off at a certain time. If you’re struggling to stick to it, make a plan for a phone call with a friend or perhaps a walk with a neighbour - a scheduled commitment will mean that you have to step away from work.
Allowing yourself the opportunity to break up your day in a way that works for you is also important. Would you benefit from two half-hour breaks, as opposed to an hour-long lunch break? Do you struggle to stay on one task for hours at a time? Take these things into consideration when scheduling your day.
4) Set a routine
When working from home, it can be easy to fall out of a routine, especially as dress codes and office etiquette have long been abandoned. If you’re feeling sluggish or down, it could be because you’re lacking a good routine.
Sir Cary stresses the importance of exercise in breaking this slump. He asserts that keeping physically fit and exercising regularly has important psychological benefits as well as physical health benefits. Make a plan to get outdoors on your lunch at the same time every day. Whether you take a packed lunch to the local park, go for a run or take the dog for a walk, scheduling this time into your day is important.
Get a good night’s sleep on work nights, and wake up an hour and a half before you need to start working and claim this time for yourself. Use that time to do something that’s good for you, be it mentally, physically or both.
Having a good morning routine is just as important as a regular bedtime. Do what feels good: for some, a luxurious breakfast sets the day up well, whereas others might need a morning walk or to lose themselves in a chapter of a book. This will help you to feel that you don’t just live to work, readdressing the balance day by day.
5) Reach out to those around you
Sometimes, helping others is the best way that we can help ourselves. But did you know that it’s actually backed up by science?
Scientists believe that altruistic behaviour like lending a hand or helping somebody in need releases endorphins in the brain, helping us to feel happier. Sir Cary reminds us that giving is important: “Support and help others less fortunate than yourself - giving to others has health benefits for you, too.”
Whether you decide to help out with a litter-pick or volunteer at a food bank, there are plenty of ways to get stuck in and help a worthy cause in the process. As well as this, spending time volunteering will also benefit you socially. As you lend a hand with other like-minded people, it will be an opportunity to make new friends as you work together with purpose towards a common goal.
Changing bad habits
Sometimes it’s necessary to make changes to prioritise your wellbeing, especially during tough times. Although some changes can be difficult to implement, you could really reap the rewards. Keep up with your routine, get plenty of sleep and remember to reach out to others socially.
Why not make a plan to pick up these good habits this Blue Monday? Remember, however daunting it may feel, the road to good mental health and wellbeing starts with a conversation.