Starting Conversations about Mental Health with Birmingham Mind

By October 10, 2018

In our fast-paced world where technology can make it hard to switch off at the end of the day — protecting our mental health is more important than ever.

Half of the battle is recognising this challenge in order to do something about it and put necessary protection and support in place. That’s why events such as #WorldMentalHealthDay are so crucial as they create a starting point for conversation!

We wanted to use today’s blog as an opportunity to share some of the things we learnt about mental health, how stress affects us, and strategies for managing it in our session with Birmingham Mind.

Big thank you again to Mike Jeffries from Birmingham Mind who shared his own personal journey with mental health and created a fantastically open and welcome environment in which to discuss our own challenges as well as learn about mental health.

The statistics on mental health

To set the scene, Mike shared an insight into just how prevalent mental health issues are. A study found that of 3,000 people interviewed, 60% of employees have experienced a mental health problem due to work in the last year.

Of those, 31% were formally diagnosed with a mental health issue and unfortunately a great proportion of those employees faced some form of challenge at work afterwards, from being refused promotions to pay cuts. To help change how organisations view mental health we think it’s incredibly important for us to share this information!

But, can a level of stress be healthy?

In short, yes! Without stress, as Mike pointed out, the human race probably wouldn’t have survived. An element of stress is built into who we are. It fuels the fight, flight, or freeze instinct that kicks in when we sense a dangerous situation.

While we no longer have to fight off predators, there are new challenges such as a giving a presentation at work, or going for a promotion that an element of stress can help with. When this happens, we experience some of the following symptoms that we can all relate to:

  • Adrenaline is released into our blood stream
  • Our heart rate increases to pump the adrenaline around our bodies faster
  • We then breathe faster
  • Our blood pressure increases
  • We might not feel pain
  • We release a hormone called cortisol which helps us to focus on specific details and lock our attention

In these situations, the body’s normal requirements are put on hold while we face the challenge or focus on our goals. But where does this level of stress become the norm?

Researchers at the Yale Stress Centre found that when stress becomes a way of life and we find ourselves rushing around glued to our emails, the prefrontal cortex of our brain can start to shut down. This is the part of the brain that regulates blood pressure and heart beat, but also enables us to learn, plan, and make judgements.

The Stress Container

Mike talked us through a simple analogy for this called the ‘Stress Container’. We’ve included Mike’s lovely visual here but it’s about the fact that we all have a certain amount of space to manage stress in our brains. We can generally cope with anything within this space. But it’s when new stresses or challenges get dumped in the bucket and it starts to overflow, that we struggle.

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That’s why learning how to empty your stress container is so important to keep that level of stress at a point that you can manage. For lots of people this might mean using exercise as a release or taking the time to do some self-care like having a bath or reading a book. Whatever this is, the key is recognising when you’re reaching the top of your stress container and taking action!

Common signs of stress

Stress can look like lots of different things for different people but Mike shared some coming feelings and behaviours that you can spot in yourself and others.

How you might feel:

  • Over burdened
  • Irritable or impatient
  • Anxious, nervous or afraid,
  • You can’t switch off and you can’t enjoy yourself
  • Depressed
  • Uninterested in life
  • A sense of dread

How you might behave:

  • Finding it hard to make decisions
  • Avoiding troubling situations
  • Snapping at people
  • Biting your nails
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Restless
  • Feeling tearful or crying

How you might be physically affected:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Blurred eyesight
  • Panic attacks
  • Shallow breathing
  • Grinding your teeth
  • Headaches
  • Chest pains

While we might be able to spot these changes in ourselves, it’s also important to be able to spot them in our colleagues too. Keeping an eye out for distinct changes in behaviour or the physical symptoms of stress helps to ensure that your colleague gets the support or help they need.

Five ways to wellbeing

To help combat stress and maintain strong mental health, Mike detailed five strategies that can help.

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Starting a conversation about mental health in your workplace or with colleagues, friends or family that you’re concerned about isn’t easy. Mike noted that simple things like asking people how they are doing and being really open and honest can help your conversation.

At CrowdControlHQ we’re focusing on encouraging conversations about mental health and inviting Mike and the Birmingham Mind team in to discuss this further was just the start! You can find out more about our journey with Birmingham Mind here.