fbpx

Finally an Official Framework for Improving Workplace Mental Health

Toxic workplaces are bad for your health. You knew that, and I knew that. But now even the U.S. Surgeon General has realized it. Normally, the Surgeon General gives advice on smoking, pandemics, and cancer. But yesterday, they issued guidance telling companies to pay more attention to mental workplace conditions.

Some companies take good care of their workers, and they are the ones who have enough employees and low turnover. Others are doing less well, and those are the places that complain about not being able to find workers.

The Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health & Well-Being is a well-written document with both solid arguments for why it matters and what you can do about it. If you are in a leadership position, I encourage you to read it. If you work in an organization doing less than ideally on workplace conditions, I suggest you send a link to HR. You find the report here: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/workplace-mental-health-well-being.pdf

Bullying Victims Need Help

Our anti-bullying policies have a huge blind spot: The victim. It is bad enough that only 30% of bullies are called out, but it is a disgrace that only 10% of bullying victims receive any help.

Some people can shake off the effects of bullying, but it might take 30 years. That’s how long it took me to heal myself. Many people I see in my practice have also suffered from the after-effects of bullying for decades. We must train at least one person in each school in basic trauma therapy. I do my part by teaching the RIM method, but I find school systems are unwilling to invest in helping bullying victims. If you are a parent, ask your school what they do to help bullying victims. Unless we all demand a change, nothing will happen.

Netflix is Bad for Your Mental Health

To save your mental health, reconsider your Netflix subscription. A new “true crime” Netflix show is, unfortunately, very popular. And the Netflix recommendation engine will relentlessly promote their most popular shows. If you give in and watch an episode, your mental health will worsen.

Dark and unpleasant content affects everyone, but those who have suffered trauma are affected most. Fictional crime is bad enough, but “true crime” is based on things that actually happened. That makes these shows even harder to shake off.

The painful problem is that most people with traumatic experiences from long ago think that time has healed them. It doesn’t. Time allows the brain to push the memory into the background, but the body still remembers. That’s why some things hit you surprisingly hard. Stay away from “true crime.”

Pay Attention to What Your Body Tells You

Your body knows what is bothering you, even if your conscious mind doesn’t. I am reading Bruce Perry’s book “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog,” and he explains how he discovered a way to detect past trauma still stuck in the body: With a heart rate monitor.

A child wanted to try the heart rate monitor Bruce was still wearing after a run. He put in on the boy and the heart rate was normal. But then Bruce said something that caused the boy’s heart rate to increase dramatically. He later discovered that his words had triggered a memory of past trauma in the boy.

If you have an Apple Watch or a similar device that measures your pulse, pay attention to the data it gives you. You might discover that a specific task or an upcoming event with certain people sets your heart racing. That tells you that you have something you need to work on. While you do that, also try to reduce this kind of stress-inducing activity. Maybe someone else can do the task, or you don’t need to go to that meeting. I’m not a big gadget fan, but here is a place where a device can actually be helpful.

Fit Some Walking Into Your Day

You don’t have to run. But you do have to exercise a little every week. You will find lots of exercise advice on the internet, but the official recommendations are really simple: 150 minutes of moderate exercise like walking or cycling or 75 minutes of running or similar.  

You can easily fit 150 minutes of walking into your week in 15-minute intervals. Get off the bus or train a little before your destination and walk for 15 minutes. If you do that on the way to work and on the way home, that gives you 30 minutes each workday. If you are in the office five days a week, that adds up to 150 minutes 

If you are working from home, walk to work anyway. That means taking a 15-minute walk around the block when you start your workday, and another 15-minute walk when you end it. That has the added benefit of setting boundaries around your work time. The first walk can put you into focused “work mode”, and the second walk can allow your mind to change from work to relaxation. 

Unchecked Power?

Does your boss at work have unchecked power? Over the centuries, we have learned that every power needs to be balanced by some other power. That’s why successful societies have split power between legislature, executive, and judiciary. That’s why companies have HR departments and maybe even whistleblower procedures.

Take a moment to think about how you would report bullying in your workplace. Are your anti-bullying measures effective, or do they exist only on paper? Do you believe somebody would take action? If you are not confident anybody would react, that is a red flag. It doesn’t mean there is bullying in your organization. But it means you cannot feel safe. That will affect your health and wellbeing. You might want to consider changing to another department or another company.

Experiment on Yourself

Many people run science experiments on themselves. You should, too. I’m not talking about taking strange drugs you got from the internet. I am talking about making changes to your diet and tracking the outcome.

Science has shown that improved diet can have as much effect as the latest drugs from the pharmacy. This applies to everything from minor pain to serious depression. If you wish to improve your life, try an experiment.

The scientific method consists of establishing a baseline, making one change, and registering the result. For your own science, I recommend keeping a journal on paper or on your device. For one week, write down how you feel. That is your baseline – the point you compare to. Then make a simple diet change. You already know what a better diet looks like. For example, you can replace an unhealthy snack with nuts and raisins. Continue writing down how you feel. After a few weeks, examine your notes and see if you feel better than the baseline before you made the change. If you do, great! Keep the change. If you don’t feel any improvement, that doesn’t mean the experiment failed. It means the experiment was successful and you proved that this change was not right for you. Make another change and repeat the experiment.

A safe experiment is one where you change your diet, sleep, or lifestyle. Even if you feel much better, you DO NOT change any medication by yourself. Make some safe changes to your life. Your surprised doctor might then change your medication 😉

Get a Dose of Nature Every Day

Like an apple a day, you also need a dose of nature every day. Exposure to natural surroundings is associated with a wide range of health benefits from decreased blood pressure to reduced risk of depression.

Interestingly, the Minimum Effective Dose (MED) of nature is really low. The MED is the least amount of something you can take to get the health benefit, and the pharma industry spends a lot of time calculating this. For nature exposure, you get most of the benefits from simply spending 15 minutes in natural surroundings, and it doesn’t have to in a wilderness far from everyone. If you live in an appartment far from parks, you can establish natural surroundings on your balcony with balcony planters or flower pots. If you don’t have a balcony, find some robust house plants and fit a lot of them into a corner of one room so you can sit there and get your shot of nature.

Nature is good for you. Make sure you get your daily dose.

Cut Your Risk of Dying Prematurely in Half

You don’t need 10,000 steps a day. But 7,000 steps a day cuts your risk of dying prematurely in half. A big meta-study published in The Lancet gathers data from 15 large studies. They conclude that mortality – your risk of dying in any given month – at 7,000 steps is only half that at 3,000 steps. Just getting to 5,000 steps still gives you a 30% improvement.

If you believe you are already taking 5,000 or 7,000 steps per day, I have bad news for you: You don’t. Most people significantly overestimate their activity level, and I did as well. There is only one way to know and increase your number of steps: Count them. Get an app for your phone, or use a smartwatch or fitness tracker. Some people find that the carefully designed “nudging” in an Apple Watch makes them much more likely to reach their goals. But you can get a good-enough fitness tracker for less than $50.

Set a goal of 7,000 steps and find a way to track your progress. You will find that it also improves your mood and your energy.

Winter is Over. Get Outside

Winter is over. At least according to the calendar, which claims March as the first month of Spring. If you have been staying in your cave like a sleeping bear, now is the time to get out.

Fresh air, daylight and exercise are crucial elements of your physical and mental well-being. You have to get outside. No matter how much you sweat in aerobics class or how fast you run on a treadmill, your body needs to see daylight and breath fresh air. Take out your calendar and add an appointment with yourself to take a walk outside tomorrow.