Staff Wellbeing – Mental Health
by Joanne Crovini
I’ve been practicing as a Nutritional Therapist for eight years and in recent years I’ve seen a big increase in clients with mental health conditions including stress, depression and anxiety. Many have been signed off work and are trying to address the problems so they can return.
With stress related absence on the rise looking after staff wellbeing has become a priority for organisations. While a small amount of stress is good for us and helps us grow and develop, the constant triggering of stress from the demands of the Western world can be harmful to our health. Chronic stress is linked with cardiovascular disease, poor immunity, failing memory and can trigger other mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
The fight or flight response we experience when feeling stressed is designed to protect us from physical danger and we experience a rise in blood pressure, heart rate and blood glucose. Non essential processes are shut down and the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released. This works to our advantage if we’re fighting or running but not when we’re experiencing day to day psychological stress. If we constantly trigger this process we’ll end the day exhausted, ready to eat the first thing that comes our way and likely to snap at anyone who speaks to us.
So, what should we do? On a personal level we can eat in a way that supports our body with stress and minimises the tendency to binge and collapse when we get home. Eat small regular meals through the day, including lean protein from meat, fish or pulses as well as good fats from avocado, coconut oil or oily fish. Reduce your caffeine intake to a maximum of two caffeinated drinks and cut out sugar. If you work nights carry on with small regular meals as if you’re awake and active you need fuel. Also, include wholegrains, dark green leafy vegetables, eggs and nuts for essential nutrients to support with stress.
From a lifestyle point of view find a physical activity that you enjoy, but don’t force yourself to do it as this causes a release of stress hormones. Try some yoga or mindfulness and turn off electronic devices at least an hour before bed.
To support staff the first step is to set an example and show you are taking control of your mental health and stress levels – we all look after others better if we look after ourselves first. Then take small steps that can have a positive impact such as reducing meeting length, introducing walking meetings and supporting staff in taking time away from their desks.
On a wider scale many organisations have wellbeing champions and a monthly email giving tips to benefit mental health. You can choose themes around existing awareness days so there is material available and these can build to a wellbeing competition or day to end the year.
For more information on the effects of stress and ideas of how to support staff please contact me – Joanne Crovini – www.cardiffnutritionist.co.uk.