By Chloe Holt
During these strange, stressful and emotional times when we are most concerned with the wellbeing of others, it is easy to forget to look after yourself. Despite the myriad of services out there, we still struggle to talk about our mental health; it makes us feel vulnerable, weak and open to criticism from others. However, I don’t think there’s a better time to discuss how we’re feeling and how we’re coping than in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s definitely a time for the history books. From talking with friends and family, it has become apparent that whatever you’re feeling, someone else is feeling it too, or has felt like that and is currently finding ways to help themselves, and so they can help you. Mental health is quite a daunting conversation topic – not necessarily something you bring up over dinner – but even one small conversation can change your outlook in a way you wouldn’t have expected. It’s easy to feel isolated, like you’re the only one going through it, but it’s worth remembering that you will never have to deal with it alone.
I contacted Sanctus, a mental health organisation founded by young entrepreneurs James Routledge and George Bettany and got in touch with Tash Bristowe. I explained that I’ve been following them and their work for over a year now and wanted to write a piece on mental health during such a stressful period and I received a friendly reply with an appointment in the diary for a meeting (virtual, don’t worry!).
What does Sanctus do?
As an organisation they partner with different businesses (Red Bull and Vice, to name a couple) where they implement one ‘coaching’ day per month. On this day one coach sets up – in person or virtually - eight 45-minute sessions where members of the partner company have the space to talk and open up about their stresses and difficulties at work and in their personal lives. In 2019 they had over 8,000 sessions. The dedication to tackling mental health can be found straight from the top of the company and throughout as the founders, who met at university, dropped out of their studies to set up a tech company. Though the company was successful and ticking all the boxes, they found that they were suffering massively with their mental health. Tash told me that the two men had never really talked about their mental health before and so, this feeling was completely new to them and quite overwhelming. The tech company was shut down and James started writing blog posts about his mental health, then Sanctus was born. Now in their 4th year, the company has been built with a team of young and approachable people who recognise the importance of tackling mental health.
Whether you’re a student or usually work full time, sticking to a routine when everything has been turned upside-down is hard.
How do you stick to a routine?
At Sanctus they have been working from home for five weeks now, and employees are allowed to work to a schedule which works best for them. Although not all employers will be flexible with the working day, it’s important to acknowledge when you are most productive and accept that you will have hours or days here and there when work just doesn’t happen. Tash explained that she will wake up early in the morning and answer emails from bed; she’ll then exercise and have breakfast and have time for herself before dealing with phone calls and meetings in the afternoon. Whilst copying others may not work for everyone, it might be useful to try different routines, find what works best for you and tailor it to your job. Adapting to this new normal won’t happen overnight, especially when we don’t know what each day will hold, so you have to allow yourself time to deal with it and adapt to the circumstances, particularly if you’ve had to move back home or are living with a partner and you’re figuring out each other’s work styles.
For people working remotely there’s a huge feeling of not being good enough, there’s the creeping sense of imposter syndrome, how do you approach this?
When you’re working in an office you have immediate contact with your colleagues who you can talk to, moan to and ask for help. When people are working from home alongside dealing with their personal lives, it’s hard to know if you can reach out. Tash told me that when she’s working, she needs the recognition and communication with other employees, and that she needs to know if what she is doing is good enough. With so many companies closing down and furloughing their staff, feeling inadequate is not uncommon. Reaching out to your manager to find out how you’re doing and contacting your colleagues for some moral support is so worthwhile and can give you the boost you need, all through an email or video call.
Life is on hold; with no end point in sight it’s difficult to keep yourself busy and entertained when you’re not writing your dissertation or ploughing through conference calls. The constraint on hobbies has left quite a few of us glued to our phones, constantly reading news updates, imploring for something positive. The vicious cycle of social media has never been more detrimental than it is right now.
What are your tips for staying engaged in your hobbies?
Talking of being glued to her phone, Tash admitted her screen time had gone up drastically, a realisation which shocked her into changing up her ‘social’ life. With her colleagues, Tash explained that she has created a virtual wellness week where, for 30 minutes a day, they have to complete a silly challenge and just have fun. Tasks include learning TikTok routines, completing a HIIT challenge, or a drawing session where you don’t take the pen off the paper. Having an escape from your day where you allow yourself to think about other things in life aside from ‘rona and give yourself time to just talk to your mates and have a laugh is invaluable. Why not set up a group chat with your colleagues where you send funny stories and videos, or have a weekly quiz with your friends (alcohol optional)? You might feel better after a good belly laugh. As someone who “preaches” about mental health as her job, Tash is honest in saying she hasn’t been looking after herself as much as she should do, but, like she says, some days are easier and better than others. Talking about the double-edged sword that is Instagram, Tash admits feeling inadequate compared to those who are documenting themselves taking up a new hobby or cooking amazing healthy meals, and those who just seem straight up happy. She said she’s really had to remind herself that in these times, perhaps more than ever, it is still an ‘Instagram life’; an aesthetic snapshot of someone’s day. They’re not going to show you when they haven’t washed their hair for five days, or when their baby was sick all over the place. If people really do have their sh*t together, then power to them, but not everyone has to keep on top of it all the time.
“Do you follow Matt Haig on Instagram, he’s so good and so reassuring!” Tash exclaims. Matt Haig, author of ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’, posts down-to-earth and relatable messages which remind you to go easy on yourself, because sometimes simply getting out of bed is an achievement. I’ve linked his Instagram here for those who want to take a look.
As a disclaimer, Tash is not a mental health professional, so her advice is based purely on her individual experiences and emotions, but what I found during our chat was that as much as they can feel so subjective, a lot of people are in the same boat. She reminded me that we are all human and nothing beats being open and honest, especially when you can feel so isolated. Treat your mental health like your physical health. The one daily exercise allowance is for your brain, too.
I’d like to thank Tash Bristowe for taking the time to chat with me (listening to me waffle) and giving reassuring and helpful advice. Just talking to someone who knows exactly how you’re feeling is so refreshing and I really urge people to reach out to their loved ones. Below I have linked posts written by Tash; the Sanctus Directory, a resource created to help you find the support you need; their page on working from home; and their information about coronavirus. Stay safe everyone!
Give our ‘Keep Calm and Keep Going’ playlist a listen on Spotify! (@ Lippy Mag)
The Sanctus Directory: https://sanctus.io/directory/
Their page explaining what they’re doing in the midst of Coronavirus: https://sanctus.io/coronavirus/
A post from George Bell (Marketing Manager): https://www.linkedin.com/posts/george-bell-10317184_mentalhealth-activity-6653297588101619712-BJE6/