We get regular check-ups to ensure a healthy body. What are we doing to ensure we have a healthy mind?
This World Mental Health Day, we’re suggesting five steps you can follow to support a healthy mind at work and in life as an individual and HR/benefits leader.
Healthy Mind = Healthy Body
First, our minds and bodies are inextricably connected and should not be separated in the conversation about our health. One of the most prominent examples of the mind–body connection is how chronic stress creates an illness state. Stress increases the production of hormones, such as cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. Overactivation of stress hormones increases the risk of weight gain, high blood pressure, stroke, sleep issues, and other physical symptoms. Emotional stress is a major contributing factor in the six leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, coronary heart disease, accidental injuries, respiratory disorders, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.
5 steps to adopting a preventive approach to your mental health
Knowing that a healthy mind and body are closely related, it’s important for you to take a preventive approach to your mental health just as you should for your physical health. To get you started, we’ve outlined five steps you can take to support a healthy mind at work and at home.
- Reduce your stress
Responding to a Calm survey, Calm users cited job stress as the main reason they use Calm to address their stress, anxiety, and sleep issues. Whether it’s due to a heavy workload or workplace politics, we know stress on the job is challenging. Short bursts of stress, such as when you’re meeting a deadline, can be motivating, but chronic stress, which persists over longer periods of time without time to rest and recover can affect both mental and physical health. In fact, stress at work can be a risk factor in mental health conditions. So the first step to a healthy mind (and body) is to try and reduce your chronic stress on the job. Here are some tips:
- Integrate “stress breaks” throughout the day or at the end of the day to unwind
- Pause and take a breath with Calm breathe bubbles
- Listen to Panic SOS or Anxiety Release on Calm
- Take time to decompress between your work and personal life by going for a walk or listening to a “Walk Away Stress” meditation on Calm at the end of the workday
- Talk to your manager if your workload or the work itself is contributing to your stress. HR leaders, make sure managers do regular well-being check-ins during 1:1s with direct reports to reevaluate workloads and other job stressors
- Don’t be afraid to take time off (and completely unplug from work)—your mind and body need it. HR leaders, track whether your employees are taking PTO regularly and consider offering mental health days off as well
- Read how a Comcast employee integrated Calm into his workday to reduce his stress and anxiety
- Sleep well
We all have to sleep, but many of us don’t sleep well—and there’s a significant difference between sleep and quality sleep. Quality sleep promotes brain plasticity; i.e., the brain’s ability to be adaptable. Lack of quality sleep reduces our ability to think quickly and sharply. It makes us less able to show up 100% at work and life, and poor sleep over longer periods of time can lead to more serious mental and physical illnesses. The CDC recommends at least 7 hours of sleep every night for adults,9–12 for children, and 8–10 for adolescents. That’s why the second step to a healthy mind is getting a good night’s sleep. We know this can be hard sometimes, especially when your mind is spinning with to-do lists or what happened that day. The first step to sleeping well is to create a bedtime routine:
- Stop scrolling social media at a set time each night
- Set an alarm to alert you to bedtime
- Dim lights an hour before sleep
- Play relaxing music
- Read, journal, meditate, or take a hot bath to help you unwind
- Listen to a sleep story or meditation on Calm, such as Harry Styles’s “Dream with Me” or Matthew McConaughey’s “Wonder,” to help you still your thoughts and drift off to sleep
- And for your children, try a “Winnie the Pooh” sleep story narrated by actor Tom Hiddleston to put them right to sleep
- HR leaders, recognize that employees have different sleep patterns and offer flexible schedules. The workday doesn’t have to start at 9:00 a.m. for everyone
- Offering sleep tools like Calm can help employees and their families get a good night’s sleep
- Regulate your emotions
All humans feel a continuum of emotions—and some, such as grief, anger, and anxiety, can be overwhelming. These negative emotions can lead to poor physical and mental health in the long term. Practicing mindfulness can help you learn how to regulate and cope with challenging emotions like anxiety and anger. In fact, meditation is the most prevalent non-pharmacological approach to reducing stress and anxiety. We know meditation can seem daunting, but you need to dedicate only five to ten minutes, a few times a week, to effectively buffer stress and anxiety—a little goes a long way. Studies show that 10 minutes or more of meditation practice daily significantly improves mindfulness, resilience, and leadership competence. That’s around 1% of your waking hours. Think of meditation as being a little like a short podcast—you’ll hear advice on how to de-stress and think positively. Here are a few tips to get started:
- Carve out time to listen to a meditation, whether it’s a few minutes before you start your day or while you’re out walking your dog
- Try Calm’s meditation for beginners on “Start Here” and “How to Meditate.”
- Or get inspired every day with Calm’s “Daily Jay” by Jay Shetty
- For regulating your negative emotions, such as grief, anger, or anxiety, try Tamara Levitt’s “Emotions Series”
- You can also track your moods by journaling or using mood check-in tools on Calm, creating space to acknowledge the ebb and flow of emotions and helps you recognize patterns and triggers
- HR leaders can encourage managers to start meetings with a short, 60-second meditation so employees can pause for a mindfulness break
- Educate employees so they know there’s more to meditation than they realize; it’s like a podcast or friendly advisor to guide you through stressful moments
- Offer mindful manager training to teach managers to be more self-aware, regulate their emotions, and ultimately create a more nurturing workplace culture
- Find out how Ogilvy implemented a mindful manager program with Calm Business and reduced manager stress by 60%
- Build social connection
Social interaction is a cornerstone of good health. Social connections generate positive feedback loops in our brains and bodies and promote physical, emotional, and social well-being. But the recent challenges of the remote workplace have worsened social isolation and loneliness. People who are lonely might also be dealing with considerable emotional exhaustion. If you’re a remote worker, it’s even more important to make a plan to ensure you’re building social connections with your colleagues. Here are a few tips:
- Make a plan to meet a colleague socially at least once a week, virtually or in person
- Create a social cohort around a hobby—book club, rock climbing, or any other shared interest—with colleagues and organize regular activities together
- To build strong, healthy relationships in your life, try Calm’s “Relationships with Others Series” by Tamara Levitt
If you’re an HR leader, know that we’re only beginning to realize the impact of remote work on society. The workplace, especially for younger generations not long out of school, has always been the social environment for friendships. You’ll need to innovate new ways of replicating this social setting in the remote world of work, whether it’s frequent in-person offsites, retreats, regular happy hours, or other fun in-person gatherings.
- Improve whole-body care
The fifth and final step is not new. You’ve heard your doctor tell you to eat well and exercise regularly for your physical health. Well, doing those things is equally important for a healthy mind. Poor diet is linked to depression and anxiety. Adequate nutrition is needed for countless aspects of brain functioning. Physical activity has been widely adopted as a beneficial way to self-manage mental health, and it may slow mental decline. Exercise has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression, perhaps because exercise improves blood circulation to the brain, and the body’s reaction to stress. Unfortunately, in the world of remote work, movement is at an all-time low, with people meeting by Zoom while sitting at their desks. Here are a few tips to improve your whole-body health:
- Sugar doesn’t do anything good for your health, and it negatively impacts a whole host of physical aspects of your body, from joint inflammation and gut health to pre-diabetes. So try reducing sugar in your diet, perhaps by skipping dessert and avoiding drinking soda
- Try our “Mindful Eating Series” on Calm to increase your awareness during meals and improve your relationship with food
- Sign up for a gym exercise class with a friend as an accountability buddy. There’s nothing like peer pressure to get you to the gym!
- Go for a walk, run, or bike every day after work—it can make a difference to both your mind and body
- Try yoga—it’s good for de-stressing and stretching the body as well as for meditating
- Check out Calm’s Daily Move to integrate a few minutes of stretching at your desk into your workday
- Finally, schedule your annual preventive screenings. So many of us skipped them during the pandemic—make sure you’re all caught up
- If you’re an HR leader, encourage your employees, especially those working remotely, to move more by launching a monthly movement challenge
- Organize fun virtual or in-person cooking classes that focus on healthy dietary habits
Take one small step at a time to develop a healthy mind
Finally, if this list seems daunting, start small. This World Mental Health Day, start by taking just one small step to support a healthy mind. Pick one of these five steps that speak to you the most and try a few of the tips on the list—you’ll be on your way to having a healthy mind at work and in life!
For more actionable tips on how to implement a preventive approach to mental health at your organization, download our latest guide on Healthy Minds at Work: Preventive Guide to Reduce Mental Health Risks and Costs.