Mental health has surely never been a more hot topic than it is at the moment, as we all try to adapt to this strange new world we’ve found ourselves in.
Even before the pandemic, mental health was a big focus for me and something I’ve tried to prioritise, in both my personal life and in my career (more on that later). Prompted by World Mental Health Day earlier this month, and keen to start an open dialogue within Velocitii around mental health, I decided to spend some time talking to the team about what they do in their personal lives to manage their own wellbeing and happiness.
The feedback - which you can read below - was not only funny and fascinating but also confirmed how important this subject is, in different ways, to almost everyone we know.
Why mental health matters to us
The opportunity to write about mental health was too important to pass up, not only because it’s so important to me personally, but also to what we do at Velocitii everyday. People are at the core of our business; it’s even written into our values. Let's be honest, every company seems to say that these days, but it has to be more than just words - it has to be backed up by action and embedded in the culture of the company.
As I thought about mental health this month, it occurred to me that the wellbeing of our people is something we do genuinely care about and have built in to how we manage and engage with our team. This is not totally by accident: the first employee I brought in to the company was Clare Blain as Director of People, with a mandate to manage and support our people. We have also partnered with Jana Dowling, who is not only a tech entrepreneur but also the founder of mental health fitness app MyArkeo. Both Clare and Jana bring a wealth of knowledge in this area and have helped to embed this into our day-to-day thinking and management.
There are so many positives that can come from putting people first, including greater productivity and staff retention, but these things shouldn’t be the primary motivator. If this tumultuous period has taught us anything, it’s the value of the people in our lives. For me, this is even to the extent of saying good morning and sparking conversation with complete strangers - something that, in normal times in London, would definitely earn you wary looks!
Putting words into action
But back to my point about action. As a company that is predominantly made up of self-employed contractors, it would be too easy to assume that their wellbeing is not our responsibility, but that would be a sad mistake. Investing in our people is the best investment we can make. So whether someone is an employee or a contractor, they are each considered to be part of the Velocitii family and we seek to value and support them all equally.
I’ve also used this reflection time as a prompt for us to explore what more we can be doing. We know we can be doing more, and it is never more important than it is now in these uncertain times.
How we support our mental health
So Velocitii team, what’s your go-to activity that helps you to stay positive and manage your mental health?
Clare, Velocitii Director of People
Prioritising mental health is something at the forefront of my life, since I had a real dip after a decade in investment banking at the beginning of my career. Exercise is something that I now find really helps me relax and be in the moment instead of focussing on anxieties. I swim about once a week - there is something about submersion in water that feels very peaceful, as it literally muffles the sound of the world outside! Not to mention of course that the exertion I put in distracts me from worries and releases endorphins. Exercise has not always been a part of my life so I can definitely understand that it’s not the same for everyone, but I would highly recommend that even getting out for a short walk can really benefit both your body and your mind.
Jana, Head of Velocitii Innovation
I guess for me it’s paying attention to myself, my behaviour and how I feel. It’s easy to get caught up in work, other people’s drama or just Netflix (and by that I mean Netflix as a whole, I think I’ve watched every crime drama on there). But paying attention to myself allows me to adapt and adjust small behaviours which in turn helps me to stay mentally fit. Not hiding from the reality that I might feel sad (which every winter I do, as I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or ‘SAD’) or that I’ve put on weight because I’m bored of running around the same park. Facing reality and being honest with myself is the first step - then it’s taking action. If I can get those two things in sync I’m golden!
Jon, Delivery Manager
The mental freedom to focus only on the present has been a passion through alpine skiing, during my first career as a ski teacher in Switzerland and New Zealand. There is limited call for it near Brighton though, although staying fit during middle age is a strong driver for staying active. Prioritising time with family, friends, cycling, nature and dogs keeps me sane, whilst I wait for the moment to retire as a subsistence farmer in an alpine village. A focus on every day being special and thankful to be alive, joined with a moment to enjoy the passing of time, daily, keeps me focussed.
Jess, PropTech Product Specialist
I'll confess I am not someone who's managed to incorporate daily exercise or meditation into my routine, but I often recall a L'Wren Scott quote: "Luxury is a state of mind." I read that quote years ago in an airplane magazine, and it's stayed with me as a reminder that we can create luxurious experiences for ourselves. More importantly, that state of mind is not dependent on having traditionally luxurious settings, ingredients or budgets. I remember buying convenience store bubble bath when I was absolutely exhausted on a work trip in NYC, and eating a Chipotle takeaway burrito in my bubble bath because I was too tired to speak to anyone that night. It felt so luxurious, I still recall it five years later! These past months I've been embracing bright flowers from the Co-op, tropical patterned napkins, candle-lit dinners outside, fresh sourdough bread... and you can bet I've got some 2020 bubble bath on hand.
Kes, Head of Global Delivery
I run, walk, and make sure I’m well rested to maintain my mental health on a regular basis. Fresh air and some time outside always help when a day is not going well. Things were definitely tougher during the spring lockdown for the pandemic, I couldn’t spend as much time outside as I would have liked. I also love travelling, but couldn’t do any! Reminiscing about old trips (pictured, on Mt. Kilimanjaro) and dreaming of future ones helped me get through that.
Indy, User Research Consultant
I am a simple being. At the end of the day, in order to maintain my mental health all I really need to do is make sure I get proper rest and eat good food. If either of those two things start to slip I really notice the difference in my daily outlook, and my anxiety levels begin to spike dramatically. I find taking time for myself essential, maybe to cook a big healthy meal whilst listening to a podcast or an audio book, then getting into bed and eating it all whilst watching a film or reading. In the past I have found it nearly impossible to shoehorn in the time to do that sort of thing for myself (lots of working night shifts and attending anxiety inducing social commitments) however lockdown has been my time to shine. I really noticed a positive difference in my energy and stress levels after only a few days of quarantining and now that I’m back at work/seeing friends again, I do my best to leave at least one night a week aside for myself to use as I wish. Whether I go straight to bed, order take-out, cook, or binge watch Netflix, spending time by myself really helps me to clear my head and reset. Turns out lockdown helped me discover my true calling - a professional hermit.
Holly, Content Designer
Spending time out in nature is definitely my number one mental health tip, and spending it with my dog is even better! Dogs just love life, and it’s infectious. Some days it’s a real struggle to find the time, but a dog doesn’t care about your overflowing inbox so you don’t get a choice! After work, I usually take him out for another walk, bike ride or run just to reset and clear my head of work - I always feel so much better afterwards. Being outside and away from the desk (and any sort of screen) is the key.
My own experience with mental health
I will openly admit that I have had my own challenges with mental health over the years. It was only about five years ago that I decided to do something about it, abandoning the traditional expectation that you just have to suck it up, bury those feelings and just carry on. Although that attitude is not the core of the problem, it is the first thing that is holding many of us back from achieving greater happiness and balance.
Not really knowing where to start, I called up a number advertising Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) counselling. To be honest, I had no idea what this actually meant - even after a Google search I was still none the wiser - but the one thing that I am most proud of is acknowledging that I needed some help. I needed someone to talk to that was not family or friends. I didn't need opinions or judgement, I just needed someone to listen.
CBT was a great experience and something I have revisited a few more times since, but there are also numerous other avenues of professional support that you can seek out. The important point is that it doesn't matter what the issue is, you may not even be able to pinpoint it, the first step is just acknowledging to yourself that you could use some help. Although for many of us that first step is the biggest challenge, it is one that you will never regret.
What do I do on a regular basis to maintain positive mental health? For me it’s spin cycling sessions, provided by the talented and inspiring instructors and staff at SoulCycle Notting Hill. It’s a fantastic balance of physical exertion, combined with the dim lighting and a mix of motivating music, of high intensity ‘lets sprint up that mountain road’ and smooth soul beats in a reflective, eyes shut, almost meditative cruise. It is my go-to activity several times a week that helps me to shake what I may be feeling emotionally on any particular day, but also gives me the clarity to break it all down, think it through, discard the unimportant things, and go back at it with a fresh energy and perspective.
There are so many great people talking about mental health these days, and it’s breaking down the stigma and encouraging us to talk more openly. I honestly would not have been able to write a blog like this five years ago, but today I am proud to do it, proud of what I have achieved for my own mental health, but mostly I hope this helps others to contemplate taking that same first step.
Feel free to reach out to me with your own thoughts, ideas and advice on the topic of mental health - I’d love to hear from you.