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Focus on stress this Mental Health Awareness Week

According to a Guardian survey, three in four employees have felt overwhelmed by stress at some point.

This week (14th-18th May) marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week, a campaign hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. This year the focus is on stress, a topic of increasing importance in workplaces across the world.

Research has shown that two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes, and stress is a key factor in this. Our mental health affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental ill health can range from common disorders such as anxiety and depression to more severe and far less common conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

We spend a third of our lives at work (World Health Organisation) and mental ill health is thought to be responsible for 91m lost working days each year, more than for any other illness (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service). By tackling stress, we can go a long way to tackle mental health problems. In line with Mental Health Awareness Week, Magenta has asked business leaders from a range of organisations for their tips on tackling stress to help improve our mental health.

Dan Kelly, Director of Food at London-based catering company Vacherin, said: “By understanding what we eat, we can achieve a realistic dietary balance that is sustainable and the key to ensuring a happy, productive work day. The food we eat directly impacts our mood. For example, if your blood sugar drops you might feel tired, irritable and even depressed. The most effective way to encourage healthier choices at work is to provide healthier options. At Vacherin, we have a monthly ‘Food in Focus’ programme, which provides us with an opportunity to help our clients understand some basic science and the truth behind certain key foods in our diet.”

Lisa Hamill, UK People Director at global multi service provider Servest UK, said: “An organisation’s people are its lifeblood. Leaders need to see health and wellbeing as part of running a healthy business with a behavioural precedent to overcome underlying stigma. Being approachable and keeping in regular contact with your colleagues will help you to spot those who might need extra support. Achieving a work–life balance is about having proper downtime to refresh, and ensuring individuals have the support network they need to be physically and mentally fit.”

Karen Plum, Head of Research and Development at workplace consultants Advanced Workplace Associates, said: “The more we stress and worry, the better we become at stressing and worrying. If, on the other hand, we practise being calm, clear and focused, we can strengthen these areas. Nothing is more effective than helping one learn. Attention is the faculty that allows us to navigate our lives and it has been reported that mindfulness techniques can help us channel this energy. It can also help us access capabilities for creativity, flexibility and lateral thinking – which can help people manage challenging situations and stress more skillfully in the workplace.”

Melanie Taylor, HR Director at facilities service provider Churchill Contract Services, said: “It is vital that organisations demonstrate that they are being proactive with mental wellbeing and communicate this to their employees. This starts at the top; buy-in from the senior management team is key to making the workplace a safe space in which staff feel that they can raise their mental health issues without any fear of discrimination or judgement.”

Cathy Hayward, Managing Director of B2B communications agency for the built environment, Magenta Associates, said: "Due to the fact we work in such a fast-paced industry that often leads to high stress levels, it became very apparent that we needed to offer the correct support to the team. We successfully pitched to pledge to the Time for Change national campaign. We now work to implement a mental health and wellbeing strategy that ensures the best possible support for our staff. From monthly lunch breaks where the team leave the office to discuss anything but work, to workshops on stress management and working to become more familiar and comfortable with the best possible language to use to discuss mental health openly – Magenta is dedicated to bettering its employees’ mental wellbeing.”

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