October was officially Mental Health Month, but the leadership team at WDBIH acknowledges that mental health should be a priority every month of the year.
Managing your Mental Health
“If 2020 was a race, it would be the Comrades Marathon!” reflects WDBIH CEO Faith Khanyile. “It’s been a long year… and everyone is feeling the strain on so many levels.”
Khanyile says she has had to regularly check in on her own mental health, and when things really get tough, she takes the time to regroup and find her centre. She says the mental health strategy will be different for everyone, and it’s very important to identify and focus on what works for you.
“I have kept up my running, which is really a form of meditation for me,” says Faith. “I recognise when I need a bit of support or a bit of a boost, and luckily in this age of technology there are a lot of apps and useful content out there to monitor health and fitness and make sense of the things like stress and anxiety.”
Feed Your Soul
One of WDBIH’s partners, Discovery Holdings, has come up with some wonderful ways to support clients, and the Discover Healthier podcast hosted by Azania Mosaka on the Discovery website is a fantastic resource to tap into.
Earlier in the year, Mosaka presented a podcast titled Maintain your Mental Wellbeing that offered up some practical mental health gems, with interviewees Professor Renate Schoeman and Discovery Vitality clinical wellness specialist Dr Seranne Motilal.
Mental Health needs to be Holistic
Dr Motilal says that in order to thrive, we need to look at mental health holistically and incorporate all aspects of life.
“Good mental well-being can encompass things like feeling good about ourselves and being able to function well individually or in relationships, being better able to deal with the ups and downs of life, feeling more connected socially and to our surroundings, feeling more in control of our lives and having a sense of purpose and meaning,” she says.
Professor Renata Schoeman, a psychiatrist based in Cape Town, agrees that there are many tools to help individuals deal better with mental health, but it’s not a case of one-size-fits-all and it’s not just about “meditation and mindfulness” being the miracle cure for stress. It’s about tackling stress and anxiety on all levels and finding ways to create greater resilience.
Ditch Pollyanna for Good
Professor Schoeman says the notion of always being positive sometimes puts more stress and pressure on the individual.
Dr Motilal agrees. “It’s not about being happy all the time, because sometimes hard and difficult emotions are completely normal and expected. And that’s okay,” she says.
She says factors such as poverty, discrimination, political conflict and financial distress are often beyond our immediate control. But other factors, such as the ability to manage our thoughts and interactions, are within our control.
So what can one do to support our own mental wellbeing, what key lifestyle habits should we focus on in order to have excellent mental health?
The SEEDSS Method
Dr Schoeman quotes Hans Selye, known as the father of stress research, who said, “It’s not stress that kills us, but our reaction to it.”
She uses an effective acronym in her work: SEEDSS.
“SEEDSS is so effective because if we are exposed to stress, we use the SEEDSS model to counter it as a reaction, not other unhealthy options,” she explains. “SEEDSS stands for: SLEEP. EXERCISE. EDUCATION. DIET. SOCIALISING (socially distanced and with masks of course). and SPIRITUALITY. There is very good research on all of these factors, including the influence that it has on our brain functioning, how the connections are made in our brain and how this is being translated to resilience, wellness and health.”
In an interview with CNBC, wellness and spiritual author Deepak Chopra says, that it’s very important to improve the “state of your soul” by tapping into one’s own sense of joy, working on feelings of self-esteem, being generous of spirit and being of service to others.
He says, “We don’t need to apply the words “religious” or “spiritual” to these modes of healing. They are based on long traditions, both East and West, that have examined and understood the human condition.
Business Manager, Rose Mamabolo says the nature of the work done by the WDBIH team also helps to give value and meaning to everyday life.
“The work that we do helps so many women around the country – both in the boardroom and in rural areas – and I know our entire team continues to be inspired by the fact that what we do makes a difference to others.”
Mamabolo says giving back is very important, but that sometimes the person one needs to give back to is oneself.
“We are so busy juggling life, family and work that often we just push ourselves to do more and more. I think the idea of kindness and love really needs to start with self. It takes work, but I really think that being kind to yourself and acknowledging that you are doing your best really helps with mental health.”
She says that creating boundaries between work and home life is really important. “When we first went into lockdown it felt like one was working 24/7, and the entire team was feeling completely exhausted. My choosing to put up boundaries between work and home has been really useful, and although I always tend to have work on my mind, I am learning to discipline myself to take time out to refresh and re-energise.”
In The Economist Asks podcast interview titled “How can people preserve their mental health in the covid era?” author and research professor Brene Brown says “Covid-19 is an exercise in our collective vulnerability.”
“People in leadership need to show vulnerability, we are all afraid, we are all uncertain, we are all emotionally exposed,” says Brown.
In another interview, she told CMO magazine (Australia), “In this culture right now, where everyone is scared and uncertain, we need curious leaders. We need those who check-in and say something seems off, tell me what is going on, what does support look like, and how do I make things better for you?”
Mamabolo says that, as a company, WDBIH is really taking the mental wellbeing of staff to heart, knowing that the Covid-19 pandemic is all about playing the long game.
“Mental health is no longer a nice-to-have in companies,” says Mamabolo. “It’s an aspect of the corporate world that needs to be part of how businesses operate. Many South African companies are creating mental-health policies because they understand that this is directly related to productivity and the bottom line. At WDBIH we know that our workforce needs to be strong and resilient, and we truly believe in empathetic leadership that puts the human being first. ”