mental hygiene

Let's get working on our mental hygiene

14 December 2020

Vitamine R

A healthy life balance is more important now than ever. The mental and physical well-being of our employees is also of paramount importance. It takes a great deal of energy and resilience to overcome all the challenges posed by work and our private lives. To provide our employees with extra support and guidance, we organized an online inspiration session on Mental Hygiene, which was overseen by Professor Ralf Caers. We would like to take the time to share what we've learned with others!

No time to read the whole article? Discover here the handy 'cheat sheet' with all the tips & tricks to get started with your mental hygiene.

Over the past few months, we've all been put to the test, as coronavirus has made it harder to deal with uncertainty, fear, change and increasing pressure and stress. Attention also needs to be paid to this at work. In this context, we invited Ralf Caers to speak to us. He is a doctor in Applied Economics and a professor in Human Resource Management at the Catholic University of Leuven. In his book "At the helm of Myself Ltd", he explains the concept of "Mental Hygiene" and offers various practical tips for becoming more resilient. This was also the basis for our inspiration session.

Stimulate your vagus nerve

60% of Belgians experience stress every week. This rarely happens because of work alone; finances, caring for others, relationships and so on all play a role. Chronic stress causes an imbalance in our bodies. We are constantly pushing too hard, and our brakes gradually stops working, resulting in an increased pulse rate and a high level of adrenaline. Recognize that? You can do something about it right now!

Enter the vagus nerve. Never heard of it? The vagus or wandering nerve is working for you right now. The nerve starts in the brain, passes down through the neck, and goes to all your vital organs. This, until recently, unknown part of your body has a major impact on how we feel and what happens in our bodies. Our heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the quality of this nerve. The lower it is, the less effectively the nerve is working for you. For example, the HRV of burnout and cancer patients has been shown to be lower than that of healthy people. A malfunctioning vagus nerve also reduces the body's ability to cope with stressful situations, with the result that the stress remains in our bodies for far too long.

The good news is you can train this nerve. An efficient way to do this is to start breathing mindfully. Adopt a good posture (shoulders back) and slow your breathing down to about 6 times per minute. There are even apps (such as Breath Ball) to help you with this. It also helps not to remain seated for too long. Stand up to get your blood flowing again every 20 minutes or after every hour of work. What also helps is something we call contextual crafting, which boils down to adapting the environment in which you work to suit you. Photos that make you feel good will help you keep a positive mindset for longer. Changing the rooms in which you work also helps. That way, your experience changes and you stay productive for longer.


Become the CEO of the most important company in the world

Professor Caers also believes we often pay too much attention to what others are doing. in most cases, employers already offer many things to help employees achieve a healthy life balance. "Start to run" programs or fruit baskets in the cafeteria are just two examples. They challenge people to take things into their own hands. Good mental hygiene requires ownership. You need to take on the role of CEO at Myself Ltd., the most important company in the world. You, as chief, decide what the goal is and how you want to get there. That's easier said than done, though. So how do you do it?

Don't become an approval junkie

Not being valued paves the way for burnout. That means giving compliments really works. Still, you shouldn't become addicted to this. See approval and compliments as the output – they cannot be your car's engine. If this is the case, external approval will erode your intrinsic motivation. You will focus too much on the external and lose sight of your own values. Focus less on why you're doing it and more on what you're doing.

Connect with disconnecting

Many of us have been working from home for months. Combined with flexible working hours, this can make it feel like you're always working. Professor Caers therefore recommends incorporating transition moments, during which you let go of the stress caused by your work. For example, consider jogging around the block or singing along with the radio. This way, you avoid releasing your accumulated work stress during an argument with a family member. Be present in the moment and consciously decide whether what is happening in your head relates to work or private matters. Companies can help their employees in this by refraining from extensive use of push notification channels. By all means send the email out in the evening, but schedule it to arrive in the recipient's inbox at around 7 am the next morning. You should also be aware of the reverse changeover. A transition moment before you start working enables you to let go of your private life in the workplace.

The truth is deeper than you think

Do you regularly run into the same problem? Take a step back. Consider the context and try to determine where the exact cause of the problem lies. This often requires some deep reflection on your own behavior and thoughts. Be aware that our experiences and memories define our frame of reference, meaning we all read situations differently. By keeping this in mind, we will be able to forgive people we like much more quickly.

Start with yourself!

We have created a handy cheat sheet for our employees with all of Ralf's tips & tricks. Download, share and use it now!

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