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.