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HR editorial tries... coaching

The HR magazine team trialled some exercises recommended for preserving good mental health

Who knew simply drawing a circle within a circle could be so helpful. And yet this rudimentary doodle had me grinning to myself recently.

The exact nature of my modest epiphany? That there was no point worrying about something I had no way of controlling or of proving to be the correct state of affairs.

All pretty obvious. But this (I had discovered the day before at a taster session with The HR Lounge’s Angela O’Connor) is the beauty of coaching.

The circle technique will be familiar to many. It is a simple way of stopping you when you start to spiral into a panic wormhole. What you can control goes in the inner circle, what you can’t the outer.

So though some may be surprised, or even sceptical, at the suggestion of coaching as a key means of preserving good mental health, my 90-minute taster (O’Connor would typically work with people over several months or years) gave me a good sense of its potential here.

Before our session O’Connor had me fill in several questionnaires: two to discover my learning styles and one on what motivates me and my ambitions.

Straight off O’Connor diagnosed me as a ‘reflector’ (someone who likes to stand back to ponder experiences from many different perspectives) and an introvert – traits I was already vaguely aware of. The power of remembering your unique style and not trying to fight it was brought home to me once again, however.

People become highly stressed – and worse – at work, when they don’t understand their own preferences or which situations are likely to trigger a stress response, O’Connor explains. They’re also likely to experience compromised mental health when they don’t give themselves enough space to recognise what emotion they’re feeling and to see if they can calmly reframe this.

During our session O’Connor writes ‘what am I feeling?’ on a pink Post-it. She recommends all coachees remember this when something happens to make them tense. I’m keen to try this soon (mentally not literally, lest I unnerve nearby colleagues…)

Again it sounds simple, but O’Connor emphasises the importance for me – as a reflector – of not feeling I have to come up with immediate answers and of ensuring, as an introvert, I indulge my need for ‘me time’ each day. (“You’re incredibly hard on yourself,” O’Connor says at one point, encapsulating perfectly the trait that will have me feeling mentally unwell if I’m not careful.)

O’Connor sends me on my way with homework: actually asking other people what they think of me next time I’m tempted to ruminate and invent horror stories in my head, and to find a quiet moment to ‘meet’ my 75-year-old self and find out what I’d like her to be like (fingers crossed for Vivienne Westwood meets Prue Leith).

Best of all O’Connor leaves me with the homework of taking the time each evening to recharge (read: turn my brain off) on the sofa watching First Dates, Married at First Sight, Dancing on Ice… (all highbrow faves). Now what could be better for a person’s wellbeing than that?

Jenny Roper is editor of HR magazine

Further reading

Are we on the cusp of a mental health crisis?