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Spotting your mental health red flags

In a new series of wellbeing columns Karen Beaven offers advice to others in HR

Somebody once told me that sometimes you don’t see the cliff edge until you drive off it. I didn’t think too much about it at the time, but those words certainly resonate with me now. Around this time last year I was in the immediate aftermath of a breakdown that I didn’t see coming.

Though it was a really awful experience I’m actually glad that it happened in the way it did. It made me stop and listen to the signals my body and mind were giving me. It gave me a chance to change. So, in this first column in my series offering tips to HR professionals around ensuring their own wellbeing, I want to take a look at a few ‘red flags’. These are things you typically only get to see with the benefit of hindsight, but that through my own hindsight and personal experience I’m able to share with you now.

The first one relates to how we fuel our bodies, and how a deteriorating or poor diet can be one of the first red flags that you’re on your way to a state of weakened mental and physical strength. Keep a food diary for 10 days and record everything you eat and drink during that time. Also note any dates where you needed to deliver high performance at work. It can also be useful to make a few notes each day on how you felt generally; what were your mood and ability to concentrate like?

The simple act of paying attention to what you are consuming can be enough to help you initiate change. It’s important to take this seriously. You wouldn’t feed a racehorse alcohol and junk food and expect it to win.

So think about this in terms of the foundations of your own performance. What goals are you hoping to achieve and what level do you want to operate at? Fuel yourself appropriately for the level of performance you want to deliver.

Get started by making two small changes a day and review again after another 10 days. Make a commitment to yourself to switch out one meal a day for a healthier option and commit to drinking three more glasses of water every day. Start small with your changes to help you build a new habit and then adapt and review every couple of weeks to help you sustain it.

The next red flag to be aware of relates to your sources of strength. Typically, where I work with clients who have experienced a breakdown or a crisis moment, it’s common that in the months leading up to the event there had been a gradual detachment from things that under normal circumstances would bring strength and happiness. It happens in such a subtle way that the person doesn’t even realise it until it’s too late.

Fortunately there’s an easy fix to this: listing all the things that bring you strength. They could be places you go, songs you listen to, animals, other people, hobbies… you get the idea.

After you have listed them all, write down when you last did that thing. Or if it’s a person, when was the last time you saw or spoke to them? For anything where the date was more than a week ago reach out and re-connect with that thing or person. It doesn’t matter what time of day you’re reading this, there will be at least one action you can take immediately to bring something closer to you that gives you strength. No excuses, just go and do it.

We all have the capacity to improve our mental and physical strength and I’m here to help you on this journey. Next month I’ll be talking about impostor syndrome and sharing a few thoughts on how to deal with it… Remember, you’ve got this!

Karen Beaven is founder of the HR Entrepreneurs Network and an IVF and fertility coach. Visit www.karenbeaven.com and www.ivfcoach.co.uk