Mental Health for Life’s Tough Moments: Bringing physical health into the equation
Fertility challenges, expectancy, parenthood, perimenopause, loss and grief – our job at Moments that Matter is to help workplaces make these big and often challenging life milestones easier to navigate for their employees.
Of course we talk about mental health – a lot. But there’s not a single one of our seminars and workshops that doesn’t include physical health strategies.
Eating right, sleeping better, breathing consciously, finding the right type of physical activity for you – we’re convinced that taking care of our physical health in these and other ways helps us weather life’s ups and downs with better mental and emotional health.
Image by: The New Happy Co.
That mental and physical health are deeply connected is a well known – and well researched – fact. And yet, workplace employee wellbeing programmes often tackle both separately. For employees’ mental health: mindfulness apps and counselling via employee assistance programs (EAPs). For their physical health: fitness challenges, a yoga session when off-site and heart health seminars by medical practitioners.
Even more worrying is the unspoken but widespread notion that wellbeing programmes focusing on physical health are old-school because mental health is the new thing.
The truth is, you can’t address one without the other. To feel and perform at our best – especially when we’re struggling – we need a mixed toolkit of physical and mental wellbeing strategies.
“Anyone with mental health challenges would be missing a trick if they did not spend time optimising their physical health in addition to mental health support,” says Sheryl Carroll, Integrative Health Practitioner and Coach at Moments that Matter. “Our body systems work together in a very beautiful way. For example, what we eat affects our mood and how we think affects our energy and our sleep.”
So what does a whole-health approach to wellbeing at work look like? Here are two examples of how we help companies support their employees’ whole wellbeing when they’re navigating big life transitions.
Returning to work after parental leave
Readjusting to work can be a testing time for the mental health of new parents. 1 in 7 mothers and 1 in 10 fathers experience postpartum depression, and many more struggle with fatigue, guilt, stress and motivation as they get used to the juggling of it all.
Back-to-work career coaching can help new parents find their feet at work, but it’s usually reserved for senior talent and in terms of mental health it only scratches the surface. EAPs go deeper, but they’re not enough. An APAC-wide survey by City Mental Health Alliance Hong Kong shows that only 1 in 10 people with mental health issues at work actually access their EAP. And out of those who use it, 4 in 10 don’t find it helpful.
Sofie Jacobs, Parental Transitions Coach at Moments that Matter and an experienced midwife, says: “When someone is in the trenches of new parenthood, we can’t expect to help them look after their mental health and productivity if we’re not helping them cope with sleep deprivation. If we’re not giving them practical ways to recharge their energy when time is scarce. If we’re not helping birthing mothers to rebalance their hormones and physically heal. Back-to-work support has to address all these nuances, and more”.
Navigating perimenopause at work
Hot flushes and night sweats are only the tip of the iceberg – there are 48 symptoms related to the menopause transition, a mixed bag of mind, mood and body symptoms that can affect every woman differently.
“Low energy, weight gain, mood swings are all common symptoms which can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression as hormones shift. But these symptoms do not have to be a woman’s reality,” says coach Sheryl. “When we invest in a hormone-healthy lifestyle – eating, moving, and managing stress in optimal ways – all of this can help a woman take control of their perimenopause journey”. For example, a diet rich in protein, vitamin B and omega 3 can help ward off some of the menopause’s emotionally troubling symptoms.
The problem is that, currently, most women don’t know much about their symptoms or how to manage them. A study by Gen-M showed that 70% of women who have gone through the menopause had to learn about it on their own.
Workplaces have an opportunity to help women become more resilient to the escapable symptoms of this inescapable life stage – and it’s in employers’ interest too. With the numbers of menopausal women in the workforce rising globally, and 9 in 10 women feeling that perimenopause symptoms affect them negatively at work, it’s a health issue that organisations committed to employee wellbeing can’t afford to ignore.
Whether we’re dealing with big life transitions or daily stressors, we have the best chances of staying mentally healthy when we’re looking after our physical health too – and when we have expert, practical tips to do both at the same time. As more companies channel resources into mental wellbeing, those who find ways to factor physical wellbeing into the equation are bound to see a bigger impact.