It’s taken me awhile to get my arse into gear and thump out another post but here goes. I was contacted a short time ago by Neil Webster who was putting together and event for Club Peloton – a grant-making charity that’s been going for over a decade, and that focuses on using the bike to network within the property industry. Neil was proposing an event for members that focused on cycling and mental health and how that might link benefits in the workplace. Neil kindly hosted and introduced the panel as well as highlighting some relevant conclusions drawn from Club Peloton members on the subject of the evening.
The event took place a week or so ago on a cold evening in British Land’s Canada Water venue (I appreciated the soup and sourdough on offer!). My Cohorts-in-Speech for the evening were Paralympian, Rachel Morris MBE and Richard Lord of Equipe Cycle Coaching. I think we had an interesting diversity of experiences between us – with mental health providing the overlap in the Venn diagram.
A survey that was sent out to members in advance of the event provided some context for the evening and some thoughts from attendees on how their use of the bike for transport had a beneficial effect on their work patterns. A substantial 60% of those polled thought that they arrived at work more energised than they would otherwise and felt that they were more productive from having cycled in. All those who returned the survey felt that exercise eased depression or low mood. Probably not a surprise to many of us cyclists but, in this context, it was satisfying to see the trends reiterated so firmly.
I’d love to see more workplaces embracing this kind of event as part of the ongoing process to normalise discussions of mental health. Some large companies are starting initiiatives to support the mental health of their employees. From a purely economic perspective it makes sense (a ‘no brainer’, if you will). A more supported workforce is a happier workforce, is likely to be a more loyal one, a more coherent one. Individuals will stay longer, be more productive, take fewer days of sick leave. We spend so much of our lives at work – looking at factors that improve or sustain wellbeing in the workplace should, in my opinion, be standard. An organisation *is* its workforce. Businesses can work at offering more flexible working, work environment changes, support options such as employee helplines and access to counselling/therapy, be willing to embrace reasonable adjustments. It’s not all up to the individual to build up their own resilience and tolerance; businesses and organisation need to be willing to examine their own culture/practice and be willing to modify where there are structures in place which negatively affect staff.
Thursday is Time to Talk Day – a great opportunity to get together with colleagues over a cuppa and have a chat about how your head is – whether that be good, bad, or fair-to-middling. When we are asked how we are we so often default to ‘fine, thanks’ even when we are far from it. This might be for various reasons – we don’t want to talk to that specific person, we don’t want to talk in that environment, we shut down the conversation because we don’t want to talk at all. Why not make time to have those chats, to not be alarmed by people sharing sensitive subjects, to allow space for people to show a bit of emotion?
During the Q&A one attendee to the Club Peloton event asked about the signs that someone was struggling and how one might help. Sometimes it might not be clear to the individual themselves what is happening, especially if its something they haven’t gone through before. We described some of our own experiences. I notice that I’m becoming more withdrawn. I socialise less, and when I do it takes much more energy. My sleep patterns can be interrupted, or I might sleep through the night and wake still feeling exhausted. There are usually very visible physical signs of my mental health taking a slide. Lower energy levels can mean my diet takes a downturn too as I have less energy to prepare meals and less interest in what I’m eating. Then I have less energy because I’m not eating properly. I can feel much more on edge emotionally, smaller things can upset in a way they wouldn’t do normally. I experience a sense of ‘greying out’ when life seems to have less colour (I take fewer photos when this happens and notice my instagram output drops!). A salient point which I neglected to mention is that if you are concerned that someone might be having a tough time don’t be afraid to ask them. Sometimes being there, listening, and small acts of support can be incredibly valuable. Don’t try and fix someone. Ask them what they would like to happen. They might not know but it’s a good place to start. Perhaps ask questions that have few possible answers – anxiety and low mood can squash decision-making and too many choices can seem overwhelming. Sometimes taking charge can be useful – ask the individual whether they would prefer if you made a choice for them. One of my friends announced that we were going to a cafe for tea and cake and chat – and no arguments! I was happy to oblige. When I’m at this stage it’s not as simple as just going out for a bike ride to make it all better – it will take much more to get out of the front door and the ride also will be much more of a physical effort because I’m so drained.
What practical steps can be take within the worksplace? Facilitating access to Mental Health First Aid Training is one. An additional approach is training for managers in how to support those colleagues with lived experience of MH issues. Mental health workplaces are equally playing catch-up – just because MH is the focus of the business or organisation it isn’t a given that there will be a higher level of support in place. Where resources are tight there canbe a tendency to focus on the clients over those who provide the service. Setting up a LEN (Lived Experience Network) can be of huge benefit in terms of staff peer support and a resource for employers to draw on order to develop focused and effective services for employees.
Aside from that, there is the option of going to your GP, contacting psychological therapies services, taking medication. Personally I’d go for any and all of these (and have done). Some people prefer not to take medication, perhaps opting for yoga, Mindfulness, mediation, exercise, gardening, and so on. It can take a little while to discover what works for you. I’d say keep an open mind and read up about tried and tested approaches.
Read a bit more on the Club Peloton evening in the fab write-up in Velocity Magazine. Images of the event used here are by kind permission of David Taylor, editor of Velocity Magazine. Aside from the t-shirt design pic which I nabbed from Neil Webster . Here are a few other relevant links which may pique your interest…