Tuesday 16th May 2023

It's okay to say that you're not okay

Mental health is a complex and delicate subject, and with this year's Mental Health Awareness Week focusing on anxiety.

It's okay to say that you're not okay

By Eleni Kantidaki, Board member of WISH Midlands and Associate at BM3

Mental health is a complex and delicate subject, and with this year's Mental Health Awareness Week focusing on anxiety, it is a priority business issue. Work-related stress, depression, and anxiety are the leading cause of sickness absence and one of the top three reasons people reach out for support. Unfortunately, tending to our mental health is often at the bottom of our to-do lists.

As someone who has personally struggled with anxiety, and a mental health first aider, I am passionate about raising awareness, sharing coping mechanisms and promoting wellbeing in the workplace. We must strive to create a positive culture, where leaders, employees, and managers work together to protect and advance health, safety, and wellbeing. Doing so will empower us to live our best lives, maximising our potential while also ensuring the sustainability of the business.

My Journey

Having grown up in Greece and moved to the UK to study Architecture at 19, I have faced numerous challenges, both personally and professionally. From the loss of a cherished family member to being diagnosed with thyroid cancer (which I am now thankfully healthy from), and changing careers in my thirties, I have developed the ability to identify when my anxiety is escalating and to prioritise self-care.

I have become a firm believer that only by talking openly and sharing our stories can true change happen. Each of us has our own goals and struggles, which are unique to us. It is not our place to judge the size of someone else’s struggle, but to support the choices they make and to provide the confidence and support necessary to reject goals that don’t make us happy.

With time and experience, I have developed a range of strategies to help my anxiety and have found a job that allows me to flourish. I am currently leading all marketing output and bids at BM3, a multi-disciplinary company with over 30 years’ experience in all types of housing and offices in Birmingham and London. Working with BM3 has enabled me to grow both professionally and personally, and I am grateful for the supportive environment they provide. I also make sure to take time for myself, engaging in activities that bring me joy such as travelling, volunteering, trying out new food spots and connecting with my loved ones.

Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. The first step in managing it is to identify the source of your anxiety. Is it caused by a specific situation or event? Or is it a more general feeling of unease or worry? Once you have identified it, you can start to develop strategies to reduce it. This could include lifestyle changes, such as exercising and eating a healthy diet, or seeking professional help, such as a counsellor.

Here’s what works for me to maintain a healthy work-life balance

  • Breathe: I use deep breathing and the Headspace app to stay in the present moment and accept all of my thoughts and feelings. Before going to bed, I do a 2-minute progressive muscle relaxation exercise to help clear my mind.
  • Staying active: I am aiming for at least 20 minutes of exercise each day, such as taking a walk or doing yoga, to help reset and gain clarity.
  • Work Flexibility: BM3 offers a hybrid policy that has allowed me to better manage my work and home life. If you're having difficulty with managing the two, consider talking to your employer about potential changes that could help, such as flexible start and end times, additional training or coaching during working hours, equal breaks taken in shorter, more frequent intervals etc.
  • Journaling: Taking the time to express my emotions in writing helps me to understand them better and move through them quicker. I realised if you try to avoid, suppress, or ignore them, they will only grow stronger and leave you feeling overwhelmed.
  • Connect with others and planning ahead: Reaching out to friends and family can help me feel supported and heard. Additionally, planning my holidays in advance can help me to make sure I'm taking enough time away from work to relax and recharge.

It's perfectly normal and valid to not feel okay. Don't be afraid to admit it and reach out for help. Remember that managing anxiety requires patience, persistence, and commitment to discover the source of your anxiety and practice effective techniques to improve your overall well-being. Have the courage to prioritise your mental health and be honest with yourself by setting realistic goals and expectations. If your anxiety is too overwhelming, don't hesitate to seek professional help. It's important to be kind and compassionate to yourself as you navigate the journey of life.

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