Let's talk about this openly

Mental Health Improvement Techniques

Leading a business is hard. It can be very lonely especially if you’re on your own at the top. I’m lucky, I’ve always had James and now Rob and my father Jamie has been there through thick and thin with us. Even though that burden is shared, it’s still an immense amount of pressure I don’t think you feel anywhere else in life. When you have staff, you have other families that literally rely on you to keep the doors open. When I read about situations like the Phillip Green one it makes me wonder how someone like that can sleep at night. Unfortunately, I fear, that as I’ve written before, to be really successful these days, you have to do things and act in ways that many (including me) wouldn’t wish to do. I’d rather be an honourable, good man with a medium sized business than a multi millionaire who walks over everyone to get what they want.  

I’ve made no secret of the mental health journey I’ve been on these last few years. It started a number of years ago when business was tough, and I started to feel the strain. I think that was a culmination of years of hard graft, starting to burn out and two very small kids (2 under 2 at one point). Layer on top of that the loss of two babies, Sophie and Charlie and the small matter of a global pandemic and I think I can be excused a few wobbles now and then.

In this country we have roughly 6000 suicides per year. The highest band is men aged 45-49, a band I’ll be in within a few years! Worryingly females under 25 has increased almost 100% to its highest numbers in years (social media, anyone want to wager?)

I recently found out that a good mate of mine was struggling and had been for years. He was in a dark place and fairly close to the edge. He never told me but I’m really glad he has now…. So many (men especially) don’t talk enough about their feelings. We feel it’s a sign of weakness and because of that it has a stigma attached. I want to break that down and get people talking. Nick Jemetta has been an inspiration for me this year with his constant banging of the drum in this area. I salute you Nick.

…back to my friend and I - We’ve now shared stories and suggestions for techniques that have helped us both and it’s that conversation which inspired me to write this entry.

If you know me at all you’ll know how driven I am. If something is wrong (including me) I’ll work every hour to fix it. When I started to struggle, I read everything I could and took as much advice as I could from others. I invested in me heavily (time wise and financially) as I wasn’t going to let this break me. What follow are some of the techniques I’ve tried. I’ve given them ratings as to how helpful they’ve been for me (its also worth saying that if you need medicinal help then you should talk to your doctor today and NEVER be ashamed)

I hope these ideas might just help you or someone you know. Let’s get into it.

Creating Routine - I learnt about this through my personal trainer Tom Johnson. Having a good routine including bedtime, sleep patterns and even down to things like getting out the clothes you’ll wear the next day, the night before is helpful for your mental health. Planning my week using a written journal has also been incredibly useful. Trying to keep everything in your head is non sensical when you think about it. Give yourself less things to think about and you free your mind to focus on the work at hand.

Rating for helping my mental health: 8/10

Bettering yourself - I realised when I was really down that I wasn’t spending any time learning or progressing myself. This could be a very personal thing to me but getting back into podcasts/audiobooks/youtube and reading helped me get different perspectives and when you’re listening to exciting, positive people all the time it’s only natural for that to rub off on you.

Rating for helping my mental health: 7/10

Reading - I’m specifically carving out reading from the point above as this is all about getting lost in a book of fiction. Prior to 2018 I hadn’t read a physical book in probably ten years. Since then I read all the Harry Potter books, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, numerous other fantasy novels and I’m now working my way through Game of Thrones. I tend to read before I go to bed. It helps me take a break from the screen and get lost in another world which in turn helps me sleep better and stop thinking about work and the challenges you might be facing that day. I genuinely look forward to it too which I’m certain is another positive factor here.  

Rating for helping my mental health: 9/10

Exercise - I know how important exercise is to mental health and I would love to say that I’m nailing this but I’m not. I do however do a number of exercises every single morning. I’m up to 50 pressups and I do as many sit-ups and squats as I can as well. I could do more I know but coupled with dog walks and playing with the kids, I feel like I’m doing at least the minimum required. In 2021 I want to increase my cardio work, even if it’s just getting back on the badminton court more regularly.

Rating for helping my mental health: 8/10

Counselling (Talking therapy) - I started to see someone after the loss of Charlie and finding myself in a particularly dark place. Since then I’ve grown to really value these sessions and we talk about far more than I sought help for initially. I’ve learnt a lot about myself in these sessions. I’ve learnt techniques for helping with the everyday struggles as well as the darker moments. I think its a shame this sort of therapy has a stigma attached. I’ve come to see it in the same way a top sports professional has a sports phycologist, they are merely helping you find the best version of yourself and focus you on what’s important in life.

Rating for helping my mental health: 9/10

Acupuncture & Fascial Stretch Therapy - Ok so these might be a bit more ‘out there’ for some people but as I said earlier, I am open to anything and investing in my wellbeing in any way I can. I’m in the early days of both these therapies but I really enjoy them and feel better for doing them. I think it’s too early to rate either so it’s a watch this space for now.

Music - Music is incredibly important in most people’s lives. It conjures up feelings and emotions and if you get the right tunes, hopefully happiness. I probably wouldn’t suggest listening to that love song you listened to over and over again when you broke up with your childhood sweetheart here!. My car radio has been permanently fixed on an 80’s channel for the last year. I grew up in the 80s and almost every song brings back happy memories of my early childhood. Honestly this has been a game changer.

Rating for helping my mental health: 9/10

Massage – People sometimes laugh when I say I have a masseuse. I honestly don’t care. I go every month, I look forward to it immensely and its quite simply an indulgent way of looking after my wellbeing. If I’m feeling stressed it relaxes me and if I’m not its just a lovely way to end the day. Bonus is that my masseuse has also ended up being my golfing parter too! :)

Rating for helping my mental health: 8/10

Mindfulness - I’ve struggled to get set in a routine of mindfulness but that’s on the list for 2021. I use the app Calm and particularly when I’ve been really bad over the last few years. I’m not sure that’s really what its for but if you do feel on the edge of a panic attack or your levels of Anxiety are through the roof then this can help immensely. As an example I did a 20 min session on the day of Charlie’s funeral, which is almost certainly one of the toughest days of my life. It helped me focus and find an inner calm to get through the day. I really want to make this a habit in 2021.

Rating for helping my mental health: 9/10

Nature - Now we’re on the big guns. I can’t believe how lucky I am to live where I do. A 20 minute drive and I’m on Dartmoor in the middle of nowhere, or at the beach at Exmouth looking out into the Ocean. I don’t actually know what I’d have done if I didn’t have this on my doorstep. I’ve spent hours with my dog Freddie out in the woods locally. I feel calm, energised and ready to face the world when I do this, even when I go there in a bad place. I couldn’t rave more about the benefits of getting out into the open air and what it does for your mental state if I tried. For me, to get the most from it, you really want to find places which don’t have lots of other people around - just you and nature. Take time to appreciate its beauty and how small everything else feels. I’m starting to sound like I hug trees now so I’ll stop. I might just have to give it a go though actually ;) *picture for this post is one of my favourite spots in Ashclyst Forest.

Rating for helping my mental health: 10/10

Gardening - I mean, if you’d told me ten years ago this would be on a list like this I’d have laughed. Maybe I’m old before my years but I’ve found real peace in this over the last year. In the same way as being out and about in nature, being around plants and creating something beautiful to look at in your own garden has special healing powers too. As we don’t have a huge garden, my work has mostly been pot based but I’ve enjoyed the whole journey from choosing in the garden centre to potting up and growing back at chez Banks. We’ve even grown a vegtable or two!

Rating for helping my mental health: 8/10

Journaling - What you’re reading now is a business version of Journaling. I also write a personal journal which is for my eyes only. From starting my blog back in 2009 I always knew the cathartic powers of writing, but I struggled with forming a habit. When my wellbeing came into play, I made myself and I’m very glad I do so. It helps me form better opinions, it gets ideas down and out of my head so as not to take up so much headspace, it actually makes some worries disappear completely, as they suddenly take on a different complexion in writing. It’s probably been one of the harder things I’ve done to keep going with but when I do it I feel eminently better.

Rating for helping my mental health: 8/10

Home Life - It’s hard to have a calm home life when you have a 4 and a 5-year-old but there are things we’ve worked on which have helped us both hugely. The great thing is they are simple and not costly. At night, we light scented candles and dim the lights for the evening. We use a fake YouTube fireplace on our large TV to emulate a real fire (we don’t have one unfortunately) and we’ll often have soft classical music or at this time of year, Christmas songs on in the background. I love nothing more than returning home from the office after a tough day to see the flickering light and soft glow of the candles. It brings an instant calm.

Rating for helping my mental health: 9/10

Understand your Triggers - There will be things in your life which cause you to spiral. It could be certain incidents or even people. Cut these out of your life or at least question whether you have to be the one to deal with them. If something makes you feel terrible then what are you doing it for? Life’s too short and its unnecessary to have these negative effects on your life. You can only control a certain number of things, beyond that, try not to worry.

Rating for helping my mental health: 7/10

Eating and Drinking Well - I like the analogy that Tom gave me for this. “You wouldn’t put low grade fuel in a racing car”. If you drink every night (and I was there) you’re going to feel groggy in the morning and that’s going to make you feel worse from a mental point of view. If you eat crap food the same happens. It’s so simple but we just don’t do it. I only drink at the weekend now and my diet is exemplary (helped by a stomach condition that I need to be careful with). I wouldn’t say that this is the sort of thing which has an immediate positive effect but its probably one of the most important long term and constant changes you can, and should make.

Rating for helping my mental health: 9/10

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Wow, that went on longer than I thought! I genuinely hope that some of the things I’ve spent the last few years looking into might help you. Please do share this list with loved ones, more often than not it’s the ones you don’t realise are hurting, that are. I’d love to know about your techniques as well so please do take a moment to comment below. Be kind to yourself and each other.