Muting Teams, turning off Slack and removing Outlook from your phone seem like easy tasks; however, many of us struggle to complete those actions when out of the office.
Advancements in technology make it easy to access our work from home from our phones, laptops or tablets, but it leads to a fuzzy boundary between work and home life. Being unable to separate work from play can often impact our well-being and mental health and is one of the first things we must be able to establish to allow us to have better mental well-being. April is Stress Awareness month, and with that in mind, I have documented a selection of well-being initiatives which can help combat and tackle stress. Some of these examples have been adopted by academia and some companies in industry, positively impacting staff and students by putting their well-being first.
Staying social virtually
Although advancements in technology have made it almost impossible to switch off from work when at home, it also provides the opportunity to stay connected. Integrating virtual coffee mornings and allowing open discussions online creates a sense of community where individuals can chat, taking time out from work. This is a vital scheme to have in place for individuals, as we now work in an era where remote and virtual working is the new norm. As our homes have become our office space, individuals may feel isolated from the office atmosphere. Being able to have these open discussions with like-minded individuals about things other than just meeting agendas can have a positive impact allowing people to build relationships with their colleagues in a relaxed manner.
Postgraduate societies and organised fun
Being a PhD student is tough. The impending doom of thesis deadlines, balancing a healthy social life with studying and not to mention making PhD stipends stretch to cover this lifestyle. Many universities have postgraduate societies which host various free or subsidised events for their students, such as cinema trips, bowling, and cocktail making. These societies know how tough it is to balance everything mentioned above but emphasise the importance of maintaining a work-life balance. Like coffee mornings, these informal events work a treat to give individuals the opportunity to chat in a relaxed atmosphere and serve a great purpose in introducing new and old students to one another to highlight that they’re not alone on their journey.
Supporting physical and mental health through sport
Not everyone wants to be involved in organised fun. Instead, a perfect opportunity for putting your well-being first would be utilising sports facilities or participating in local sports groups. Exercise is not only good for your physical health but also your mental health. Again, these activities offer ways to reduce stress and have fun simultaneously and are a great place to make friends outside of your office or lab group. Some universities have dedicated sports teams and events for each department, running social leagues and sessions for staff and students alike. This is an alternative way to get in that 30 minutes of recommended daily exercise in too!
Mental health first aid
In recent years, participating in mental health first aid training has become increasingly popular. Whilst many of us think first aid is purely for physical health, like applying bandages on cuts or icing sprained ankles, people forget the importance of looking after their mental health. In many workplaces, individuals are being supported to participate in mental health first aid training to provide key skills necessary for identifying early warning signs of someone needing support. As a result, first aiders can signpost to the right support and provide first aid to prevent incidences such as suicide and self-harm in extreme cases.
Planning for the future post PhD
Four years seems like a long time to complete a PhD; however, thesis submission comes around the corner very quickly, and many individuals may panic and think, ‘What’s next?’. Writing a thesis is enough stress without frantically searching for positions post PhD. Universities are successfully tackling this stressful stage around thesis submission and moving on to the wider world of work by holding career sessions to highlight the variety of jobs after postgraduate study. Limiting the stress and anxiety surrounding post PhD life can positively impact the individual’s well-being. These events can lessen the burden of feeling lost and questioning where careers are heading by showing what is on offer in the broader world beyond the four walls of a university.
While this has been specific to postgraduate lifestyles, many of these activities are also integrated into industry and the commercial sector, such as coffee mornings, sports groups and mental health first aid training. So, if you are looking to put together well-being focused activities and events, this article has provided you with some inspiration for what you could do achieve.
Protecting your mental health throughout your studies is vital as postgraduate studies can be tough. There are always people you can rely on and call if you need extra support. Below I have listed a few charities trained to provide this when we need a little extra help.
Mind- 0300 123 3393
Calm- 0800 585 858 or via web chat https://www.thecalmzone.net
Nightline- Your university specific Nightline can be found online via https://nightline.ac.uk/listening-services/
Shout- text ‘SHOUT’ to 85258
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