Stress is one of the leading causes of long-term workplace absence, according to reports such as that by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Directors (CIPD). For those working in charities, stress can be exacerbated because employees are often more invested in their jobs emotionally than those who work in the corporate sector. They are also likely to receive less support due to lack of budget, time and resources to address workplace wellbeing.
Communications professionals in the charity sector often deal with emotionally sensitive or emotionally charged issues – whether they’re dealing with those who are bereaved, children with cancer, supporting carers of people with complex needs or fighting against injustice. Without the right support in place, staff can experience issues with their mental health and even burnout, and this can have devastating consequences.
Mental and emotional wellbeing at work should be a priority for both the individual and the employer. We live in a fast-paced world and for those who work in PR, social media or online communities, there is the added stress of communications being all consuming and a feeling of not being able to ‘switch off’. In today’s world people expect instant answers to their questions, and this can put huge strain on communications professionals.
This pace of change can be difficult for people to deal with, but change is inevitable because we live in VUCA times. VUCA stands for: volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity and it was introduced by the U.S. Army War College to describe the world after the end of the Cold War. In order to navigate VUCA times, we have to be ‘anti-fragile’, which means prioritising self-care strategies to build resilience.
Five strategies to help build personal resilience and prioritise self-care
1. Identify your inner critic
We all have an internal negative voice. Often this voice is unconscious, but if we pay attention it is probably saying things like ‘oh I should have done this…’ or ‘I ought to go and be like this…’ or ‘everything is going to go wrong…’ or ‘I’m not intelligent/old/young/interesting/attractive enough…’.
This unconscious voice is our inner critic and when we don’t shine a light on what the inner critic is saying to us it runs the show and erodes our self-esteem. Identifying what your inner critic is saying, and then acknowledging that you can create and believe a different story (‘I am attractive enough/ I choose to do X, Y or Z / Everything is going to be alright’) can be a huge resilience builder.
2. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is a type of meditation and a technique where you focus on being truly aware of the present moment and how you’re feeling, in terms of your thoughts and feelings, and what you’re sensing, in terms of bodily sensations. Regularly practicing mindfulness and learning how to ‘be in the moment’, can help reduce stress and anxiety.
3. Give yourself a permission slip
This is a simple but effective way to build resilience by being kind to yourself. It comes from the research of Dr Brené Brown. Often when we are busy and stressed, we prioritise everything above ourselves. The concept of a permission slip is to give you a nudge to put yourself first. Take a piece of paper and write down, “I give myself permission to…”.
Some examples are:
- spend 20 minutes reading a book
- watch a show on Netflix
- go for a run
- arrange lunch with a friend
4. Be your own cheerleader
In contrast to listening to your inner critic, being your own cheerleader involves talking to yourself regularly in a positive way. A key resilience building strategy, as identified by Dr Rick Hanson, is to champion yourself the moment after you’ve achieved something great. According to his research, this builds new neural pathways which over time lead to a greater sense of wellbeing and high self-esteem.
5. Practice gratitude
Our brains cannot worry about things and be grateful at the same time. It isn’t physically possible for us to do this. Therefore, being grateful helps us two-fold. It takes us away from the inner critic, whilst simultaneously reminding us that there is so much for us to feel joyful about. We can be grateful for the small stuff and the big stuff, as all of it helps us to increase our resilience and overall wellbeing.
Wellbeing is inherently about people, who are critical to the successful functioning of charities. It’s imperative therefore that mental health and wellbeing is seen as a priority, both by leadership and by the individual. Building a culture that supports and encourages self-care, wellbeing and positive mental health is crucial, but it also requires a fundamental change in organisational culture.
Self-care is also something that needs to be continually practiced so make commitments with your staff and colleagues to use ‘anchors’ to remember to practice self-care. Mental wellbeing doesn’t come down to what’s written in policies, it’s about how you behave as an organisation. Creating a culture of openness, where staff feel it’s ok to talk about mental health is crucial. Self-care is just one of the tools towards good mental health.
This case study is part of CharityComms’ Wellbeing guide for comms professionals.