Be sure to note your gratitude and how this impacts your life. It might be hard sometimes to be grateful for something, but there is always at least 1 thing, even if its “my lungs are breathing in the air to keep me alive today”.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things, Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicola Knobel from My Inner Creative. Nicola is a mom first and a passionate career woman second, focusing on teaching people ways to combine productivity and creativity for a happy more organized life.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Nicola! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Growing up my mother always pushed me to have a “real job” and I only ever wanted to be creative and design pretty things. When it was time for me to go to university she gave me an amazing gift, she gave my first year of university paid for, I could take any subject I wanted, failed any I wanted, but by the end of the first year, I needed to know what I was going to do.
It worked! I had a Bachelor of Science in Human Physiology and Biochemistry. Just before graduating, I lost my mother to mental illness, her taking her life was a massive turning point for me, as I have no other nuclear family, and had to find creative ways to be more kind with my mental health.
From here I ended up working in the mining industry focusing on sustainability and environmental health. Fast forward 15 years, and that has morphed into working for a government agency in Occupational health, safety, and wellbeing. I love what I do because I have the opportunity to make such a huge impact on our nation’s wellbeing. I feel lucky to be doing what I do daily.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or takeaway did you learn from that?
So many mistakes! Ha! When starting out, I had just arrived in Thailand. I was working for an oil rig contractor and they had rung me to tell me they had a serious incident. I was ready to spring into action. Turns out they had a pond on the site which kept attracting cobras. I was ready to write a 4000000000 (exaggeration obviously) page policy on how to manage cobras on-site but worked out pretty quickly that in fact, they had a great and safe system for managing this and I needed to trust that the staff knew best.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
This is so challenging, and such a challenging question. Mental wellness is so individual, what one person can manage stress-wise, might break someone else. There seems to be this stigma that there is one or a couple of ways that work for everyone to avoid burn out. But there isn’t, each individual is different so each technique should be different. Personally, I become obsessively plan focused when stressed and it helps me feel in control.
So my advice here is to find what works for you, this might take a couple of tries to work out what works best you.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
A fanatic work culture is modeled from the top. Leading by example. If you are going to promote mental wellness at work, own it. Don’t say you are going to introduce wellness days and then not participate in them yourself. Show people, you are serious about mental wellness.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.
Absolutely, and what a great question. I find the most important thing when thinking about ways to stay mentally healthy is to find something that really works for you.
- Mental health is absolutely a spectrum and should be considered as important as organ or body health. If you have an illness, you will go to the doctor, so if you are unwell mentally, you should also essentially go to the doctor. So for me, one of the first important steps to improving your mental wellness is to reduce the stigma around mental health and treat with the same importance as physical illness.
- Develop a personalized action plan. Have something on hand that you can reference check with that works for you.
- Have a series of things (like a shopping list) to do for self-care, this might be a bubble bath, a walk, some fresh air, an exercise class. Having this on hand means you don’t need to feel pressured into finding something short notice when you feel like you are nearing the end of your personal level of wellbeing.
- Find time to write down your thoughts, and include your moods and how they change over time, you might be surprised!
- Be sure to note your gratitude and how this impacts your life. It might be hard sometimes to be grateful for something, but there is always at least 1 thing, even if its “my lungs are breathing in the air to keep me alive today”.
Making sure that you have a list of things to equip yourself with when things are not great, helps relieve the stress of having to come up with them when you actually need them. I think back to when my mom took her life due to depression and having always journaled, I had something to focus on when I couldn’t stand the physical pain from the grief.
Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
Our aging workforce is a huge challenge and these days, not everyone is in the position to retire, which brings on entire stress of its own. One of the key things I highlight to those heading into this phase of their life is to find a hobby or group of activities they can focus on when heading into retirement. Things that work well in this space are volunteering, or gardening in a community garden. Why? Because isolating yourself, can become very negative. Having spent the good part of a couple of decades in the workforce, around people, might mean you want to take a break, but you also don’t want to isolate yourself completely. Be open to trying new things and be open to doing things in your community. That sense of connectedness really helps when things might feel tough.
How about teens and pre-teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre-teens to optimize their mental wellness?
Teens and pre-teens are balls of emotion and thought. These days, they are also more likely to feel overwhelmed with anxiety. Again, I would absolutely love to see more young people take pen to paper and write out how they feel. The feeling of writing on paper, not only incites mindfulness but makes you far more self-aware of some of the emotions you might be feeling. Something that helped me when I was in my teens and journaling, was to put all my negative emotions into a “box”. This means, I have reflected on them, but not fixated on them.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
The amazing book called Q&A by Vikas Swarup — That book is so beautifully written and has changed my life. In 2007 I lost my mother to mental ill health, and in early 2007, I was unwell and in hospital, and she read me a chapter of this book every day. It’s the kind of book that just puts life into perspective and traverses age, gender, and culture. Amazing book.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Oh boy — I would do something in the space of teaching young kids or adults to focus on journaling about their mental health and wellbeing.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I grew up with a narcissistic parent, which can be challenging as love is displayed as what value you add to their lives. This can be difficult later in life when everything, including your professional life, is based on how much value you add.
I strongly believe in the quote “The Grass is greener where you water it”. If I am watering my grass it will be lash and green and thriving. No need for me to even look at other grass on the other side when mine is doing ok because I love and nurture it.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
I am all over the interwebs! But Linkedin is probably the best in this case: linkedin.com/in/nicolaknobel
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!