Create a self-soothing kit. — When we feel overwhelmed and distressed it can be difficult to think of practical ways to soothe our anxieties. This is where a self-soothing kit can be really beneficial. By filling a box with comforting items (e.g. a herbal tea, a relaxing candle, etc.) you can create an at-home sanctuary which you can turn to when you need to relax and unwind.
As a part of my series about the “5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr Elena Touroni, Consultant Psychologist, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of My Online Therapy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, 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?
From a young age, I’ve been interested in what makes human beings tick and what influences people’s behaviour. I was also curious about the complex dynamics of my own family and wanted to learn more about it. When I went to university, I chose to study psychology and it soon became very clear to me that this was my passion and something I wanted to pursue.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Just as burnout is common in clinical practice, it’s also something that we need to be conscious of as psychologists. It’s always important to strike a healthy work-life balance. Ultimately, burnout points to a lack of self-care. That’s why it’s so important to schedule time out and to make time for activities that bring you a sense of joy and wellbeing, whether it’s meditation, yoga, reading etc.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
More than anything, open communication is key — especially when things are difficult or they go wrong. And it’s important for employees to feel valued for what they do. Management should also be able to work independently and lead the way, while sharing the vision and direction of the company.
Now more than ever, business leaders need to understand the importance of looking after the mental health of their employees. It’s about creating a culture where people feel like they can come forward and talk to you openly if they’re going through a difficult time. And also putting structures in place for employees to access psychological therapy.
This culture needs to be ingrained in every aspect of the organization, and it starts from the top-down.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly. But rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty” — Maya Angelou
I think this quote is a nice reminder that growth can be uncomfortable — and it might not feel like progress at first — but it will always be worth it.
For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about five steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employees mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?
More and more companies are starting to get to grips with the importance of mental health. And it makes sense, because not only does it make employees healthier and happier, but it’s good for business too. Here are just a few companies who are setting a great example and putting their employees first.
Businesses are starting to recognize how therapy can benefit their employees. In the US, all Starbucks employees (and even some family members) are now offered 20 mental health sessions with a therapist or a coach every year, at no extra cost.
NHS (National Health Service)
There are a number of apps like Headspace and Calm which offer mindful meditation exercises, and many organizations are now encouraging their employees to give it a go.
In the UK, for instance, the National Health Service (NHS) is now offering free subscriptions to Headspace to all employees to help curb the increased stress and burnout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At Unilever, managers have been encouraged to take mental health workshops to help them recognize the signs of mental and emotional distress.
On top of this, they’ve also created an interesting ‘Discover your purpose’ workshop, which recognizes that for employees to be happy at work they need to take time for reflection, address what they want out of their career and have a deeper sense of self.
Striking a healthy work-life balance is vital for our mental health and flexible working is a great way to bring this to life.
Earlier this year, Google said that it would extend its working from home policy until mid-2021. And it also offers a generous Carer’s Leave Policy, where it gives extra time off to those who need to care for a loved one.
Ernst & Young
Ernst & Young is promoting cycle to work schemes and office sports teams to get its employees moving. It also offers free health assessments once you’ve worked at the company for more than 3–5 years.
These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
Awareness needs to be championed at the highest level of the business. Because supporting positive mental health isn’t just a moral and ethical issue, it’s a business one too.
Poor mental health can cost a business enormously, so find someone on the executive team who is passionate about the cause and get them to lead the charge. They could create opportunities for drop-in sessions where employees can openly discuss any difficulties they may be facing with an expert. This is a relatively safe and easy way to influence change. As more staff open up and share their positive experiences, the wider organization will take note. And this will help ensure that mental health remains firmly on the business agenda.
From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues? Can you explain?
It all comes down to awareness and education. When we’re struggling with our mental health, we might push down our emotions because we don’t want to be a “burden”, we feel that others have it worse or we may just feel a bit hopeless. But this type of thinking serves no one.
Having open and honest conversations is the first step to normalizing these struggles, whether it’s on social media or in real life. Celebrities can do their bit and help bring these issues into the spotlight too. After all, we’re all human. And by showing people that we’re more alike than we may think, this helps us feel less alone when we’re going through a difficult time.
Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?
Mental wellbeing isn’t something we achieve, and it doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s something we need to be cultivating every single day.
Mindfulness helps you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings and to see how you may become entangled in them in ways that are not necessarily helpful. If you don’t know where to start, there are a number of apps like Headspace and Calm which make it easy to practice a daily mindfulness meditation, even when you’re on the go.
Slow, deep breathing can give your parasympathetic nervous system a jump-start — promoting a sense of calm in your mind and body. Breathe in for 4 secs, hold your breath for 7 secs, exhale for 8 secs (and repeat as needed).
Schedule “me time”
Whether you want to catch up on your favourite podcast or simply go for a stroll, making time just for you is vital for your mental health.
Create a self-soothing kit
When we feel overwhelmed and distressed it can be difficult to think of practical ways to soothe our anxieties. This is where a self-soothing kit can be really beneficial. By filling a box with comforting items (e.g. a herbal tea, a relaxing candle, etc.) you can create an at-home sanctuary which you can turn to when you need to relax and unwind.
Balance work and play
Does it always seem like you have a never-ending to-do list? Whilst it’s important to complete essential tasks, make sure you take time for activities that are nourishing and fun (e.g. an online yoga class or group meditation).
Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?
Yes, I start my day with a short mindfulness meditation. I find that taking five minutes to breathe and refocus my mind helps ground myself in the here and now. I might also set a mindful intention in the morning. It’s a great way to ensure that I mindfully respond to difficult situations as they arise, rather than reacting mindlessly.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
‘Why love matters’ by Sue Gerhardt was an influential book for me in the sense that it validated something I’d seen time and time again in my practice.
The book provides a great explanation of the science behind how therapy works. Childhood experiences inevitably shape who we are, changing the way neural pathways are created in the brain. We carry these experiences with us through life and in the way that we relate to the world. But just as these neural pathways are created, they can also be changed (with some hard work, that is!) Somehow in the process of therapy something “clicks” and once that happens we create the space for real change. That change often takes time but the message is clear: if we’re prepared to do the work, we have the ability to break free from negative patterns.
You are a person of 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?
For everyone to have therapy in their early 20s. Starting this process when you’re young provides you with an “emotional map” of your tendencies and patterns. When you have an understanding of your early experiences and what you might be drawn towards because of them, you have the power to make conscious decisions that serve you best — instead of being driven by subconscious conditioning.