Why mental health is the cornerstone of physical health – by Healology’s Dr. Hanan Selim

By Dr Hanan Selim, health and wellness expert, CEO and founder of Healology

Make no mistake about it, looking after our mental health has never been more important. At a time when the industry is working from home, juggling briefs, maintaining client relationships and having worries about job security, it’s easy to understand why many people may be feeling stressed out
and anxious.

In the latest episode of comms industry podcast, The Brief, run by the Middle East PR Association (MEPRA) and powered by broadcast specialists Markettiers, I had the opportunity to delve into the importance of focusing on mental wellness during this time, whether you’re an employer running an agency, a big corporate player or part of a comms team itself. Prioritising the health of the team has never been more important.

How our physical health links to mental health

When you think about it, our physical health is often attributed to our mental health and we need to start by addressing the root cause of our problem, which often starts in our minds; I call this the mind-brain organ connection. But whilst talking about mental health is very on-trend globally, there is still a lot of stigma attached talking about this – especially in our region – that we need to overcome.

At the moment we are seeing a lot of fear, anxiety and even depression coming out as a result of Covid-19. This is understandable. Of course, there is not only the mental isolation, which is self-taught, but now we have on top of that the physical isolation that compounds it.

We are getting away from our regular habits and our regular routines, which can further cause us to not feel well. We see this in the number of people who are reporting sleeping problems at the moment – there’s a lot of stress and anxiety in the air and this is being manifested through our sleep (or lack of it).

I call these problems chronic biodisruptors – there are certain things that are compounding your environment, whether it’s the physical or the mental isolation or even the disconnection. As humans we are programmed to be connected – we are social creatures, we have emotional drivers. One of the major emotional drivers is love and connection, and that being taken away really makes us feel very vulnerable to these feelings of anxiety and depression.

Tips and tricks

But the good news is that we can use many things to our advantage during this time to still feel connected. For those people who are not in the mood to communicate verbally there is a great tool people can use that I call ‘how to empty the cup’. It is a bit different to the gratitude journal, where you write down what you’re grateful for; this is actually a journal that you keep to write down your feelings and what’s upsetting you and then you rip out the page of paper and throw it away. So the physical act of ripping the page will actually have the same residual effect on the inside. It’s like tearing up those feelings and not letting them linger.

I also recommend brain training, which is the simple act of counting down from 100 to 1. It’s a 30-day exercise, so in the morning before you reach for your caffeine, you can count from 100 to 1 backwards, and that relaxes the brain and keeps it focused. Because the scientific truth is that your mind cannot be happy and sad at the same time. It can’t be excited and anxious at the same time, so this simple exercise keeps your brain on the one path of being calm and positive. For the first 10 days you count from 100 to 1 backwards, then the next 10 days you count from 50 to 1 backwards, and finally for the last 10 days you count from 10 to 1 backwards; this trains your brain to keep calm.

What’s more, if you have any negative thoughts or self talk, just the physicality of moving around can help – even if it’s just to get up from your desk and go to get a glass of water. It forces you to look at something differently, and exercise does wonders in terms of releasing endorphins and increasing our serotonin levels.

Managing stress in the workplace

When it comes to managing this in the remote workplace, it’s something that comms businesses should consider delivering as a wellness programme during this time. With people being the heart and soul of the business, sometimes you never really know how colleagues are feeling. Many people may put on a ‘poker face’ of ‘yes I’m doing good’, when in reality they are alone and feeling negative. So it’s very important that people understand the root cause and what the trigger
is. Having a consultant deliver a group session to provide some tips and tools could just help manage this.

At the moment, many of us are on a rollercoaster journey, and with the mental health charity Mind saying that one in six people will suffer from mental health issues during their lives, it’s never been more important to take care of ourselves. There are a number of different free resources that people can access, and by knowing that there are so many support systems on offer, by coming together in this age of disconnectivity, we can truly start to become more connected.