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Mental Health Awareness Week – supporting mental wellbeing through a pandemic

Deborah Crossan

Like many, the last year has had its ups and down, with many of the things that support my mental wellbeing no longer being possible or significantly changed. As a result, I have had to adapt and will need to continue to adapt as we move to a hybrid way of working, to ensure I have a happier and healthier future.

Before the pandemic, I was working with a London Borough which meant that I commuted to their offices Monday to Thursday, and to the IMPOWER office on a Friday – often followed by a trip to the pub with colleagues. I also went to rugby training weekly, with a match most weekends, as well as off-field responsibilities as Secretary of Hampstead Rugby Club and as a discipline panel member for Middlesex Rugby.

I am a sociable person and gain energy from being around people, as well as a buzz from team sports. Going from a very active life to sitting at my dining table, day after day and not seeing people in person has been very tough. In addition, the lack of separation between work and home life, with my ‘office’ also being in my living room has made switching off challenging.

So, how did I get through it?

  1. I upped my ‘home office’ game – after five months of using a basic lumber support cushion, the elastic snapped, my body was feeling contorted, so I invested in a proper office chair. This and my second screen have been absolute game changers for my concentration, eyes, posture and ability to work more effectively. However, I have not mastered the home setup just yet as my screen is still balanced on Scrabble, Pointless and QI board games! More office improvements required… time for a standing desk?
  2. Tried new things – like many, I tried to learn a new language, did Pilates classes over zoom, cooked new recipes, bought lots of home gym equipment, built jigsaws, and gained an addiction to buying activewear (Sweaty Betty have done very well out of me over the last year!). But in January, I was feeling particularly low, so I got myself a personal trainer, who came to my communal garden once per week. This has been the second game changer; it hit my need for being active, got my natural endorphins flowing and provided me with human interaction during my working week (albeit at 7.15am!).
  3. Walked, walked and walked a bit more – although the walking sometimes felt endless, it was helpful for my mental health. It gave me space to think, listen to podcasts and discover new places. Exercise is always beneficial – and even better when the sun is shining.
  4. Cried – I have cried on my own, to colleagues over Teams and to friends. For me it is good to let your emotions out, and I found it a positive experience to cry in front of my colleagues. As a society we often ask ‘how are you?’ to make conversation, but my colleagues at IMPOWER ask it with meaning, to understand how they can better support me. I am lucky to work in an environment in which I feel safe to be open, with no fear of judgment – be that with my team, or with one of IMPOWER’s Mental Health First Aiders.
  5. Had some external coaching – it was incredibly helpful to step back and to have external challenge and support. The sessions ran from August to January and were fantastic. They helped me to recognise my personal growth which in turn helped my mental health.
  6. Reached out to friends – I found the third lockdown the hardest, and not seeing family for Christmas was particularly tough. I messaged friends admitting that I was lonely and within 10 minutes, I had four offers to go for a walk and have video calls with those living outside of London. I rarely ask for help and so to do so was a big step.
  7. Took on new responsibilities – in June I became Chairman of my rugby club. Taking over in a season when there is no rugby has not been easy, however, we have an amazing volunteer base who have worked tirelessly with me to ensure we had an offer i.e. to facilitate home-gym challenges and adapted training when allowed. When face-to-face sessions returned, seeing the joy on the faces of children, parents, senior players and volunteers made the hard times worth it. Being a part of this community is amazing and gives me so much energy.

What have I learned for the future?

  • The importance of investing time in me, my development and my comfort
  • Prioritising what gives me energy
  • Being open and honest about my feelings and asking for help
  • Being around people and being part of a community is important to me

I hope that you have found this helpful, and you too take some time to reflect on your last year and what you have learned for the future.

Written by

Deborah Crossan

Delivery Director, IMPOWER



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