Complex dynamics of mental health

Absenteeism costs the South African economy between R12 billion and R16 billion a year,
according to Statistics South Africa. Stress has been identified as one of the primary causes of this epidemic of ill health. In fact, South Africa is the world’s second-most stressed country, says a research study by Bloomberg.

February is Healthy Lifestyle Awareness month, the perfect opportunity to take stock of the impact our high-stress environment is having on our lives, and particularly on our ability to be productive. Workplace stress, burn-out and high anxiety levels can impact our ability to work, and thus harm our careers and add to the burdens of our colleagues.

If we often find ourselves in stressful environment, we are bound affected and the effect can be both mental and physical, robbing us of so much. While the dynamics of mental health are complex, there are some simple actions we can take to give us the best chance of living the best life possible.

Mamafha offers the following five steps to better mental health:

• Get good nutrition. You are what your food ate. Understand the food groups and how to combine them properly. Your body and mind are closely linked.
• Exercise regularly. Exercise keeps the body limber, but it also helps to promote well-being and reduce stress. It doesn’t mean joining an expensive gym, either—a brisk 30-minute walk five times a week will get the blood flowing and clear the mind, especially if done in the company of a family member or friend.
• Get enough sleep. The more stressed we are, the more sleep we need—and don’t get. Stress and the always-on digital lifestyle overstimulate us, making it hard to sleep, but seven or eight hours is necessary. There are certain techniques to promote sleep, and your medical aid can help you find them out.
• Take “me time”. Low self-esteem and job insecurity can mean that people take on too much at work or home. It’s important to set some time aside to do things that you enjoy, and just to be quiet and connect with yourself. Holidays are also important for mental health, and thus the finding by Ipsos Global and Reuters that more than half (53 percent) of the South African working population does not take its annual leave is concerning.
• Talk about it, and ask for help if necessary. If you do feel you are not coping, talk about how you are feeling to a trusted friend, colleague or family member. Remember too that employers and medical aids are very aware of the problem, and will have programmes on offer to help—use them. They are totally confidential, so you won’t run the risk of your boss finding out!

Sibongile Mamafha is the Principal Executive of Thebemed.

Leader, listen to your soul

In the midst of the craziness the messages our souls aspire to send us may get drowned out. Like most people,
I had some good downtime in December. Good times for tired bodies, essential times for weary souls. Unexpectedly, my soul spoke to me from the very pith of my being.

Our family was enjoying a few days away at an exquisite spot nestled between Lydenburg and Sabie in Mpumulanga. My mate Chris and I, had the pleasure of entertaining three teenage lads while the ladies soaked up the sun and devoured their long awaited novels. We had packed bat and ball and we found an expanse of lawn to play our very own T20.

I hadn’t held a bat in years, and I was first up to the crease. It all came flooding back: be still at the time of the bowler’s delivery, move your feet and watch the ball onto the middle of your bat. I found the zone and smashed sixes and fours but more than the smile on my face was the smile coming from the middle of my soul.

In his masterful work, ‘Mindfulness for Creativity’, Dr Danny Penman asks whether we are open to new thoughts? Will we be able to recognise them when they come and most importantly, will we implement them?

In my case, I had departed from my love of ball sports, something that for me, pounding the road can’t replace. I rode the momentum of what my soul had told me and for the first time in my life I have signed up at a tennis club. Even though I spend a large part of the game apologising to my partner for my unforced errors, my soul is singing. This is just a small, practical example of tuning in to my inner voice.

Webster’s defines the soul as:

1. The immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life; and
2. The spiritual principle embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings, or the universe.

Are we listening to the deepest part of us? A few weeks later, I was flying back from a day of coaching in Richards Bay and my soul was speaking again. This time it was an entirely different message. My soul was hurting and processing deep disappointment. I knew that I needed to process this with someone whom I trust and who understands me deeply. I did that and my mentor and I recognized some wagon tracks that I can follow through this valley of disappointment until I find the right path out of it.

My strong advice, based on personal experience, is to find the place where you can listen to your soul. For me it’s sitting in a well-worn deck chair on our patio, fountain pen in hand, blank page of my journal before me – I am expectant. I dump the noise, all the ‘to – dos’ on an exam pad, turn the iPhone off and listen.

Are you feeding your soul? For me, my soul food is mainly words and time with loved ones. One of my favourite authors Eugene Peterson, a modern mystic writes, “Reading today is largely a consumer activity – people devour books, magazines, pamphlets and newspapers for information that will fuel their ambition or careers or competence. The faster the better, the more the better. It is analytical, figuring things out; or it is frivolous, killing time. Spiritual reading is more a lover’s activity – a dalliance with words, reading as much between the lines as in the lines themselves. It is leisurely, as ready to re – read an old book as open a new one. It is playful, anticipating the pleasures if friendship.”

But how does one find this rhythm of shutting out the noise and tuning in to the inner-voice? I’ve found a pattern that has become my blueprint to follow: Daily Distract (even ten mins counts) Weekly Withdraw and Annually Abandon. It takes discipline and determination but the rewards in insights from my inner voice are significant.

I strongly recommend this approach to all leaders. Leadership becomes less lonely and stressful if you draw on all the resources you have.

Leader, take time to listen to your soul!

Iain Shippey is a Partner at Change Partners Coaching.

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