Wellbeing, both in and out of the workplace, has become increasingly important to me over the last few years. As a consultant, and particularly as a Project Manager, it can be very difficult to “switch off”. Generally speaking, there is always more work that can be done to make progress, and if you find yourself on a project that is behind schedule, there is a tendency to do whatever you can to deliver a better outcome – fast!
At my lowest point, I was regularly waking at 5.30am to attend 8am client meetings that were often cancelled at the last minute (or not even cancelled at all, depending on how my client was feeling!), commuting for 4 hours each day, and then working until past midnight to meet client expectations. I would leave early in the morning, get home late, and generally not be in the best of spirits the rest of the time (unsurprisingly). Pushing back on work, or saying no to additional workload, made me feel as though I was failing. To use the old cliché, I was living to work, not working to live.
I view stress as something that can slowly build in the background, impacting your personal life, sleep and the perspective with which you view everything.
And then one day, it became too much.
Looking back, I have no idea how I managed to survive on 4 – 5 hours of sleep each night. I remember snapping at loved ones, being on edge most of the time, and having to actively “psyche myself up” on the journey home to try to be in a positive mood when I walked through the door. Eventually, I “admitted defeat” and asked for help.
It turned out that, when I actually wrote down everything, I was trying to complete a workload that justified two additional full-time resources. Unfortunately, budget cuts meant these resources never materialised and I received very little support from my employer. I eventually signed myself off work; it wasn’t normal to have to factor additional time into my morning routine, just in case I had an impromptu panic attack. I decided to leave my job and work as a contractor where I was able to better manage my own wellbeing (and working hours) and if my client didn’t think I was doing a good enough job, then the role was probably a bad fit, rather than me not being good enough.
Prior to joining Clarasys, I had a break from work. My mind went to some very dark places at times; it is very easy to fixate on problems when you don’t have a routine or a feeling of purpose. But I learned within a fortnight that I really enjoyed and missed working. I realised that work, promotion and progression are not the be all and end all. For the first time in a while I set myself some non-work-related goals. Here are a few things I learnt along the way:
Exercise: Good for the mind and body – I’ve found it very encouraging to set fitness goals that are not aesthetic. Combining exercise with seeing friends is great and exercising in the morning (where feasible) gets my day, and my mindset, off to a great start.
Regular sleeping pattern: Getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night has completely changed my outlook (shout out to Professor Matthew Walker – “Why We Sleep”).
The Fit and Fearless podcast: I can’t recommend this podcast highly enough (so it got its own bullet point).
Healthy eating (and less alcohol): The Medicinal Chef has books and podcasts with such a wealth of information around the relationship between food, our bodies and our minds.
Not living by a to-do list: I am trying to recognise the smaller achievements that I make, rather than dwelling on all of the things that need to be done. It’s good to have goals, but not if they ultimately make you miserable.
Don’t compare: Houses, money, career, relationships, lives…it’s easier said than done – especially in the age of Instagram, but you are unique, and most people who seem to have it all, generally don’t.
Now working at Clarasys, I am so encouraged by the genuine support for mental health and wellbeing. I still struggle not to take work home with me, however, my colleagues remind me (nicely!) that I should not be doing this, or working late. On my current client engagement, we have a dedicated Wellbeing Lead, and the wider Clarasys team members hold each other accountable for making wellbeing commitments a priority at our regular stand-ups. I’ve also found that having a wellbeing commitment allows us to be more open when discussing problems, issues, concerns and even insecurities. It’s incredible to work for a company that lives by the values it advertises and I am delighted to be part of the Clarasys Wellbeing and Mental Health team, and so pleased to see these issues have the visibility they deserve.