Two simple ways to improve your mental health

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an important initiative to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues and raise awareness about the role mental health plays in our overall health and wellbeing.

By Ann Gomez

Have you heard the story of the happiness balloons? It’s a tale that made the rounds on social media years ago, and like much of what we consume on social media, its veracity has been called into question, but it still conveys an excellent lesson.

The story is about an unknown teacher who brought balloons to school and told her students to blow them up and write their name on one. The students then placed the balloons into the hall and their teacher mixed the balloons up and gave the children a few minutes to find the one balloon with their name on it. A frantic search ensued and when the time was up, the children all had trouble finding their own balloon.

The teacher then had the students find any balloon and give it to the person whose name was on it. In less than two minutes, everyone was holding their own balloon.

The teacher tells the children to think of the balloons like happiness. “You won’t find it when you’re only searching for your own.” But when you demonstrate care and compassion for others, it ultimately helps you feel better.

You can see how, even if it is a fabrication, this anecdote nicely captures the message that when we are part of a strong network of friends, family, and colleagues, there is no limit to what we can achieve. A strong network can challenge us, champion us, collaborate with us – and empathize with us.

And we are equally capable – and compelled – to do the same for our network.

When we bring our best to those around us, our positive energy strengthens their own experience, whether at work, home, or in line to grab a coffee. (In this column on how to combat loneliness, I describe how even quick connections with anyone from a neighbour or a total stranger can be incredibly uplifting).

What kind of energy are you bringing to your day-to-day interactions?

Here are two simple ways you can bring your best to every situation.

1-Be aware

We all face challenges others may not be aware of. And the challenges we face are all relative. What boosts my stress level will not be the same as what may trigger your stress response. Being aware of how these challenges are affecting you can prevent a negative response from spilling over into other situations.

If you are having trouble parking your challenges, call it out. No need to go into all the details, especially at work. But you can help people understand why you may not be yourself if you simply say, “Sorry, if I seem off, I’m having some challenges with my teenager right now, or I’m balancing some elder care responsibilities for my parents and I’m feeling a little divided.”

2-Be present

Running from one stressful or overwhelming situation into another is tough. It’s easy to bring the negative energy from one situation into another. Where possible, try to cue yourself to shift your mindset to the present situation. This may be as simple as taking a moment to write what you need to revisit later if you are transitioning from one meeting to the next. Writing it down will help to clear your mind. Or your mindset shift may mean taking a breath and being aware of your breathing if you are about to lose your temper with that same teenager in example #1.

The emotions we bring to work are equally important as our cognitive skills, but it’s important to note we always want to be authentic, and true to ourselves. Sharing our positive energy does not mean we put on a cheerful face and pretend everything is fine when it’s not. But being aware of our energy means we demonstrate the best of ourselves and, in turn, we bring out the best in others. And we may even help them find their own balloon.

For more strategies you can use to set yourself up for success, see Ann’s latest book, Workday Warrior: A Proven Path to Reclaiming Your Time, published by Dundurn Press, 2022.

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