Mental Health & Self-Care
David Paulin is a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Instructor for Kelly’s Cause, one of the leading providers of hospitality specific MHFA in the UK. He also works as a Project Manager, designing and delivering programmes which use creativity as a tool to improve mental wellbeing for people with enduring mental health issues. With years of FOH experience across various establishments, he recently spoke at our panel “Safeguarding our Mental Health in the New Year”, hosted at SILO restaurant.
Mental health is an incredibly subjective experience. That means definitions can differ greatly depending on who you ask. Broadly speaking, mental health is health that relates to how we think, feel and behave. Similar to physical health, our mental health can be measured on a scale of good to poor, depending on varying factors. When it’s on the former end of that scale, mental health can be a positive thing! On the opposite end, poor mental health has an overall negative effect on how we think, feel and how we behave in our day-to-day lives.
Mental illness is defined by the degree to which those symptoms impact our lives and the length of time that they are present for. The symptoms will reach the diagnostic criteria, even if a diagnosis has not been carried out. According to Mind Charity, two thirds of people with common mental health issues receive no treatment at all.
Signs of poor mental health are external factors which we can spot, such as appearance or behavioural changes. Symptoms are internal factors which we experience, such as thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
If we look back at our original definition for mental health, we see that symptoms make up two thirds of that definition: thinking and feeling. This means it is paramount that we create the right conditions for people to open up and discuss their mental health. Oftentimes we don’t realise when we are experiencing a dip in our mental health; if we speak about it more openly however, we might be able to recognise those fluctuations.
But before we can offer help to others, it is crucial that we take care of ourselves.
To have these difficult conversations, you firstly need to be in a place where you are able to support others. This is one of the foundations of MHFA Training, called ‘self-care’. In recent times the term self-care has been hijacked by the wellness industry, and now has a lot of consumerist connotations. It actually originates as a clinical term used by mental health professionals as a tool for actively improving our health and managing illness when it occurs. You’ve probably seen this concept presented through Instagram posts of beautiful sunsets, and you may have had a reaction to it, but it might surprise you to know that, in terms of physical health, in the UK around 80% of care received is self care. It is a very broad and all-encompassing notion that takes into consideration our diet, our lifestyles, our living conditions, even taking over-the-counter medications.
In terms of our mental health, it looks a little different.
It’s a unique, person-to-person process, changes over time, and can be daily (like journaling), weekly (like a walk in nature), monthly (like engaging in a creative activity), or even yearly (like a holiday). It requires strategy and there are often major obstacles that prevent us from doing it, such as time, energy, or negative self-talk (“I didn’t do my self-care, therefore I am useless and I’ll never do it now”).
The best way to support the people in your professional or personal life is to start supporting yourself. There’s often a large gap between the advice we give to others and the way we speak to ourselves. By building a self-care practice you are starting the process of trying to close that gap. This is really important when we are supporting others with their own mental health.
Hospitality jobs are busy, demanding, and take a tax on time and energy. How do we make sure self-care doesn’t become a task that sits at the bottom of our to-do list?
When you're trying to build your self care practice think of being SMART
Choose something that is specific (for instance, rather than “I will practise self care”, go for “I will draw a picture of my day when I get home)
Choose something that is measurable (with a start and an end to the task, contrary to doomscrolling on Instagram)
Choose something that is achievable with the time and resources you have (can be done without pre-planning, like a phone call with a loved one)
Choose something that is realistic (make sure it’s big enough to have an impact on your wellbeing but small enough that you can balance it with other commitments)
Choose something that is time-bound, with a time limit on it
Struggling to think of something? Think of MWEALTH. An activity that involves one of the following: Mindfulness, Wholesome foods, Engaging, Activity, Learning, Tuning out or Helping others.
Creativity ticks a lot of these boxes. Excluding all other socio-economic factors, those that engage in creativity are 50% less likely to experience an issue with their mental health (stat from the Creative Health: All Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health, and Wellbeing) so it is an incredibly powerful tool for sustaining our mental health.
If time is an obstacle that is preventing you from building your self care practice then start small, build a daily self-care habit for 2 minutes each day. Once you no longer have to think about it, increase it to 5 minutes, and so on. Buddy up with someone who has a similar interest – if it’s creative writing, for example, agree to write for 5 minutes each day. Talk about the times when you felt like you couldn’t be bothered and motivate each other.
You can also remove some of the barriers by making your practices as easy as possible to engage in. For instance, if you’re trying to go to the gym in the morning, sleep with your gym clothes beside your bed. You just need to get up, put them on, and you’ll be much more likely to go. If journaling is the self-care practice you want to develop, leave your journal and pen on your bed in the morning to remind you to write in the evening.
When it comes to your team, how can you create better conditions to allow them to engage in self-care? You can help them to reconnect with their purpose, find meaning in the job they do, finish on time, and keep work communications strictly to their working days, effectively creating boundaries that give them the time to take care of themselves. Finally, modelling good behaviour by practising self-care yourself is one of the best ways to get your team to follow suit.
Stay tuned for the second instalment of our series on mental health, “Approaching conversations on Mental Health”.
If you’re interested in following a Mental Health First Aid training, Bleecker Burger provides courses free of charge to people working in hospitality. This is a fantastic opportunity to learn those critical skills that’ll make a real difference within your team. The course is split into two in-person days, running February 20 and 27th from 9.30am-4pm at Puttshank Bank, EC2R 8EJ.