Dealing with mental health on a personal level

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Published: May 14, 2021

We’ve spoken about mental health quite a bit over the last few months. From how it intersects the Whole Person approach to health and safety to how port operators can enact better care policies for their workers. This has partly been a response to demand from our membership for leadership on this issue, as well as the consequential impacts of a global pandemic. However, amid the discussion on what ports can do, we do not want to lose sight of ways that individuals can support and help themselves. Feeling that you have the ability to change things for the better can be a contributor to good mental health is and wellbeing. This blog is an opportunity to talk about coping strategies for the various stressors and strains of life.

Wokandapix at Pixabay, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Wokandapix at Pixabay, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you are experiencing feelings of anxiety or depression, there are safe spaces, people, and organisations that you can go to for competent support. People do not have to suffer alone or conceal problems, struggling in isolation can lead to unhealthy rumination where the negative thoughts compound deeper feelings of low self-esteem or guilt. Employers have a duty of care to their employees, and many provide support in the form of occupational health managers or off-site counsellors. If this is a little intimidating for some, simply confiding in an understanding friend can go a long way towards helping to ease the burden of mental health problems. Having someone willing to listen to you may even provide a stronger basis for seeking professional support, either from work or medical professionals.

Working in a high-pressure environment can produce harmful stress for some people which can in turn be harmful to mental health. While not a psychiatric symptom, stress can form part of an unhealthy feedback loop leading to mental health issues which in themselves may cause additional stress, and so on. A key factor in removing stress from this cycle is to identify what causes the stress in the first place and attempt to mitigate its impact. One off events, such as exams or bereavement can cause spikes in stress which can be eased with the assistance of friends and relatives or the passing of time. Persistent problems such as financial or health concerns may require more thorough support. A common form of stress however is through academic or professional pressure, and there are certain methods to cope with that. Setting yourself a list of short, achievable goals for the day can quantify your progress and demonstrate your control over the day. If the list is fairly long, do not be afraid to prioritise the most urgent tasks and take things slowly. If certain non-urgent tasks are not completed by the end of the day, reschedule for the following day or ask for help from managers or colleagues. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help, more a sign of responsibility and acceptance that you have already achieved much.

These techniques address more immediate forms for coping with stress, but how can we manage stress on a more permanent basis? There are various coping mechanisms that can reduce stress, the trick is finding the one that works for you. Some people benefit from relaxation techniques such as meditation and mindfulness, for others relaxation can also cover less esoteric activities such as taking a bath, listening to music, or going for a lengthy walk-in nature. The health benefits, both mental and physical, of getting into nature have already been documented this week. Sometimes, something as simple as having a short break can support your mental health, as too does giving yourself a break mentally.

Food and drink also play a huge role in caring for one’s mental wellbeing. It may be so cliché it’s barely worth mentioning but eating breakfast instead of skipping the meal entirely can help improve your physical energy and mental alertness throughout the day. According to a prospective study in 2017, there is a link between high sugar consumption and common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. Although further investigations are currently ongoing, the advice from MIND and the NHS is to avoid foods that cause blood sugar levels to rise and fall suddenly, such as energy drinks, sugary cereals, and overly sweet coffee. Instead, NHS dieticians suggested people opt for foods that release energy slowly such as rice, oats, pasta, and nuts. Nuts and oily fish in particular are good sources of fatty acids such as omega-3 and 6, which are important for brain functions. Maintaining a diet filled with fruit and vegetables is also important to maintaining the right balance of vitamins and minerals; a deficiency of which can cause poor memory, irritability, stress, depression and insomnia. Smaller portions spaced at regular intervals will also have much the same effect and prevent large spikes in blood sugar where the inevitable come down can result in tiredness or depression. Proper fluid intake is also vital to maintaining a healthy mental balance. Tea, juice, or water are all excellent options for remaining hydrated, while smoothies can count as one of your five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Alcohol and other substances are no substitute for proper nutrition and hydration. As a report from the Office of National Statistics stated just last week, alcohol killed more people in 2020 in England and Wales than in any of the previous two decades. If you feel as if you have developed a dependency on alcohol, the important thing is to receive help as soon as possible. The longer the issue is allowed to continue, the more harm you are doing to yourself both mentally and physically.

There is no such thing as a consistent mood, as our mental thresholds fluctuate from day to day. However, if you begin to notice a pattern of negative thoughts over the span of several days, that can be a sign of declining mental health. The ideas presented in this article are meant act as a springboard, to show that there is a spectrum of ways that people can consider how they are feeling, identify risks and seek the right kinds of help where that is needed.  There are professional help options available through your GP or with private organisations such as CALM or Mind. Therapists may suggest courses of treatment such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or anxiety treatment, but the important factor is that individuals find the support they need and the solution that works for them. We can’t always promise that the solutions will be as simple as those that we have outlined here, but we can work towards making sure that the ports industry supports those who need it most.

Port Skills and Safety are not medically trained professionals and only seek to amplify existing evidence on mental health to its members. If suffering from poor mental health, PSS strongly recommends readers seek help from their GP or similarly competent medical professional.
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