Running Rings Round Mental Illness

Two thirds of us will experience mental health problems in our lifetimes. This year, one in four people will experience the symptoms of a mental health problem. These are frightening statistics. All the more frightening is that mental health remains a taboo subject which few of us talk about – particularly at work.

I’ve been inspired to see everyone’s efforts for Miles for Mind, a virtual ultra where 10% of the profits go to the charity Mind. And last week was Mental Health Awareness Week, which reminded me of my own experiences.

Back in 2001, I was at a management training event and stood up to make a presentation when I experienced a total ‘white board’ moment. By ‘white board’, I mean I drew an absolute blank in my mind. I had no idea why I was there and not a single thought – my mind was a blank white board.

My colleagues were excellent. I remember our MD suggested I take time out. I left the meeting and a trusted colleague kept me company. The following day was horrific. I felt fragile and more than a little embarrassed, but my colleagues were supportive and I picked up the threads of work again and carried on.

For me this was a short episode, but it fundamentally changed the way I think about myself, about others, and – crucially – about my own mental health. Afterwards, I did some reading and the analogy which has stuck with me ever since and helped me enormously over the years is one of comfort zone and concentric circles.

These can be referred to as Comfort, Stretch and Panic Zones (as in NLP or Kaizan). I thought of them as having more concentric circles: the inner ones having a solid white line and those further out having dotted lines. The outer ones are almost invisible, with little or no definition between the lines. I thought to myself that when I had my ‘white-out’ moment I must have been somewhere out on the extremities. For the first time, I became aware of my own mental health.

Since then, I have used this way of reflecting to help me in all aspects of life – particularly at work. To grow and develop we all need to invest some of our time in the Stretch and Panic Zones, and I think the episode has made me stronger. It has allowed me to push harder to work more hours when I have to, to be more creative, and to back-off and protect myself when I sense that I am over-doing things. The key is being aware that we all have our own mental health and need to take care of ourselves in the same way that we look after our physical health.

I refer to running as my ‘stress buster’. It keeps me sharp, grounded, and I reckon I do my best and most creative thinking when running. Also, when I am at my physical best I do my best work and feel ‘on the ball’.

Whatever your self-care strategy – running or otherwise – take some time out for yourself this week and think about your own mental health, and that of those around you. I was fortunate enough to have understanding, supportive colleagues. Together, we need to be more open to sharing and talking about mental health.

Did this strike a chord with you? I now offer coaching to help you get the most out of running – or business. Email me on andy@lifeisasinecurve.com, or leave me a comment below.

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