Over the past couple of months, mental health in the sporting world is having a light shined upon like never before. First, tennis superstar Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open, citing mental health concerns, and more recently, four-time Olympic gold medallist Simone Biles did likewise.
Biles’ withdrawal drew praise for getting her priorities straight and helped enforce something that the rest of the world would do well to imitate. We had a chat with psychotherapist Rosette Muscat Said Sarreo about the issues that come with living in an always-connected world and the importance of taking mental health breaks.
Life is fast-paced, but have we evolved enough?
“Nowadays, science is confirming that our mental health suffers on a daily basis”, Muscat Said Sarreo says, right from the off. “Our bodies get tired, whether that’s muscles or organs, and the brain as one of the main organs is not immune to this”. Therefore, it’s vital that we take care of our boundaries and know when to say “this is enough”.
Life has become so fast-paced, it’s a literal rat race where we’re constantly bombarded with information; social media, advertising in every empty space imaginable. That means our brains are always switched on, processing information, whether actively or passively. Unfortunately, our bodies have not yet fully adapted to this fast-paced existence, which means that our brains seemingly tire quicker nowadays.
It’s not that we get tired quicker; we’re simply tired on a consistent basis with less time to disconnect. So, how do we combat this?
Harmony is key
“Ideally there needs to be more awareness for mental health breaks,” Muscat Said Sarreo explains. “Studies have shown that for the body to function properly and in harmony, there needs to be a balance; noise levels; silence; air quality…it should be easier for people to encourage others to take care of themselves. If there is more harmony, of course, the better our health will be overall.”
Another thing that we need to acknowledge is that we, as humans, are more than our jobs and our productivity levels do not define us. Going back to Simone Biles, she herself explained her relief at acknowledging that she’s more than her achievements and medals.
Muscat Said Sarreo makes reference to companies that do not prioritise time spent at work, but rather a reasonable amount of tasks completed per workday.
“The ‘reach your targets’ approach is great because it results in a different attitude where people are not tied to a station for 8 hours. It also reduces micro-management & promotes a feel-good vibe around the company where employees feel respected & trusted to do their jobs to the benefit of all involved.”
The employer’s perspective
There are a number of options employers can pursue in a bid to ensure their employees’ mental health is stable. However, as Muscat Said Sarreo points out, it all depends on team dynamics and size. “Micro-managing is a key contributor to stress at the workplace, but addressing that issue directly is not easy, but there are options one can pursue,” she says.
Employee assistant programs are a growing trend, where companies provide therapy sessions for their staff with a professional. The important thing is that most companies don’t even need to know the exact issues, because sometimes, these might be external pressures from beyond the job.
However, employees appreciate that their bosses appreciate them as human beings and not just workers. The therapist then simply invoices the company accordingly.
Another option is that of group away days, where employees are taken out of the work environment. This helps recalibrate their perception of their colleagues and superiors outside the work environment, which in turn helps make them feel safer when they go back to work. It helps gel the team because new, positive memories are being created.
In terms of direct employment, it could simply be a case of finding out what your staff are good at and attribute specific tasks to them. That would show the staff that not only are their capabilities being seen and acknowledged, but they also know that they’re delivering better than before. This of course results in more job satisfaction and more well-being at the place of work.
Open eyes & open hearts
How can we tell if someone’s going through a bit of a rough patch? “Burnout doesn’t always manifest in visual cues”, Muscat Said Sarreo reveals. “Most of the time they’re invisible, and it’s when we’re talking and engaging with people that we might notice that their energy levels, the way they move, the words they use are a bit off. We have to be attuned and sensitive to their cues.”
So, if you, or someone you know, might be going through a bit of a rough patch, overwhelmed by the excess information being thrown at us from our screens and beyond, there’s no harm and most certainly no shame in seeking out help. In an always-connected world, we need to re-learn the value of the occasional disconnect and find our inner peace.