Looking after ourselves and each other

The importance of promoting and maintaining wellbeing has rightly been a subject of increasing focus over the past year. Driven by the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic and how we will transition out of it, wellbeing is something that will continue to require effort and commitment.

But what do we mean by wellbeing and who is responsible for it?

From a workplace perspective, wellbeing relates to all aspects of working life – the quality and safety of the physical environment, how people feel about their work, their working environment, the climate and culture at work and how work is organised. Measures for workplace wellbeing focus on ensuring we are safe, healthy, happy and engaged at work. [1]

Work is only one aspect of our lives, however, and The New Economics Foundation explain that wellbeing covers how we feel and how we function, both on a personal and social level, and how we evaluate our lives as a whole. [2] All of us will have different priorities, personal circumstances and commitments and good wellbeing is usually indicative of a good balance across all aspects of our lives; it incorporates our physical, mental and emotional health.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on the importance of wellbeing, but looking after ourselves and each other is not only of benefit during times of crisis, difficulty and loss.

This is something we have understood at ISP from our very beginning. Caring for each other is more than a concept, it is rooted in our Principles:

We treat everyone with care and respect. We look after one another, embrace similarities and differences and promote the wellbeing of each other.

This tenet informs how we engage with our families, how we support our students to learn and how we interact and collaborate with one another as colleagues.

Each and every one of us has a role to play in establishing this healthy workplace, wellbeing culture. Treating everyone with respect means having empathy and regard for the feelings, wishes and rights of others. Acting with care, looking after one another and promoting wellbeing is demonstrated in how we support and encourage each other and how we provide what is needed. And in embracing similarities and differences, we show how we acknowledge and accept that each of us is an individual.

Reflecting on the wording used, it’s clear that each of us has an individual responsibility to uphold and promote wellbeing and that when individually we get this right we are stronger collectively.

Looking after our wellbeing starts with looking after ourselves. It’s only then that we can start to look after each other. Having good wellbeing can help us to have confidence and healthy self-esteem, to enjoy positive relationships with others and to be resilient, adapting when things change. [3]

So, what can we do individually – and together – to look after ourselves and each other better and promote positive wellbeing?

The Anna Freud Centre has some great tips.

Identify your goals

Reflect on what looking after yourself means for you, what activities you enjoy that help keep you calm, happy, relaxed and feeling good about life and yourself. Use this to identify some simple personal goals – it might be a daily walk or run, gardening, meditation, listening to music…or anything else. Just a few minutes each day will provide you with something measurable and achievable that you can prioritise for your self-care. At ISP we encourage employees to have personal and wellbeing goals, as well as goals that focus on our work priorities, so take some time to consider what this looks like for you.

Plan your wellbeing

Use your calendar to block out time each day to focus on doing something for you. As above, this could be exercise or something more mindful – or a chance to connect with a friend or colleague.

Use media positively

Be mindful about how you engage with news and media; in terms of time, content and context. Social media can be a helpful tool for us to connect and share with each other but what we watch, see and hear impacts how we think, feel and behave. Focus on using media to energise yourself and improve your support networks. 

Take time to breathe

Breathing exercises can be calming and therapeutic and a great way to release stress and tension as well as an opportunity to gather and work through your thoughts.

Buddy up

Can you create a buddy system in your office or school? Who can you partner with to catch up with one other and check-in on your wellbeing levels? In some offices and schools, colleagues have put time aside for more informal coffee breaks, which take place virtually where they’re working remotely, but provide a great opportunity to connect and engage with each other.

Go back to basics

We’ve already reflected on the ongoing uncertainty that we’re all living with. In times like this, focusing on healthy routines around sleep, exercise and eating well helps to anchor us, providing comfort and security.

Express yourself

Sharing and talking about feelings, whether with a line manager, a colleague or a friend, can help us to process what is going on for us individually. For some of us it helps to explore other, more creative ways of expression – such as journaling, music or art.

A recent New York Times article[4] also gives food for thought. It names the joyless and aimless feelings many of us will be experiencing as we cope with lockdowns, lack of physical contact and the constantly evolving nature of this pandemic. It calls this state ‘Languishing’. Languishing, it goes onto explain, is a sense of “stagnation and emptiness”, it feels as if we’re “muddling through our days”.

The article also has some useful advice for us. Like the tips shared earlier, it shines a light on the importance of goal-setting, creating boundaries and finding time to do what we enjoy.

However, alongside its naming of languishing, it goes onto explain that psychologists have found that one of the best ways to help us manage our emotions and feelings is to name them. We might be languishing, we might be afraid, we might be sad, we might be grieving. How we feel and what we’re going through will be different and personal to each of us and the situation we find ourselves in. What is certain though is that acknowledging and naming our feelings can help us create a distance to consider and reflect on our challenges.

This is particularly important when we check-in with one another to see how we are. Moving away from the socially-acceptable “I’m fine” and being open and talking about what is going on for each of us – and, on the other side, being curious and a good listener – is what being there for each other is all about.

Above all, looking after ourselves and each other is about kindness; being compassionate and patient with ourselves but also reaching out to and checking in with others. In the words of Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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