The importance of good mental health gets a lot of coverage these days, and rightly so. But what does ‘good’ look like? We’re all different, after all; we react to situations differently, we face different setbacks and different opportunities. And it all shapes our mindset.
Because mental health is a very personal thing, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to finding your ‘good’. The key is being aware of, and acknowledging, how you feel and finding the right support.
It’s something we took a close look at during Men’s Health Awareness Month in November 2023, both as an agency and as individuals. We found that one of the biggest impacts on mental health is change, something I’ve experienced a fair bit of in recent years and something that’s worth talking about all year round.
Until the last few years, I felt that I looked after myself relatively well. I’ve always had a keen interest in health and fitness, exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet. That’s not to say I haven’t nursed my fair share of hangovers, mind you.
Being so active away from work, be it socialising, exercising or keeping busy in general, no doubt benefited my mental health when I was younger. But more recently, my habits have naturally changed. In just a few years, I’ve turned 40, become a dad of three, and been appointed Managing Director at Onyx Health. As I navigate it all, it’s been more important than ever to be mindful of, well, my mind.
My wife and I agreed while our kids were young that she’d be a stay-at-home mum, as we had similar upbringings and wanted the same for our children if we could manage it. The shift in family and work dynamic had an impact on my mental health, I now realise.
I’ve found in recent years how fragile a thing it can be; if you’re unaware of how you’re feeling, things can quickly escalate. I can sympathise with men who are balancing the pressures of work while also being at their best for family.
Having self-awareness and building a deep understanding of your triggers, and equally your comforts, are my key learnings of the last couple of years. And it helps to share those with the people around you.
Stress and anxiety affect different people in different ways, but for me it’s mental fatigue. In those moments, I find myself saying no to things and I procrastinate, struggling to focus on a single task which can leave me feeling lethargic and irritable.
At this point, it’s important to stop, take a breath and prioritise. Prioritise tasks, events and commitments, but most importantly, yourself. This is the hardest part for me.
It’s not easy and it requires discipline, so start with small steps. Find out what helps you destress and relax, like exercising, decluttering or talking with family and friends. For me, taking a decent lunch break and getting some fresh air breaks up the workday, then switching off phone notifications and reducing screentime helps unwind and rest in the evening. It’s vital to carve out a small portion of the day just for you.
I became most aware of my triggers, and how to react to them, during the Covid lockdowns. I imagine a lot of men were in the same situation. Ironically, I find working from home more difficult.
For a lot of people homeworking is a huge positive and I understand why, but for me it’s not the case; I tend to work longer hours, have more calls and take irregular breaks when the work-life balance is blurred.
Paired with the lack of face-to-face interaction, that ongoing cycle of living and working in the same environment resulted in a loss of confidence at times. I can see how the repetitive nature of work and family with little distraction could result in feelings of depression for many.
Experiences like these helped shape our new hybrid approach to work at Onyx Health. We generally work in the studio three days per week and from home the other two. It’s flexible, too, so we can shift the balance around other commitments when needed.
I’ll mostly work four days from the studio, but that’s by choice because I feel better for it. It allows me to create boundaries between work and home and switch off at the end of the day. When I’m at home, family is the focus, and at work, I’m energised and productive.
That understanding has also helped us build such a brilliantly diverse team of different backgrounds, ages and experiences, with each colleague having the flexibility to work around their commitments outside of work. There’s something to be learned from everyone at Onyx Health, too, whether you’re just starting out or a little more experienced.
We also want everyone in the team to feel comfortable speaking with not just me but other colleagues about any personal or work-related struggles. A problem shared is a problem halved, and we want the team to know that if they are struggling, the agency has policies in place to support people through difficult times.
Ultimately, if we aren’t supported, inside and outside of work, how can we be our best selves? We’ve built long-term relationships and success on that ethos, and I’m extremely privileged to have the opportunity to lead our brilliant team in doing so.
During our men’s health campaign in November 2023, I learnt a great deal about the issues facing men, from societal pressures to body dysmorphia. Most striking is that so many of these aren’t visible to others, and with men often feeling uncomfortable in speaking up, things only worsen.
Messaging is going the right way, with many campaigns encouraging us to share our struggles with others, but talking is still the hardest hurdle to overcome. And so, when I think about our team, it’s less about asking people to talk and more about having an open door, ensuring the leadership team are looking out for changes in behaviour and creating a safe space to allow open and honest conversations to happen naturally.
The Onyx Health team is a big factor in fostering that environment, with several of us sharing our own stories as part of our New MENtality content series and discussing homophobia, body image and other struggles.