#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek: Why mental health is wealth – hugely insightful reflections from First Wealth’s Kerry Burgess

This article is featured as part of our week-long series looking at awareness and practical advice to support the Mental Health of those working across the financial services sector.

By Kerry Burgess, Practice Manager at First Wealth

A career in financial services can be challenging with the many demands on your time from regulatory requirements through to continued educational development and, just as importantly, getting the job done! But what helps is having the right life / work balance, being part of a supportive team and also working within a business which puts its employees ’mental wellness at the top of its agenda.

All change

The last two years have possibly been the craziest of times for most of our careers. As a business leader, I had to help our business owners and team leaders to find better ways to support our workforce as we battled the challenges brought to us with, firstly, working from home and, most recently, the introduction of flexible working as the office reopened.

At First Wealth, we create an environment where we encourage change, whether that’s simple process changes to enhance a client’s experience, or to launching a new project to develop and grow our business, such as the addition of our recent diversity and inclusion policy. We encourage the importance of positive workplace relationships and the ability to have access to senior members of the team to encourage the opportunity to talk to, and really get to know, each other.

Mental Health Matters

There are so many ways that an individual’s mental health can be affected, whether it’s anxiety, stress, confusion, depression, or simply feeling overwhelmed with what is on your plate right now. When we get into the situation of feeling this way, it can be very difficult to break away from that. With many of us now working flexibly, our home and working lives have become ever more intertwined.

Poor mental health can have a real knock-on effect to, not just our ability to carry out our jobs, but also in our personal lives, maybe retracting from being in social environments, after all, we have spent a lot of time confined to our homes and, as the world opens back up, some of us are finding this a little bit harder than we thought we would have to readapt. Some people are also finding it difficult to readjust to working back in an office environment again, with the noise and the chatter. I am aware there are many individuals struggling to get the right balance between the office and home, the hours spent working, versus knowing how to switch off at the end of the day. Some businesses are putting more pressure on their team members to return to the office, and this is leading to feelings of being unsupported and unheard, especially where employees have voiced their concerns and business leaders have been unsupportive.

If you aren’t feeling your best, this can make you feel demotivated, have low morale, lower productivity and cause a lot of uncertainty which affects decision making and knowing what to do for the best. Often what most people do is they try and distract themselves from how they are feeling. Some people throw themselves into work, whilst others find they start to retract from commitments. How about the next time you are feeling overwhelmed, or down, that you sit somewhere quiet, maybe close your eyes and just focus on what you are feeling and where you are feeling those feelings. I don’t know about you, but when I am feeling that things are getting a bit too much, I find my breathing becomes shallower and maybe I start to get a headache, but by sitting back closing my laptop for a few minutes, concentrating on my breathing and closing my eyes can be enough to ground me again ready to take more positive steps.

Set your boundaries

As a manager I feel it is important to lead by example, and therefore I do take regular breaks and set boundaries with my working day. As I mentioned earlier, with the norm of home working now, it is important for people to set their own boundaries for how they wish to work. I know there are times when I will need to put more hours in to get something done, but then at other times I know I can take a walk with the dog at lunch time for an hour to get away from my desk. It is give and take.

It is also about being kind to yourself. How often has that voice in your head told you that you aren’t good enough, or that you can’t do something? What words of encouragement would you give yourself if you were to be kinder in the way you spoke? Don’t forget, that internal voice is chattering away the whole time, mine does even when I am asleep, I often wake up with stupid things going around my head at 2am in the morning! Who knew that remembering to pay for your child’s Geography trip needed to be done at that ungodly hour!

Don’t forget to care for yourself

So many people hold multiple responsibilities on top of their ‘day-job’, considering looking after young children, or elderly relatives, these pressures are in addition to performing your role, being a wife / husband / partner, keeping on top of the cooking , cleaning, shopping, not to mention trying to get your 10,000 steps in a day, or to eat well, there is just all this constant push and pull and noise around us from the minute we wake up to the minute we go to sleep. Social media trying to portray how we should look and the effect it has on us when we see what others are doing and we aren’t etc. I can tell you know I have JOMO – joy of missing out and not FOMO – fear of missing out. Since the removal of the lockdown restrictions, I have massively re-evaluated what is important to me and what takes priority. If you haven’t done this recently, I would suggest you take a look at the things you do which you no longer enjoy or take satisfaction from and look to move away from those, that could be to do with your job, or your relationships , or maybe you are in a rut with friends where you make all the effort, and it isn’t reciprocated.

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, break tasks down. Grab a notebook, write down all the things going through your head, your thoughts, your feelings, the demands on your time, your ‘to do’ list, absolutely everything which is causing you any stress or anxiety and then take a look at what you have written and, on a separate page, write down the things that are really important to you. Consider whether the things that are bothering you are things which you have any real control over.

Being in the moment is the best way of bringing your senses back to now. For me escapism can be found in a walk, I love anywhere close to the sea, a lake or near woods, which I really enjoy at its best in bluebell season, the smell and sight is just awesome. I like reading, this completely takes over my thoughts and allows me to switch off from the chatter, I love hot baths and swimming, and watching a movie at the cinema. What is it that you like doing that you can build more into your day to help look after your own mental wellbeing?

Job satisfaction is huge, we came back to our offices following the Pandemic and newsletters and social media posts were continuously referring to the ‘great redundancy’. This was because for the first time in probably ever, people had the time to sit back and reassess what was important to them, were they satisfied within their role, did their employers look after them during that really difficult time, do they feel respected, engaged and fairly remunerated? When the uncertainty of whether jobs were safe and secure, people started to take steps to become a bit braver and to look for other opportunities which would help support their personal desires and for roles that met with their own values.

Open communication is imperative and having that relationship with somebody within your organization who you can sit down with and tell them exactly how you are feeling and what is going on in your life. It’s important for people managers to truly listen to what is being said. At First Wealth, one way we support our teams is by holding regular 1: 1s, typically held with their line managers, but our Managing Director and I are both Certified Coaches who have an open-door policy and are always reachable.

Supporting your team

As an employer, how can you help your team? We have tailored our employee benefits to have the focus of mental and physical wellbeing in mind. From our Private Medical Insurance policy which has the additional benefit of counselling opportunities, to HEKA, with which we make a monthly contribution, and our employees can spend that allowance on anything from meal planning to yoga and exercises, to coaching sessions and health planning.

Our mental health is wealth, if we don’t look after ourselves, or seek the help we need this can have a huge negative impact on all areas of our lives, so if you do anything today, take 5 minutes to think about how you can be kinder to yourself. Think of your body as a car and its gas tank, a car cannot run on an empty tank, and neither can you!

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