Mental & physical health are heavily interdependent. From immediate links between diet, hydration & exercise with mood, energy & resilience, through to enduring connections between chronic stress, anxiety & depression to long-term illnesses, incapacity & mortality, the evidence is indisputable. We strongly advocate workplace environments, cultures, management practices & self-care techniques that are safe, purposeful, engaging, proactive & supportive for the mental, physical & social health & well-being of all employees.
The workplace has significant impacts on health, well-being & quality of life beyond legal workplace safety compliance that can’t be ignored & can be influenced. A human-centred & compassionate approach to team management shifts well-being support from a remedial delayed reaction to being proactive & preventative. For example, meaningful work & positive feedback support self-esteem; training, empowerment & trust support feelings of competence, confidence & autonomy; stability, inclusion & openness support connection; & work variety, skills development & challenging work support task reward & learning. By enhancing the satisfaction of these basic DNA-driven needs, as well as checking in with people & de-stigmatising illness, this type of socially connected, compassionate management is also best-practice support for fulfilment & mental well-being.
As a perfect foundation for bodily health & optimal brain function, we recommend healthy eating, hydration, sleeping, socialising & exercise habits. We also recommend a purposeful, positive approach to people, life & challenges while maintaining strong, safe relationships, self-compassion & enthusiasm for new learnings & experiences. Positivity helps to minimise unhelpful neurobiological defensive responses that amplify fears & prepare the body for non-existent physical threats, redirecting blood flow away from the smartest parts of the brain (i.e., the prefrontal cortex), in turn effectively reducing IQ & self-management. Positivity also supports authentic happiness – big dopamine rewards are experienced when conquering big challenges, creating intrinsic fulfilment, triggering heightened learning (dopamine plays a big role in memory & learning) & reinforcing positivity – it’s a self-fulfilling state of mind with genuine benefits for success, personal growth & well-being. The evidence is clear & supported by neurobiology: Health & optimism positively correlate to success.
As a species, humans evolved as social creatures, and we are, if anything, even more social today. In neolithic times, our ancestors’ survival relied on working together & caring for each other throughout life. This primal needs starts with infant-mother connection, continuing throughout life to adulthood as we need to feel accepted, liked & trusted, & to feel a sense of identity & a sense of place. The existence of safe, trusting & committed relationships also correlate with happiness, resilience & longevity &, through being able to connect with the knowledge, ideas & collaborative potential of others, to success at work & in life. The building of secure relationships in the workplace is an essential human need, influencing our work from recruitment through to role design, management process, leadership behaviour & organisational structure.
Reflection on experience is a highly effective path to learning and personal growth. As we look back on feelings, senses, actions & outcomes, unpack & think things through, we get the chance to reframe, reconsider & adjust our feelings & responses for next time. (A neurobiological flaw with modern education & training, both at school & in workplaces, it a bias toward listening, reading & writing rather than experiencing). Skilled reflection can recall contexts, choices & emotions & consider perspectives, perceptions of truth & fault. A challenge for reflection is that it can easily become focused on errors, regret & shame – this is unhelpful. Instead, focus on intentions for the moment & for the future, granting tolerance & compassion for self & others in equal measure. Laugh at mistakes, fill yourself with compassion, tolerance & forgiveness for self & others, & concentrate on the person you would like to grow into being. Ajahn Brahm called this “kindfulness” & we have found it, through studying the neurobiological process & our own practice, to be a most effective & healthy tool for reflection, learning & general well-being.
There are many things that we can all do to support our own mental wellness & capacity, & for some people meditation works extremely well. There are various forms of, & beliefs about, meditation, but primarily it works by downregulating stress & stress responses through focusing on internal sensations (e.g., breathing, weight, weightlessness) & presence – or, for experts, possibly nothing at all. This achieves a similar (but deeper) result to some elements of mindfulness, letting go of stresses & worries, & allowing the brain to thrive in a positive, energised & unstressed state. For those who are able to engage with it, there is a sound neurobiological & evidentiary basis for meditation’s benefits.
Mindfulness practice has similarities in its goal of calming but differs in actively seeking to become aware of the emotions that are currently felt & that seek to influence thoughts of truth & behaviours. Mindfulness is a great way of slowing down the fast, emotional/intuitive responses so that they can so easily overwhelm responses, to be better influenced by slower, cognitive rational processes to combine the strengths of both for superior tolerance, empathy, decision making & behavioural choices. With practice, mindfulness can be seamlessly integrated into daily life with in-the-moment benefits for impulse control, cognitive capacity & stress management. We recommend non-judgemental & self-compassionate mindfulness as an essential habit for leaders. It is also a core enabler of emotional intelligence (EQ) – specifically in self-awareness & self-regulation.
As a species that evolved in physically uncertain & threatening environments, we are designed to be physically active – it is evident in every aspect of our biology. Our brains, neurochemicals & hormones have changed little since neolithic times where they evolved to direct physical actions essential for survival of self, family, tribe & species. To optimise brain function, health & longevity, regular aerobic & strength-based exercise is important for burning the energy that was created through stress. Additionally, along with strengthening cardio-vascular, skeletal & muscular systems, exercise helps with digestion, joint & immune system function. On the Gold Coast in Queensland we draw on natural neurotransmitters & hormones to facilitate a weekly mindful cycling group at the Sanctuary Cove Recreation Club. If you’re local, contact us to check up on our schedule – you’ll need to be a member of the Club but there is no extra cost for joining the session. We also partner with Body In Mind Training to support innovative programs that similarly enhance holistic wellness & strength, resilience & longevity for brain & body. Naomi and her team are experts dedicated to the capacity & well-being of their clients, &, as part of her overall well-being program, we are pleased to support her initiatives & clients with integrated neuropsychotherapy in dealing with anxiety, depression, poor confidence & low motivation. Contact Body In Mind Training to learn more.
We advocate a sensible, balanced & sustainable diet that favours regular eating routines, balance, variety, slow consumption, unprocessed foods, unsaturated fats, natural protein & fibre. Omega 3 has been found to help brain function, while “added” sugar, which triggers a very short-term dopamine release & generally messes with the brain & everything else in the body, is something we warn against. There is no shortage of information on the effects of sugar on brain & body, & Professor Selena Bartlett has researched & written about its dangers extensively. Foods thought to be helpful for brain health, especially in combating neural degeneration associated with ageing include many nuts & seeds, raw olive oil, oily fish, chicken (hormone free), berries, most vegetables, eggs, turmeric and sage, while probiotics aid gut health, in turn affecting capacity. Unless advised by a qualified medical professional in response to a diagnosed deficiency (not a naturopath, salesperson or neighbour), we have also concluded that most supplements are, on the whole, money that could better be spent on healthy food.
We are simultaneously open & cautious about drugs & medication. The threats from alcohol & tobacco are well publicised, but there are also less-publicised problems with marijuana & sleeping tablets (both acting to prevent the creation of new brain cells & synapses through dampening BDNF release, among other things, especially in juvenile brains) and prescription medication – especially SSRIs, which, while quite effectively reducing the worst symptoms of PTSD, anxiety & depression, can also reduce the brain’s capacity for change. Our position on drugs & medication is clear – do what you need to do for only as long as you need to do it on the advice of a qualified professional, & don’t assume the medication alone will solve the underlying problem. Consult closely with your doctor or psychiatrist on a program that includes counselling & lifestyle changes that are most likely, to the extent possible, support permanent change that needn’t require ongoing medication if your condition allows it.
Healthy diet, exercise, lifestyle & relationships are vital for fulfilment & success in & out of work.