Looking after HR's wellbeing is like putting on an oxygen mask

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In this series of columns we're asking HR professionals to help get the conversation going on HR's own mental health by sharing their personal experiences

Whenever I think about my mental health I am reminded of the in-flight safety demonstration before the start of any flight. We are told to ensure we have our oxygen masks on before we help others put theirs on. The principle behind this is that if we pass out while we are trying to help others who are less able to take care of themselves that could lead to catastrophic consequences.

To support and coach managers I owe it to myself to be in the best shape, both physically and mentally. One of the ways I do this is by practising self-care. As an HR professional it is absolutely essential that I ensure my wellbeing so that I am sufficiently robust and resilient to support others. Just as it is vital that we put on our oxygen masks before helping others, we must ensure our overall wellbeing in order to support others with theirs.

Self-care can seem like a selfish concept but I have learned that to be able to function to the best of my ability I must practise it. For instance there have been times when I have wanted to stay late at work to catch up, like I have done in the past. But staying later means less downtime to unwind in the evening and less chance of getting to bed early. This in turn will affect my energy levels and my performance the next day, resulting in a negative cycle of behaviour.

Through the process of self-care I have also learned that my mental health is inextricably linked to my physical health, and how I feel physically will ultimately affect my mind.

Below are some examples of how I practise self-care:

Exercising regularly has helped immensely to get through some very challenging situations. It improves my general mood and I feel energised and sleep better when I exercise. I go to the gym two to three times a week and have been doing so for several years. Before joining the gym I tried to keep fit in other ways – running, exercises at home etc. but I could never get into a routine. The structure of classes and the fact that they are designed for maximum impact have helped me develop a routine that suits my lifestyle. Also joining a gym close to work makes it easier to get to after work. I have been able to maintain this routine because I found something I like doing and it works for me.

Eating right. I find it easier to do this when I am exercising regularly. I like fruit and vegetables so it is easy for me to incorporate them into my diet, in moderation. While I would try anything once, I only include foods I like to eat in my diet and try to vary the foods to avoid my palate getting bored.

Getting enough sleep. Once I learned that sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture for centuries it began to make sense why I am less effective after very little sleep. On weekdays I try to get between six and seven hours; but this is still a work in progress.

My team. I work in a fantastic team. We talk to each other a lot and discuss how to ensure our wellbeing, and we share ideas on what works. We also check in with each other on how we are doing and act as cheerleaders for each other. For instance, sometimes when I am considering cancelling a gym session my colleagues will remind me of the benefit of maintaining my routine.

I appreciate that different methods of self-care will apply to different people. Some people don’t enjoy working out but there are other options for self-care such as meditation, cooking your favourite meal, going for a walk, or spending time with loved ones. Figuring out what you like and what works for you is crucial to ensuring you sustain your self-care routine.

Opemipo Koshemani is HR business partner (social and historical sciences) at University College London

Further reading

Is HR neglecting its own mental health?

Dealing with a personal breakdown: One HRD's story

It's not weak to struggle with mental health, by Gary Cookson, founder and director of EPIC HR

Is HR consultancy the answer to the work/life balance challenge?, by Emily Perry, head of HR at The Shore Grou

HR's mental health: Letting people in is hard but necessary, by Annette Andrews, chief people officer at Lloyd's of London

Turning suffering into success, by Paul Carter, senior policy consultant at Civil Service Employee Policy

Would you be interested in sharing your experiences to help support other HR professionals? Please do get in touch with HR magazine if so on: jenny.roper@markallengroup.com

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