Why Mental Fitness Has To Be A Business Priority

22 Aug 2018
Words ResortBrokers

Why Mental Fitness Has To Be A Business Priority

Most of us know the importance of good physical health. But do we ever stop to think about being mentally fit for the things we want to achieve? We should. It takes a healthy mindset to succeed in business.

It’s a simple, logical proposition. But still people struggle with the term ‘mental health’. When discussing ‘physical health’, most will relate it to being fit and active. Yet the ‘M’ word is usually associated with negative, even extreme conditions and behaviours.

So, from the outset, let’s define the concept of mental wellbeing … let’s call it mental fitness. Put simply, when you are mentally fit, you can function better, achieve more and do it more easily.

Just as we do in the physical sense, we should always be striving for mental health and fitness. But most of us can’t get our head around that concept says Isla Gillespie, a psychologist who counsels and coaches business people to understand and manage mental wellbeing.*

“If you don’t understand the concept, you don’t know when mental wellbeing is not there,” she explains. “In reality, Beyond Blue tells us, at any one time, one in five adults will be suffering from mental health issues.

Research shows high levels of mental health are associated with increased learning, creativity and productivity.

Beyond Blue

Those numbers are concerning for so many reasons. But, in this context, let’s just consider the impact on commercial enterprise – on people in the business sector.

What it means, Isla says, is that we end up with ‘presenteeism’ (the opposite of absenteeism), where people are at work but are not firing on all cylinders and are not achieving well. This impacts severely on productivity and growth.

So, business people should actually think of mental fitness as a competitive strategy, or a business success strategy. Running a business takes a lot of energy, strength and dedication. You need to focus on mental fitness to build your business.

Step one, Isla advises, is to learn what mental wellbeing is. The sooner you recognise the signs of flagging ‘fitness’ levels, the sooner you can get back on track.

“You need to challenge your thinking, be aware of the signs and then, mostly, it’s about self care. Yes, you can self-care, if you are prepared to prioritise your mental wellbeing.

“What I see is that most people don’t necessarily know what’s wrong. They know they’re not functioning well, but they think if they try harder – get up earlier, work later, do more – it will help. There’s a flurry of activity, but actually less output,” Isla says.

“Most push too much. In the case of physical fitness, it’s OK to push yourself. But not for mental fitness. If you push too hard, you just get more stuck, like a 4WD digging deeper into the mud. You need to pull back and take care.”

A great strategy is to be aware of how well you are doing, when you do best, when you feel most in control of daily life and work demands. Then try to lengthen those periods.

“Many people realise they do fine first thing, they get up, go through the routine to get going, but then hit stumbling blocks and lose focus. That’s when we need to calm the brain down.”

Another problem is that we often normalise signs and symptoms like stress and headaches. We hide behind the ‘everything’s fine’ defence, ignoring the ups and downs as though they don’t happen, until they become unmanageable.

Asked about the plethora of practices and treatments widely promoted to help get us back on track – meditation, mindfulness, professional intervention among them – Isla says they are valid and effective techniques.

But, in reality, the answers are probably much more fundamental and simple.

“Most of the priorities are things we all know, but don’t do: exercise, healthy eating, drinking plenty of water, reducing alcohol consumption and smoking,” she says.

“Prioritise these and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can get back on track, be more relaxed, energetic, calm and in control. Then decision-making becomes easier.”

There is no health without mental health

World Health Organisation

There is a great deal of scientific evidence supporting the link between exercise and cognitive function, between physical fitness and mental fitness.

A report of the World Health Organisation (WHO)** described mental health as “… a state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

It concluded: “Mental health is an indivisible part of general health and wellbeing.”

Another technique Isla recommends is to think about where you are spending time and exactly what you are doing. If you are mentally fit, you can set priorities, delete the unnecessary and unwanted intrusions and distractions of modern life.

“When you are actually working, are you achieving?” she asks. “There’s a big difference between opening hours and ‘time on’.”

Another top tip for mental fitness is to get good quality sleep. “An astounding one third of the population have sleep issues. And, if you are tired, you are not in the game.

“Don’t let work or screens rule your bedtime. Prioritise sleep over work or tidying up last minute odds and ends. If you consistently go to bed at a set time, things will get easier. The benefits of sleep, in particular, are awe-inspiring.”

No businessperson can afford to ignore strategies proven to reduce stress and sick days, improve focus, concentration and creativity and increase resilience.

And another thing: those of you in the accommodation industry, whose business so often is to convince everyone else to take holidays, need to heed your own advice. Just ask yourself, would I be better at what you do if I was relaxed, refreshed and raring to go?

The bottom line is, you don’t take short cuts with your business, so don’t take short cuts with yourself. Don’t let your personal life, leisure time and relationships suffer. Strong relationships and life balance will actually help your business thrive.

As a businesswoman herself, Isla says, “I take care of me in order to be on my game, in all aspects of my life, not just business.”

No businessperson can afford to ignore strategies proven to reduce stress and sick days, improve focus, concentration and creativity and increase resilience.

So important is mental fitness to productivity, innovation and growth, that Isla predicts, in 10 years, every organisation will have a “wellbeing manager”.

When it comes to mental wellbeing struggles, the stigma has to go, because “everybody gets their turn,” she said.

“If not you, a friend, or family member, or colleague, and if you know the signs and understand how to achieve and maintain mental fitness, you will understand how to help yourself, and help and support others.

“Ultimately, if we teach people early how to stay well in the first place, instead of trying to help once it gets too hard, we’ll actually save lives.”


*     Isla Gillespie, Purple Apples Pty Ltd – M. 0419 378 639

**   A Report of the World Health Organisation in collaboration with the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation and the University of Melbourne (2005). Editors: Helen Herrman, Shekhar Saxena, Rob Moodie

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