Sustainability and looking after your mental health
If your mental health is taking a backseat, you can’t expect to sustain your efforts. Here are some tips to cope with the burden.
Caring about the future of the planet can take its toll on our mental health. It requires us to pour ourselves into a cause which can sometimes seem bleak.
When our commitment gets shaken, we can go one of two ways. Either we retreat and disconnect from the issue, or we double down and fight harder.
There’s not a single correct response. Sometimes we’re forced into our decision based on our mental health.
I can say, from personal experience, that burying my head in the sand has provided comfort. Other times, I’ve been angered into redoubling my efforts and it’s given me a sense of purpose.
Whatever course you take, it’s important to look after your own well-being. That starts with being aware of your mental health warning signs.
Notice the warning signs
Stress and anxiety don’t appear overnight. If you’re running a sustainable organisation, you’ve got thousands of things to manage and worry about. They all add up.
Don’t gloss over it if you start feeling more tired than usual, or have trouble sleeping. If your appetite changes or your energy levels drop, it’s time to stop and reflect.
Listen to your body.
For me, I know that when I start absent-mindedly biting my nails, something is getting to me. I might be in the middle of a load of work that feels overwhelming, or reading a story about the climate crisis.
It’s not a conscious reaction, but when it comes I know I have to pause, breathe and think about how to tackle the issue in a healthy way.
Don’t be a martyr for the cause
Mental health is, thankfully, becoming less taboo as each day passes. But that doesn’t mean millions aren’t struggling to cope.
The old capitalist ideal is to work hard and earn your fortune through long days and sleepless nights at the expense of your body.
That’s not sustainable in any sense of the word. It’s not how we do things here and we’d suggest you fight that urge, too.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the climate crisis and think that you must put everything you have into fighting it. We get that feeling too. But the reality is that we all need a solid, healthy foundation before we can commit to such a big task.
Don’t worry — the movement won’t collapse if you take a day off.
Too much bad news getting you down?
The last weeks have been defined by the Amazon fires and the ensuing panic. But that heap of bad news wasn’t an exception — it’s generally the rule.
In any progressive movement, things seem to get worse before they get better. That makes bad news the norm for anyone fighting the climate crisis.
And unfortunately, human beings seem to be wired to remember bad things more than good things. With all that pushing down on us, hope can seem a distant memory.
There are numerous remedies. We’d recommend disconnecting from time to time to keep your mind and body fresh. Take a day or two per week away from news sites and (if you can) social media. Nominate a specific time or day and commit to it every week until it becomes a habit.
And on a micro-level, try to make time each day for mindfulness. That could mean just a few minutes at your desk, closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing. Taking a step back can help us acknowledge what it is that’s causing us stress.
Don’t feel guilty for needing time away from an issue you’re passionate about. You’ll likely come back with a renewed sense of vigour and purpose.
How to reconnect with sustainability
If you — like us — spend a lot of time at your computer, sustainability can feel more conceptual than real.
For our mental health, as well as our connection to the movement, it’s important to spend time in the great outdoors. It’s been shown to improve mental as well as physical well-being.
In fact, research has shown that a single exposure to nature can bring benefits (such as happiness and mood lifts) that last for seven hours. And the study showed even greater benefits for those at higher risk of developing mental health problems.
Quite simply, time in and amongst the natural world can improve your overall well-being and help you reconnect with sustainability.
Your mental health has a greater bearing on your work than you think. And if you manage other people, the same is true of them. If your staff are showing any of the warning signs we mentioned, or they’re dealing with a huge workload, be mindful of their mental well-being. A missed deadline is a small price to pay when the health of your employees is at stake.