In this blog, I wanted to deep dive into one of my favourite subjects ‘risk’. Does this mean that I like to take risks?? Informed ones yes, but as for, ‘stick a pin in it and hope for the best’ that’s not for me. Working in forensic environments for almost 10 years, programmed me to take risk seriously and I loved predicting and planning how to mitigate them as I could use creative, evidenced-based ways to manage risks in a variety of areas.
I spent a third of my time, working on risk assessments and management in my old role in forensic psychology. While the risks targeted may have been different, those transferrable skills were perfect to support businesses to update their risk assessments and get more creative with them. What I didn’t think I would be doing was completely introducing people tothe idea of stress risk assessment..and here is why.
It is a legal requirement to have a stress risk assessment if you have more that 5 employees.
That’s right!! Squeaky bum time for some people (but don’t worry, that is why I am writing this blog). If you have more than 5 employees, you should have a risk assessment and management plan that looks to mitigate the psychological stressors of the workplace.
Before I delve into the details of stress risk assessment, let’s clarify why it’s so crucial. Stress is a common culprit behind many workplace issues, from burnout to decreased productivity. When checked, it can transform your workplace from a firefighting environment to one that has room to thrive. Stress risk assessments, ensure that you aim to reduce stress levels and create a safer place for everyone.
The HSE’s Six Key Indicators of Stress
To get started on your journey towards a stress-aware workplace, it’s essential to be up to date with the six key indicators of stress as suggested by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). These indicators are like guideposts, leading you towards a more balanced and healthier work environment:
Demands: Think of this as the delicate balance between workload and the time employees have to tackle it. High demands, when not managed properly, can be a major stress trigger.
Control: Feeling in control is essential in any workplace. When individuals lack autonomy and influence over your work, it can be disempowering. Empowerment is key to effective stress management.
Support: Your workplace support system is crucial – co-workers and managers who have everyones back. Lack of support can be disheartening, but a strong support network can make any workplace feel like a safe place.
Relationships: Healthy relationships can be the cornerstone of workplace satisfaction. When workplace relationships are strained, it can lead to increased stress.
Role: Knowing your role and responsibilities is as vital as understanding your partner’s needs in a relationship. When job roles are unclear, It’s like trying to navigate a ship without a compass. You’re more likely to get lost and experience stress.
Change: Change can be exciting. However, too much change, too fast, can feel overwhelming. Embrace change, but make sure it’s gradual and well-managed.
Can stress risk assessment be sexy?
I made the comment about health and safety having the potential to be sexy, at the RED January and decathlon movement in the workplace event, last month. Now, when I say sexy, I mean enjoyable, creative, appealing, and insightful, not Matthew McConaughey in a hard hat. For so long, health and safety has been seen as the boring paperwork side of the workplace, but it is so much more.
Stress risk assessments should be seen as ‘working documents’, they should aim to be specific and consider a variety of departments and roles. They should consider what you already have in place as an organisation and what you are planning to do to reduce risks, with time frames. It is also a measure of improvement, it encourages reflectiveness and it should involve a variety of people in the business.
Now that you know why stress risk assessment is crucial for a thriving workplace, let’s discuss some practical ways to manage stress:
Strategies for Effective Stress Management
Training and Education: Equip your team with the knowledge and skills to manage stress effectively. Mental Health First Aid training, workshops on time management, communication, and resilience can be game-changers.
Flexible Working Arrangements: Allow for flexible hours or remote work, this can give employees greater control over their work-life balance.
Mental Health Support: Promote a stigma-free culture around mental health and provide access to counselling or employee assistance programs.
Regular Check-Ins: Regularly check in with your team to identify issues and provide timely support.
Celebrate Success: Recognise and celebrate achievements, big and small, to boost morale and motivation.
Promote Physical Health: Encourage regular exercise and healthy eating, which have a significant impact on stress levels.
Stress risk assessment and management are essential components of creating a thriving workplace. By focusing on the six key indicators of stress, you can ensure a safe and vibrant work environment where employees can feel empowered.
If you want to find out more about risk assessment or how I can help you to review, support or redevelop your existing documents, get in touch!
Music is a universal language, with evidence of instruments dating back 40, 000 years ago in caves of the Swabian Alps. It has continually intrigued neuroscientists, due to its profound impact on the human brain. In this month’s wellbeing blog, I wanted to talk about how music can shape and enhance our mental health.
1. Elevating Mood through Musical Engagement
When we connect with music, our brain’s reward system ignites, releasing dopamine—the pleasure and reward neurotransmitter. Salimpoor et al. (2011) discovered that this dopamine surge rivals the joy from delectable food or a warm hug. Harnessing this neuro boost can be a game-changer, particularly in nerve-wracking situations like presentations.
2. Stress Reduction: The Soothing Power of Music
Music’s calming influence extends to stress reduction, with the brain regulating cortisol, the stress hormone. Thoma et al. (2013) found that music can lower cortisol levels, fostering a sense of relaxation and stress relief. The genre of music matters, with classical tunes reducing stress and improving concentration, while upbeat genres like pop and rock can boost energy levels.
3. Enhancing Memory: A Symphony for the Brain
The impact of music on memory is astounding. Chan et al. (1998) revealed that music training enhances verbal memory, engaging the brain’s cognitive circuits and improving memory retention. This sheds light on the cognitive enhancement potential of music, a promising area in neuroscientific research.
4. Emotional Expression: The Intricate Dance of Emotions
Exploring music’s capacity to express and evoke emotions unveils the intricate interplay of brain regions involved in emotional processing (Juslin and Västfjäll, 2008). Music’s ability to convey complex emotions reflects the brain’s remarkable capacity for emotional regulation and expression.
5. Cognitive Enhancement: Music’s Impact on Skills
The intricate patterns in music can enhance various cognitive skills. Bugos et al. (2007) emphasize that music training, especially in childhood, improves spatial-temporal abilities, language processing, and mathematical proficiency. Music becomes a tool for navigating the complexities of melodies and harmonies.
6. Resilience and Emotional Regulation: Music as a Catalyst
Music serves as a powerful tool for emotional regulation and resilience by activating brain regions responsible for processing emotions (Koelsch et al., 2013). This empowers individuals to navigate life’s challenges with enhanced emotional resilience.
7. Social Connectivity: Music’s Evolutionary Role
Evolutionarily, music has played a pivotal role in fostering social bonds. Recent studies show that synchronizing movements to music activates brain areas associated with social bonding (Kokal et al., 2011). Music becomes a potent tool for promoting social connectivity and strengthening relationships.
8. Neurological Therapy: Harnessing Music for Healing
Neurological music therapy (NMT) utilizes music’s neuroscientific principles to aid individuals with neurological conditions. Thaut et al. (2015) demonstrate how structured music interventions engage various brain regions, promoting speech, motor skills, and emotional expression in patients with conditions like stroke and Parkinson’s disease.
How to Incorporate More Music into Your Life
In a world filled with distractions, mindful listening to music fosters a genuine connection between your emotions and the music you love. Here’s some ideas about how to incorporate mindful music listening into your daily routine:
Create Playlists: Curate playlists reflecting your mood or desired emotions for relaxation, motivation, or self-reflection.
Remove Distractions: Find a quiet space to fully immerse yourself in the music without distractions.
Breathe and Feel: Take deep breaths and let the music wash over you. Pay attention to how it makes you feel and the emotions it evokes.
Reflect: After your listening session, take a moment to reflect on the experience. What did you discover about yourself, and how has your mood shifted?
Sleep is something we all need. It is an important contributor for our health and well-being and is also vital for us to be alert and perform effectively. The amount of sleep a person needs varies from person to person – basically we need the amount that is sufficient for us to feel refreshed and perform efficiently. Most adults sleep typically sleep between 6-8h per night, with a recent consensus concluding at least 7h of sleep a night is needed on a regular basis for optimal health (Watson et al., 2015). However, aspects of our lifestyle, such as work hours, commuting, health, family and social responsibilities, can impact our sleep and lead to instances of shortened or disturbed sleep.
When people think about sleep loss, feeling sleepy and the associated consequences, people may think of instances of extreme sleep loss, for example, staying up all night for events, holidays or work etc. However, it is more likely that individuals experience poor or disrupted sleep or shortened sleep due to getting up early/late nights on a more recurrent basis. Although this may feel part of everyday life, this can still result in increased sleepiness and reduced alertness. Sleepiness can impact performance and in certain circumstances have serious consequences, for example, workplace sleepiness can result in injuries, accidents and incidents (Wagstaff & Lie, 2011; Williamson et al., 2011) and driver sleepiness is associated with increased crash risk (Bioulac et al., 2017).
A typical workday following poor sleep
Waking – If you have had poor, shortened, or disturbed sleep, then it can be harder to get going in the morning. You may find it difficult to wake up, feel groggy, and sometimes even feel ill. This can be particularly worse for people who are evening types or ‘owls’ (compared to morning types or ‘larks’) due to the slightly later running of their body clock meaning they feel less alert in the morning.
Commuting – Many people may also need to commute to work in the morning, usually during rush hour. If this involves driving, this can be a risky time. Driving requires you to be alert and vigilant, and poor sleep and increased sleepiness can result in decrements in driving performance, including simple and complex tasks, slower reaction times, impaired attention and even loss of conscious awareness behind the wheel (Williamson et al., 2011).
The morning at work – due to our body clock, alertness naturally increases in the morning, regardless of sleep. Therefore, the morning might feel ok, although perhaps a little slower going. However, as sleep is important for the brain and cognitive function, poor sleep can impact several skills and abilities which would likely be used at work. For example, you may:
feel sleepy or drowsy,
struggle to concentrate or to focus,
find it hard to make decisions,
struggle to pay attention or attend to new information,
struggle to generate new ideas, think creatively or problem solve,
find it harder to communicate your ideas and thoughts effectively,
find it harder to assess risk,
find your reaction time slower,
find your mood is more irritable.
The afternoon at work – The effects of poor sleep may be more noticeable in the afternoon. Often called the ‘post-lunch dip’, we naturally experience a dip in alertness during the afternoon, again regardless of sleep or lunch. However, this dip is exacerbated by poor sleep; that is if you have had disrupted or shortened sleep, your afternoon dip will be bigger. You may feel sleepier and notice even more of an impact on the cognitive skills mentioned above. Although likely not possible at work, this time (roughly between 1-3pm) would be the perfect time for a short nap! However, strategic caffeine intake at this time also works well to help reduce sleepiness.
Commute home – Following the afternoon dip, our alertness naturally starts to increase again from late afternoon to early evening. Just be aware of how you feel in terms of sleepiness before getting behind the wheel of a car to drive and do not drive if you feel sleepy. Caffeine and napping strategies are the most effective countermeasures for driver sleepiness. It is worth bearing in mind that popular strategies such as opening a window, listening to music/radio or taking a break will not reduce sleepiness for extended periods of time (Horne & Reyner 1996; Schwarz et al. 2012).
Evening – You will likely experience less sleepiness in the early evening due to the natural increase in alertness, but sleepiness will increase as the evening progresses. It is important to you give yourself time to wind down, relax and complete your bedtime routine to try to help you sleep well. A bedtime routine is a good thing to try and do any, and every night.
If you work outside of a 9-5 job / are a shift worker, then poor sleep may result in even more pronounced sleepiness. This can be due to working at times when the body is usually asleep or trying to sleep at times when the body is usually awake, which can be difficult. This can also include working early shifts and waking earlier than you naturally would, all of which would impact sleep and sleepiness.
General sleep hygiene tips
Although sleep is something we all experience, there are individual differences, for example the amount of sleep someone needs to feel alert and refreshed. However, establishing a bedtime routine is something that can be beneficial to everyone, and can help relax and prepare you for sleep. Some general tips are:
Try to keep a regular sleep/wake schedule.
Avoid stimulants close to bedtime.
Make sure the room you sleep in is dark and quiet.
Avoid screen/electronic use in bed and try to reduce before bedtime.
Don’t use or rely on alcohol to sleep.
Allow time to relax and unwind.
Finally, if you are experiencing poor, shortened or disturbed sleep on a regular basis, or feel excessively sleepy during the day, it is important that you speak to your GP.
Bioulac, S., Micoulaud Franchi, J. A., Arnaud, M., Sagaspe, P., Moore, N., Salvo, F., & Philip, P. (2017). Risk of motor vehicle accidents related to sleepiness at the wheel: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep, 40(10). https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsx134
Schwarz, J. F. A., Ingre, M., Fors, C., Anund, A., Kecklund, G., Taillard, J., Philip, P., & Åkerstedt, T. (2012). In-car countermeasures open window and music revisited on the real road: popular but hardly effective against driver sleepiness. Journal of Sleep Research, 21(5), 595–599. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2869.2012.01009.x
Wagstaff, A. S., & Lie, J. A. S. (2011). Shift and night work and long working hours – A systematic review of safety implications. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 37(3), 173–185. https://doi.org/10.5271/sjweh.3146
Watson, N. F., Badr, M. S., Belenky, G., Bliwise, D. L., Buxton, O. M., Buysse, D., Dinges, D. F., Gangwisch, J., Grandner, M. A., Kushida, C., Malhotra, R. K., Martin, J. L., Patel, S. R., Quan, S. F., Tasali, E., Twery, M., Croft, J. B., Maher, E., Barrett, J. A., … Heald, J. L. (2015). Joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society on the recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: methodology and discussion. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 11(8), 931–952. https://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.4950
Williamson, A., Lombardi, D. A., Folkard, S., Stutts, J., Courtney, T. K., & Connor, J. L. (2011). The link between fatigue and safety. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 43(2), 498–515. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aap.2009.11.011
Fran Pilkington-Cheney’s Bio
Fran Pilkington-Cheney is a researcher at the Transport Safety Research Centre (TSRC) at Loughborough University. Her research focuses on sleepiness and fatigue within safety critical tasks, for example during shift work and driving. Fran has a BSc in Psychology and has recently submitted her PhD which explores the management of sleepiness, particularly within the applied context of bus driving. Fran is a member of the British Sleep Society (BSS) and European Sleep Research Society (ESRS and in 2020 was elected to join the ESRS Early Career Researcher Network Committee.
I get to meet some wonderful people in my job and I was thrilled when one of those, wanted to become a guest blogger for AV WELLBEING this month.
I met Lee-Ann Cordingley, when we both attended a course about developing online content, something which both of our businesses had to navigate last year. We have kept in touch and last week Lee-Ann attended my online Mental Health First Aid course, during the course Lee-Ann talked openly about her experience of mental ill health and shared this blog about ‘A great way to ease the fear of the black dog’.
Lee-ann delivers nurturing, creative, and vibrant yoga lessons in her yoga studio in Nottingham, hosts an award-winning blog, and an active online yoga and wellness studio membership. She began her career in corporate banking and having created successful businesses in the e-commerce and wellbeing industries as a parent of young children, she understands what it is to feel busy and stressed and how valuable emotional and mental wellbeing is for a healthy life. As well as her community and private yoga classes for adults, children and in corporate settings, Lee-ann has a deepening affinity for women’s wellness, pleasure and empowerment and leads a very strong and successful Women’s Circle. She is a clinical sexologist and sex coach in-training because she believes in passionately in holistic physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
The term ‘black dog’ has become synonymous with depression.
I suffer with it myself and I know the heaviness that grips on just about everything. If you’re “lucky” enough to suffer with anxiety too, well then my friend – I know that it’s a bullshit thing to experience.
It sucks ass and it’s all-encompassing.
So if you understand what I’m talking about, I’m very sorry for it; you’re not alone and I send you hugs ?
It’s likely you might have sometimes found yourself hiding under a duvet, seeking solace in a packet of custard creams or trawling Google to find answers or suggestions for respite (I do these things, so I understand. I’m not trying to discount your experience.)
Last week, I stumbled over the lyric of a Bastille song and I absolutely love it, because
? ? CAN WE REFRAME THE IDEA OF THE BLACK DOG?? ? ?
The song is called Survivin’ and all being well, I’ve posted a link here ??
I happen to have a very wonderful black dog in my life – two of them, in fact – and I don’t see either of them nearly as often as I’d like to.
One of them is a big bundle of boundless energy who loves to play, and swim, and jump. She has a muscular tail that can knock you off your feet with her whole-body wag. Her nickname is Bobbers and she brings me joy whenever I think of how much she loves to see me (Over the years, I have unashamedly brought her affection with snacks. What can I say, she’s a Labrador and I have no guilt ??♀️). You can see a picture of her beautiful snout at the top of this post ??. Isn’t she the cutest??
The other is the gentlest, most loving & handsome boy who will do anything to be snuggled up on the sofa with his Daddy (or with his Mumma if Daddy’s not around). I know that he loves me, too, because when I’m able to visit I’m someone else to cuddle with and he’ll cry until he’s invited up onto the sofa for a hug. He is a real gentleman. Here he is waiting patiently with Lola for a snack.
I MUCH PREFER THESE TYPE OF BLACK DOGS TO THE OTHER TYPE
Do you have a dog or do you know one of these furry creatures? Do they ever go off their lead? If you don’t have a dog, maybe you could find another human who lives with one and see if you can make friends with their Furbaby.
Lola loves to go off her lead and despite being almost ten, she races around like a puppy with her tongue lolloping around out the side of her mouth. You can tell she is absolutely Loving. Life.
In fairness, she also barks far too much at the postman and anyone who dares walk past the house and is a bit of a prat in that regard. (And the postman is a really lovely guy, so I don’t know what her problem is. Cheers Mark ??)
I tried to find a picture of her whizzing around to show you the sheer joy on her face but to be honest, she’s just too damned fast and there’s no capturing it. So instead, here she is posing to allow everyone to admire her beauty…
You see how easily I’ve gone off topic?
These fluffy, four-legged angels on earth are the perfect teachers of how to live in the moment and savour every single moment of joy.
They also like to get involved with your yoga practice (which can also help with anxiety and depression, you know)
…they like to pull funny faces
… and let’s not forget they always know when you’re feeling playful and
DOGS ALWAYS KNOW WHEN YOU’RE SAD
and so they can love you like you are their favourite cuddly toy.
That was the last dog-spam picture. I promise.
KEEP THE FEAR OF THE BLACK DOG AT BAY
The next time I feel the prowling of the malevolent hound coming around the corner, I am going to try my hardest to remember that all dogs started out as puppies who loved to race and bound and play.
Maybe there’s a very valid reason that my feelings are requesting that I pause to process situations or emotions rather than just getting on with the daily grind.
Maybe there’s something that the dog is trying to teach me.
Keeping a personal journal is a really excellent way to dig deep with those kind of questions. Brain-dumping all of the words out of your mind and getting them onto paper is a really good way for clearing some space for other stuff.
The third of the Niyamas, Tapas, invites us to grow through the challenges that life presents us with. And let’s face it, growth and self care is actually not always about bubble baths and having a chill time reading a book.
It’s about doing the work of processing difficult emotions.
This is just one of the ways that a regular yoga practice can influence and benefit your emotional wellbeing. Tapas also applies when you’re in the yoga pose that you really dislike and the teacher says Three. More. Breaths. And you feel the tension in the body and the tension in the mind as Ego starts to pipe up.
It’s normal and it’s ok.
(It is said that the yoga pose you don’t like is the one you should take more frequently to be better able to deal with difficult thoughts or feelings.)
How I’ll get along with this practice is anyone’s guess but you can bet your last Scooby snack I’m going to give it a go!
Do you think you might benefit from reframing the Black Dog? Or do you know someone else who it might be helpful for? Do all the friendly, social stuff like sharing, commenting, liking etc so these words can reach a wider audience and perhaps help one or two extra people.
(You can also get in touch just to tell me which is your favourite picture! If you love dogs and you use Instagram, check out Aunty Annie’s All About the Dog page. She takes the most wonderful pictures of her tribe of doggos and their adventures around Wiltshire. They are great images and often make me laugh with their wonderful expressions. )
NOW THEN. THIS IS IMPORTANT.
I really, really hope this change in perspective might be helpful for you and I would love for you to tell me your thoughts on the subject. I need you to know that I am not being dismissive of your personal circumstances, at all. If you are struggling in any way, I implore you to talk to someone you trust, or speak with your GP or the Samaritans if you could do with some extra support.
I promise you, my darling, you are not on your own with whatever you are dealing with. All things are temporary and they pass.
Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week will take place from 10-16th May 2021. The theme is ‘Nature’.
We have known for a long time that being outside has so many benefits for both our physical health and mental health. Personally, when I reflect on the past 15 months, being outside, has, at times, kept me going. Kept me going, when the days felt long and equally like they were disappearing at the speed of light. On many occasions my stress container was overflowing, but I felt that ‘nature’ was my ever-available resource. This resource protected not just my health but also many of the the peoples’ around me.
Often, my motivation to go out walking is not to feel the benefits of exercise, but to engage with my surroundings. I LOVE birds. Sitting or walking, listening to different bird calls is my mindfulness activity. I try to engage in this most days, whether it’s in my garden or out in my local park.
During Mental Health Awareness week, I will be following the guidance from the Mental Health Foundation to raise awareness of the benefits nature has on our health. Nature can give an abundance of gifts in alleviating stress.
During Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation are asking us to do three things, find out more on their website :-
Experience nature: take time to recognise and grow your connection with nature during the week. Take a moment to notice and celebrate nature in your daily life. You might be surprised by what you notice!
Share nature: Take a photo, video or sound recording and share the connections you’ve made during the week, to inspire others. Join the discussion on how you’re connecting with nature by using the hashtags #ConnectWithNature #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek
Talk about nature: use our tips, school packs, research and policy guides to discuss in your family, school, workplace and community how you can help encourage people to find new ways to connect with nature in your local environment.
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