Our mental health is so important. And yet what I frequently see in work environments is that we don’t consider some of the unconventional approaches that support our health and wellbeing, including our mental health.
Mental health is often a difficult subject to acknowledge, let alone talk openly about.
Not only can it be challenging to hear about someone who is suffering from mental health issues. But for individuals themselves, coming to terms with your own gremlins and acknowledging them is an important step before sharing your gremlins with people around you.
It takes courage and honesty to do that.
Organisations that individuals work for also need to cultivate a supportive culture. A culture where speaking up about mental health is welcomed with sensitivity.
As we mark World Mental Health Day on 10 October, I believe it is more crucial than ever to explore the unconventional approaches to feeling good at work – physical and mentally.
I had my own mental health challenges as a junior lawyer.
As I discovered in my own journey going from being busy and overwhelmed to thriving, four foundational areas played a major role in improving my health outcomes. They helped me wake up full of energy and vitality, as well as improve my mental health.
Take wise, unconventional steps towards good mental health!
It is right that mental health is a key focus.
But workplaces often focus narrowly on the widely-known, widely-shared interventions that everyone else is doing: offering yoga classes, gym membership, counselling services, training mental health first aiders.
So what are the other ways we can promote tangible health and wellbeing outcomes – the unconventional ways to foster good mental and physical health at work ?
First, let’s focus on the foundations!
Whilst it’s important to focus on mental health, I think it’s equally important to step back and focus on the foundations for good health and wellbeing more generally.
In our health care systems, we are often too quick to diagnose and prescribe drugs, rather than “prescribe” (instead or in addition to) lifestyle and behavioural interventions.
We really should rename them “disease management systems”.
You see, we can look to our ancestors to help inform how we should be living now.
However, whilst our genetics have remained largely the same over thousands of generations, our environments have changed dramatically:
- constant un-managed stress
- poor quality sleep from looking at our always-on screens
- eating food-like products that favour convenience rather than nutritional quality
- being exposed to toxins.
It is this mismatch that is helping produce so many of our modern day chronic diseases.
Poor mental health is just one of them.
About 85 percent of the risk for disease is environmental, not genetic. So changing our diet, lifestyle and behaviours is the key to good health and preventing disease. 
Unconventional interventions at work
I joined a panel discussion at a global law firm in the City of London recently to share these unconventional interventions to improving wellbeing at work, including mental health.
We can use these interventions to help bring us into closer alignment with our genetic design. They’re drawn from a Functional Medicine and ancestral health approach, and support us humans to thrive.
Focus on your gut health
Over 90% of our serotonin and over 50% of our dopamine are produced in the gut in the sensory enteroendocrine cells that are found in the gut epithelium. These are the hormones that make us feel good and happy.
If our gut health is poor – primarily through poor diet, not managing stress, and not getting quality sleep – feeling good, and having good mental health becomes a challenge before you even get out of the starting blocks.
Lighting at work
Offices with strip / fluorescent lights place increased stress on our mitochondria (the ancient bacteria that live in every cell in our bodies and produce energy). It can lead to poor sleep if you’re exposing yourself to that kind of light, late in the office.
Switching off the fluorescent lighting and relying on a desktop lamp with an incandescent bulb is a much better choice.
Feel connected with your colleagues, particularly your boss
We are highly social creatures. Being separated from your tribe was a danger to your own survival, and so our fight or flight systems would be triggered to prepare us for being attacked by a wild animal.
If you don’t feel part of a community, you’ll be under continual low-grade stress, perhaps without even knowing it.
Social connections and community in the workplace are critical for wellbeing, particularly the relationship with your supervisor or boss.
In the workplace, research conducted by Krekel et al (2018) shows that the interventions that promote key drivers of employee wellbeing also help raise productivity. Those interventions target (a) social relationships at work, especially with supervisors, (b) making jobs more interesting (for example, through job crafting), and (c) improving work-life balance. 
It’s a win-win when employees and organisations together focus on employee wellbeing.
Over to you!
What unconventional ways do you adopt for your own health and wellbeing – including your mental health – whether at work or at home?
Be wise, be healthy, be well!
-  https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154387
-  Krekel, C., G. Ward, and J.-E. De Neve, “Work and Wellbeing: A Global Perspective,” in: Sachs, J. (ed), Global Happiness Policy Report, 2018