Lorna Marshall is the Working Well Coordinator for Knowsley and the Business Relationship Manager for Knowsley Chamber. From her unique role in the borough, Lorna takes us through the support available to; help us cope with mental health issues, how to tackle the anxiety that is cropping up as lockdown ends, how Working Well can support your business and employees and the importance of ‘good health, is good business’…
It’s the news we all thought we’d been waiting for. Last month as the Government unveiled its roadmap to ease lockdown restrictions, many of us felt overwhelmed and even anxious at the idea of “going back to normal”.
It’s hardly surprising. With cases falling and the vaccine rollout continuing, we are on course to see restrictions lifted by June 21. It’s incredible to think that the first lockdown was late March last year. That will be 15 months. Many of us have adapted to lockdown life and a return to normal could come as something of a shock.
We’re being asked once again to rearrange, re-familiarise and reconnect with lives we left behind last March, and make way for a new normal – a normal that is really anything but that. And while the idea of seeing our family and friends is one to be relished, the prospect of picking back up with those daily routines is understandably daunting.
So it is perhaps more important than ever to prioritise wellbeing in the workplace. At Knowsley Chamber we have been delivering our specially designed Working Well programme for more than 10 years, in partnership with Knowsley Public Health.
The Working Well programme provides bespoke wellbeing support for Knowsley businesses and aims to promote and enable healthy and productive workforces, in turn reducing sickness absence and creating a healthy working environment in Knowsley.
We work with a number of specialist organisations and providers across the region in order to offer the very best support to our members. Here, two of those experts offer their advice on ways we can try to take charge and overcome anxiety as we prepare to return to the workplace.
Antony Dowell is Imagine's Mental Health First Aid training lead.
Antony and his team provide a range of high-quality support to people who experience challenges in life, such as mental health issues, learning disability, older age or who have had experiences with the criminal justice system. Their mission is to value people, challenge stigma and transform lives.
He says the most important thing is understanding that feeling anxious or nervous during lockdown is completely normal: “Stress and anxiety is our body’s way of letting us know that we’re responding to change – it is a physical reaction and something most of us will experience at some stage in our lives.
“In times of uncertainty, it’s important to recognise and accept what we can and can’t change or control.
“The things we can change are easier to plan for, though not always easy to achieve; but we also need to be aware of increasing resilience to the things we can’t change and develop a list of helpful responses – and there are some really useful online tools that can help us to do this.
“The BBC offers a stress container exercise, which we recommend to many of the individuals we assist. It is important not to be too prescriptive when providing mental health support, instead let individuals have control over their own choices.
“I believe that people intrinsically know what is good for them and what is not, and simple exercises like this can help us make better choices.”
Lee Monaghan supports this. Lee is a director and facilitator at Evolving Mindset CIC, a non-profit mental health organisation established in 2019 to promote positive mental health in our communities.
Working with businesses, schools and public sector organisations, Evolving Mindset helps develop and implement effective mental health training and practices. Lee says we should do what we can to try to manage negative thoughts.
“We can often feel that we don’t have control over our thoughts,” he says, “we have on average 60,000 thoughts a day and we use different techniques to try and control them, especially the negative ones.
“Repetitive negative thoughts create those uneasy feelings that many of us are experiencing. Often those thoughts are a result of us trying to predict the future or play out situations before they occur, which in reality none of us are able to do.
“That said, our thoughts are incredibly powerful, in that the way in which we think influences the way we feel. The way we feel influences the way we behave. The way we behave reinforces the way we think. It is what we call the cognitive triangle.
“So, if our thoughts are negative, we feel negative – low, sad, anxious or stressed. We then display negative behaviours – crying, becoming withdrawn or isolated,
even shaking or pacing. So using those available resources to identify and accept those negative thoughts and begin to develop coping strategies is a great first step and something we can all do now.”
Antony adds that we should also be aware when things feel like they’re becoming too much, and try to take action. Men in particular, he says, tend to use unhelpful coping strategies to ‘put-up-and-get-on’, which is detrimental and potentially very damaging to our mental wellbeing in the long run.
“There’s a minefield of so-called self-help articles out there, so even getting access to reliable help or advice can be overwhelming. NHS online offer a short quiz that aims to deliver easy-to-implement action plans tailored to each individual. It really is a fantastic resource and something we recommend to many of the individuals we support.”
Working Well co-ordinator, Lorna Marshall, says employers also need to be ready for challenges around employee wellbeing post-lockdown.
“Right now it is arguably more important than ever to ensure the wellbeing of your workforce, and that includes mental and emotional wellbeing,” she said.
“Over the last 12 months, the Working Well programme has supported businesses in Knowsley with COVID-specific resources, such as outbreak management, workplace testing and how to become COVID-secure.
“As well as support with workplace practices, there is also a £500.00 grant available for SMEs with 2-249 staff members who are geographically based in Knowsley. During the pandemic, the Working Well grants have been focused on COVID-recovery, with an emphasis on mental health.
"We have had some excellent applications that have been for mental health first aid training, sessions in resilience, fitness equipment and mindfulness.”
For more information on Knowsley Chamber's Working Well programme or to find out how you can benefit, please contact Lorna directly via email Lorna.Marshall@knowsleychamber.org.uk.
To find out more about Imagine's Mental Health First Aid training, email Antony Dowell firstname.lastname@example.org.