Let’s be honest: working in the charity sector can be gruelling, but you brave it because you want to change the world. And trying to change the world is emotionally and mentally exhausting because, well…there’s just no end to the world’s problems.
As a copywriter, I spend hours reading, collating and creating case studies to tell stories that are devastating at best, and outright traumatic at worst. I went from being empathetic to sometimes feeling distraught or hopeless. When I clocked off work, I was acutely aware of the fact that the people I was writing about couldn’t clock off from their hunger, their homelessness, or their poverty.
It’s easier for me. I don’t ever actually meet these beneficiaries. But what about charity workers who do? Do we take enough time to consider how these experiences might impact them mentally and emotionally?
When you think about it, it’s not hard to imagine why charity sector workers might need support when it comes to their mental wellbeing.
The people over at Mind are well aware of this, for obvious reasons. They take a proactive approach to mental wellbeing at work, rather than waiting for staff to come to them with an issue.*
At Mind, managers draw up a Wellness Action Plan for their employees.** There’s also a buddy system in place, ‘mind days’ (an extra six days of annual leave each year), flexible working hours, subsidised mindfulness, yoga, Pilates, and gardening sessions, as well as a 24-hour assistance programme.*
The reality is most charities don’t have the capacity to provide support on this same scale. But that’s forgivable, especially for smaller charities. The issue is when charities don’t have anything in place. And often: they don’t – which means it’s left to us to make sure we’re okay.
In a bid to promote mental wellbeing, I want to share some of my go-to strategies for when I feel myself becoming sad, overwhelmed, or just in need of a break.
I do have to remind you that I don’t have any specialist knowledge in this area. If you’re really concerned about your mental wellbeing, the best thing to do is speak to your GP.
1. Create boundaries
We work for a good cause, so sometimes we feel like we shouldn’t ever stop working. In fact, we work all hours of the day and night – regularly.
But when you create boundaries between work and home, you’re able to appreciate both much more.
It’s really important to make time for you. Taking a break is crucial to staying healthy, and it usually makes you more productive too. If you can’t avoid bouts of overtime, at least put aside a few evenings a week where you can spend time doing other things you love. Maybe go out with some friends, go for a run, or snuggle up to a good old-fashioned book.
Choosing to create boundaries doesn’t make you any less dedicated to your job. In fact, it’ll make you more motivated, more productive, and more efficient when you are at work.
2. Get fit
Exercise is one of the best ways to improve your mental wellbeing. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it can be a powerful stress-relief. The NHS says scientists believe physical activity can help with mild depression and anxiety since it releases chemicals in the brain that can help make our mood more positive.
From personal experience, I can tell you this is well worth a try. A few times a week in the gym makes you feel physically and mentally stronger.
If going to the gym isn’t something you can commit to, you can work out at home. Another alternative is to find ways of incorporating physical activity into your daily routine. Instead of driving to work, walk; or go for a stroll every morning before you sit down to work from home.
For extra support, find a personal trainer or set up a fitness group with friends. And if you think you don’t have time, try to make time. It’s okay for you to put your mental wellbeing at the top of your list of priorities.
3. Talk about it
If you do ever feel like you’re sad just a little too often, or that you’d rather be alone just a little too much, the best thing you can do is talk about it. Often, you’ll find you’re not alone in how you feel.
Talk to a friend, a colleague, a manager or, in urgent cases, your GP. You’d be surprised how helpful talking can be.
It’s crucial for organisations to take proactive steps in ensuring there are support systems in place for employees at all levels. HR departments of charities big and small need to work towards providing an infrastructure that encourages wellbeing.
Your support system doesn’t need to be ground-breaking, but it does need to exist.
Eman Ismail is the founder of InkHouse: a copywriting agency for charities. You can find her on Instagram @inkhousewriting or at www.inkhouse.org.uk
References and notes
*To support your mental health at work, download Mind’s Wellness Action Plan template from their website. Managers can also use it to support their employees’ mental health.
**Cahalane, C. (2015) ‘Charities risk losing staff if they fail to promote wellbeing’ The Guardian, 11 May [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2015/may/11/charities-employee-mental-health-wellbeing. Accessed: 10th September 2018)