How mental health experts lower their stress

Health Agenda
Mental Health

What 5 mental health experts do to reduce stress

We should all have strategies to keep mentally healthy. We asked 5 people who work in mental health what works for them.

Charmaine Yabsley
September 2018

Low mood, stress or anxiety can affect anybody, at any time. We asked 5 mental health experts how they take care of themselves. You may like to try some of their strategies, or have other methods to relax and de-stress that work for you.

Down tools

Alan Woodward, executive director research and strategy, Lifeline Australia.

“Research conducted by Lifeline Australia found more than 70% of Australians feel stress in the workplace. For those working in the area of mental health, the need to be aware [of stress] is heightened given the intensity of the connection we make with people who are in difficulty.

“I always tell my staff to be aware of their stress levels, and if they need to, to go for a walk, do something they enjoy, ‘down tools’ and be prepared to seek assistance. 

“I also reach out to others when I need to. When I feel I could benefit from alone time, I like to drive, walk near the ocean and listen to radio conversations about topics that are new to me.”

See a film

Phillip Armstrong, CEO, Australian Counselling Association.

“I go and see a science fiction movie at the cinema. I prefer sci-fi over violent movies – they don’t relax me. But science fiction movies aren’t real, so you can get lost in the fantasy, the way life could be in the future. Science fiction films very rarely expect you to have an emotional investment in them, which for me, is part of the letting go process.

“I shout myself a Gold Class ticket – this usually means I don’t have to battle the crowds, which can cause me stress. I also leave my healthy intentions and habits at the cinema door: I buy my favourite caramel popcorn and iced coffee. I wouldn’t have these in my everyday life, so this is a great treat. It’s a really indulgent 3 hours, which is all for me. I come out feeling brilliant, and de-stressed.”

Go with the flow

Joseph Forgas, Scientia Professor of Psychology at the University of NSW.

“Being in a bad mood, and accepting temporary negative moods should be considered a normal, natural part of life.

“Intense and enduring sadness, such as depression, is obviously a serious and debilitating disorder. However, mild and temporary negative moods can be helpful to coping with everyday challenges and difficult situations.

“Another function of a negative mood is signaling to others that we may need help. A temporary negative mood should be accepted as part of the human condition.”

Get moving

Brock Bastian, Associate Professor at Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences and author of The Other Side of Happiness.

“Pushing your body a little can make a big difference. A lot of feel-good chemicals are released this way.

“I go for a long jog in order to feel better. Pushing myself means I feel happier and more alert and less under a fog after I finish the dreaded run. It’s a different motivation [compared to exercising for fitness], but there’s an immediate payoff to feeling better.

“Rather than only looking long-term at how to feel happier and healthier from exercise, I find it’s important to have a short-term perspective that focuses on how it can make you feel better almost straight away. And that’s a big motivator.”

Have a plan

Dr Grant Blashki is a beyondblue lead clinical adviser.

“I work as a GP and see many patients with mental health issues in my clinic. For people working in the mental health field, it’s very important to have strategies in place to help them look after their own mental wellbeing. For me, there are a number of important approaches:

  1. Sharing the load. I’m always mindful that no single person/health professional can possibly manage all the worries and mental health issues in the community, so it very much has to be a team approach.  
  2. Boundaries are essential. Working with people with mental health issues I’m very careful to maintain clear boundaries between my professional and personal identities. This is especially important as it’s easy for [health professionals] to get swept up in other people’s problems and lose their objectivity.
  3. Maintain a sense of humour. A red flag for me that I need to step back or have a break is when I’ve completely lost my sense of humour and start taking myself and others too seriously. The reality is that the human condition is both miraculous and tragic and keeping a sense of humour helps me maintain perspective.
  4. Get out in nature. Kayaking in Port Phillip Bay; sitting out there in the water listening to the waves, watching seagulls fly by is my favourite peaceful place in the world."

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