What did I ask Ruby Wax?
Moving mental health and stress in the workplace from a ‘vision’ to ‘reality’
Do you think wellbeing and mental health has been a victim of bad PR?”
At the Safety and Health Expo last week, I attended Ruby Wax’s keynote speech – for those of you who are familiar with her, either from her TV comedy in the ’90’s, stage shows, TV writing (the likes of Absolutely Fabulous) or her more recent involvement in the mental health arena through her books and talks, you will know she has a fast, acerbic delivery.
And today’s event did not disappoint – much to the dismay of the unfortunate sound engineer who had to sort out her failing headset by replacing it with a hand-held mic, and the organiser who forgot to put a fresh bottle of water on the podium! This was the first time I had seen her live and, not knowing what she was usually like, I would say she was in a bit of a bad mood – but that might be her usual style.
Her talk touched on several subjects around mental health, bouncing around from human evolution to depression, from modern world news overload to critical self-talk. But the core message was that brain training through daily mindfulness practise is essential for mental good health, to stop the brain chatter we all have.
She lead two short sessions on mindfulness with the audience.
But she was talking to the converted.
The theatre area was packed with people standing 4-deep along the sides, presumably drawn (like me) by her reputation and an interest in what she was going to say. I don’t think anyone there would say they hadn’t heard of her or didn’t know what she was going to talk about. We all knew about her passion for her subject, her own struggles with depression, her personal journey to becoming an ambassador for mental health charity Mind, after all she’s made a second career out of it, and her advocation for mindfulness has been well documented.
She did separate out mental illnesses like depression as a clinical condition which needed medical help and medication, as opposed to stress and maintaining balance which can be self-helped with brain training like mindfulness, meditation, yoga, etc.
So, back to my question: Do you think wellbeing and mental health has been a victim of bad PR?
Her reply? Essentially (it was a lot longer in reality) “Don’t talk to me about PR. We need to upgrade our minds like we upgrade everything else.”
I get where she’s coming from. I understand the need to introduce calm to stop the endless noise and re-balance ourselves. We live in an era of information overload, our consumption of information has increased by an estimated 350% in 30 years. That’s the background to our modern lives: unfortunately our brains have evolved to ensure our survival, they’re not interested in our happiness, so they are constantly surveying the landscape for danger – even if it’s thousands of miles away viewed via the 10 o’clock news.
But… not everyone is interested in mindfulness or meditation or positive affirmations or guided imagery or breathing techniques or creating calm apps or forest bathing or gong baths… or any of the plethora of relaxation tools available. No everyone knows the scientific impact these practices have, nor may they be aware of the damage stress overload has on their health both mentally and physically.
They haven’t walked in Ruby’s shoes, taken her journey from depression through education to find balance.
That’s why I asked about PR. I think they do have a bad reputation, or at least they conjure up images that may not resonate with a greater audience.
So whilst Ruby is undoubtedly right, we do need to retrain our brains and habits, how do we change the mass perceptions that all these techniques are ‘not for me’. How do we get more mass engagement in what could well be (is in fact already) a world health crisis, turning the tide on hyper-stress.
Maybe the whole wellbeing sector needs a PR overhaul. Or as a society we need to re-frame all those tools that help us take control of our mental health.
And it’s not one-size-fits-all – I don’t ‘get’ forest bathing , I can’t think of anything I’d rather do less than daily positive affirmations first thing in the morning (but then I’m not a morning person), I don’t want to get up at 5am to meditate for an hour… these just don’t work for me.
Andyet I love walking and running in nature, I do 5 minute meditations and mindfulness throughout the day, I love half hour yoga sessions at home on a Sunday morning. These all give me mental calm and balance – for me there’s nothing better than taking the dog for a walk after sitting for 2 hours working on technology that won’t play ball.
So it’s about finding your own way of creating that inner peace, that stillness in the mind, that helps reduce stress, prevents overload and ultimately improves your physical and mental health.
So Ruby, my question remains: Do you think wellbeing and mental health has been a victim of bad PR?
Because I’m trying to find a way to make it mainstream.
If you would like to address stress in your workplace, contact me for a chat about my stress in the workplace talks and workshops.
It all starts with a conversation: email@example.com or tel. 01798 344879