My Whole Self is a campaign by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, on 18th March, 2020. It is 'calling on organisations to empower employees to bring their whole self to work. It’s better for everyone’s mental wellbeing and better for business.'
What is our Whole Self:
"We should be able to bring all our identity to work - be that our cultural or ethnic background, sexuality, or health."
Thinking about it another way - being open about who we are and all the pieces that make up our whole picture. It makes sense, doesn't it.
And since an organisational culture is created and shaped by all the people who work, behave and act there every day, it also makes sense that these same people have a part to play in this.
So what role can we all play in shaping a culture that values and encourages people for who they truly are? How can we help take this beyond a campaign and make it a way of life?
My Whole Self - What is your picture?
If there are pieces missing from a jigsaw puzzle the picture is incomplete and won't tell the whole story.
Missing pieces from your Whole Self is similar. The 'picture' won't look or feel right, for you or other people. Whether you leave out some pieces deliberately or subconsciously, living life like this can take a lot of energy and be draining and frustrating. For example, not talking about anxiety or sexual preference in work for fear of discrimination or stigma.
If you don't bring all the pieces of who you are with you every day how will others see the whole picture as it's meant to be? And this doesn't mean the picture always has to be sunshine and roses; sometimes it will be raining and that is ok.
"When we’re empowered to be our ‘whole self’ at work we can build deeper connections. This helps us to be more understanding of our colleagues, so we work better together."
At Eat, Move, Be Happy we believe we all have responsibility for creating a safe space where everyone can all be their whole selves - whatever the context. And that starts with looking after ourselves - putting our own oxygen mask on first.
Put your own oxygen mask on first
Bear with me here... when you are listening to the safety briefing on a plane, the stewards demonstrate the use of the oxygen masks that appear if the cabin loses pressure. The instruction is always to put your own oxygen mask on before trying to help others. If you can't breath you aren't going to be much use to anyone else!
And this philosophy holds true in every day life. Feeling tired/ worried/ feeling stressed, your energy levels and resilience are lower and typically it is more difficult to concentrate on what you are doing, let alone give attention to colleagues.
Leaving part of your whole self behind has the same impact. In essence choosing to pretend or hide some of the essential elements of what makes you ‘you’ for whatever reason. Leaving out some pieces of the puzzle means others will experience only part of your picture.
Some of these elements are constant, eg your sexuality, ethnicity or cultural beliefs. Sometimes you experience specific life challenges, for example a relationship breakdown or bereavement, physical health issues or financial worries. These experiences help shape who you are and although are time specific, have the potential to impact your mental health and wellbeing and how others experience you.
Putting your own metaphorical oxygen mask on, you look after yourself first. Dealing with the issues, whether constant or not, you are then in a much more resourceful place to build stronger connections, work collaboratively and offer support to others.
So how can we all play our part? Some questions worth considering:
- What are the pieces that make up your complete picture?
- How often do you leave some pieces behind and why?
Being our whole selves more of the time
At Eat, Move, Be Happy we believe bringing our whole selves to work is...
A choice we make about all the elements of what makes us the person we are, how we embrace that every day and how much we share with others.
Being our whole self is not always easy - if it were there would be no need for My Whole Self campaign! For some people, social stigma, misconceptions and ignorance can create fear, isolation and potential discrimination. Our articles What is Mental Health? and How can we fight the stigma against mental ill health? explore some of these issues in relation to mental health.
Being our whole self requires:
Being honest with ourselves about the elements that make up our whole self. Ignoring part of our identity isn’t helpful in the long term.
This requires effort and energy and a desire to work through challenges and take responsibility for difficulties we experience. It doesn’t happen by magic, and we may occasionally need help.
Being prepared to share our picture complete with all jigsaw pieces, however hard that may feel. This includes all the elements making up our identity and influencing how we think about ourselves and therefore how we behave and act. This is not about being perfect.
This is also being prepared to stand up for what we value and believe in. This may mean making difficult choices and calling it out when we face difficulty or challenge. This is not letting others off the hook, no matter how uncomfortable it might feel.
"Better to live with some uncomfortableness than resentment."
Brene Brown, Research Professor, Social Work
Starting with being kind to ourselves. Only when we are kind to ourselves, give ourselves the time to make mistakes, learn and grow, can we be in a position to be kind to others. This is the oxygen mask theory.
Being accepting that there will have times when life throws one of its curve balls, we will not feel great and may not be able to perform well. This may mean asking for help.
For more on life’s curve balls see Why Considering a Wellness Plan is a Great Plan!
Beyond the Campaign
Some of this stuff is tough. As before, if it were easy there would be no need for the My Whole Self campaign.
To help you start understanding more about your whole self and how you can influence people and the environment you work in, complete the homework below.
The rest of the Eat, Move, Be Happy Mental Health series also looks at raising awareness about mental health and wellbeing and ways you can look after your mental health.
MHFA England's vision is to improve the mental health of the nation.
If more of us did this more of the time, we have the potential to shape the culture we work in and make a real difference - beyond the 18th March 2020.
Start building your wellness plan by going to Why Building a Wellness Plan is a Great Plan! and follow this series as it unfolds.
Answer the question: what are the pieces that make up your whole self?
Consider 3 new ways to be kind to yourself and share with the Eat, Move, Be Happy online wellbeing community Peer Support Group.
Need further support…
If you are worried about your mental health please seek professional help and advice from your GP. If you cannot visit your GP and need urgent help, visit A&E.
Other sources of help include:
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