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Do you know how to play to improve your mental health?

This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Register for 2018 at www.employeerecommended.com.

What do you do each day for your mental health?

Most of us find it easier to answer this question: What do you do to take care of your physical health? We know the formula for that: move our bodies, eat more fruits and vegetables, drink water instead of sugar-filled products, and get proper sleep. Simple! Why some of us don't follow such a regime can be due to our mental health.

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The play micro skill introduces a formula designed to positively influence our mental health daily.

Awareness

This micro skill focuses on mental health, not mental illness, as there's a difference. To understand mental health, consider a weather pattern. One day can be sunny, dark, cloudy, rainy, marked by a thunder and lightning storm, and back to sun before dusk. Mental health can be the same; it can change based on what we're thinking about and experiencing in our lives. The first point to understand is that it's normal for our mental health to change based on what we're experiencing. Like feeling sluggish after not eating a healthy meal, our mental health can be influenced by circumstances, the strength of our coping skills, and what we are currently thinking.

Accountability

Some of us don't understand that we're not passive participants in our mental health. We own our mental health, and we can positively influence it daily. People who don't know this can often feel overwhelmed and caught in storm patterns that can last hours, days, weeks, months, and even years. Failure to take care of our mental health can result in mental illness. People with an organic mental illness benefit from taking proactive steps to impact their mental health daily. To provide context, consider a person who is clinically depressed, has received treatment, and is able to manage their depression with medication and cognitive behavioural therapy. They live with a mental illness, and what they do daily defines their mental health.

Action

Adopting the acronym PLAY can impact your mental health:

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P – Look for the positive first. When you walk into your kitchen where there are dirty dishes in the sink and flowers on the counter, what do you notice first? Many of us train our brains, without knowing it, to notice the negative thing first, and this can shape how we think and feel. Look for the positive first, to be less critical, negative and judgmental of yourself and others.

L – Life is busy, with lots of moving parts, challenges and information to process each day. Many spend time reliving what happened yesterday or thinking about what's coming. By being proactive and living, if even for a few moments, to enjoy each day is good for our mental health. It doesn't need to be hard to get off the treadmill to clear our heads. Slow down and enjoy a few moments; pause to enjoy a blue sky, text a friend to say hello, or take a walk and get some fresh air. The key is to mindfully do something daily for our mental health.

A – We all have needs and wants. Life is not always perfect or fair. However, if we think about it, we have good things going for us, such as being educated, being able to read, and living in a safe part of the world. Taking time each day to acknowledge what we have is good for our mental health versus focusing on what we don't have. This doesn't prevent us from striving for more, it helps us enjoy what we have.

Y – Adopt the word yes to give yourself permission to focus on your mental health. It's not a sign of weakness; it's a sign of strength. Without awareness, accountability and action, we can be at risk of engaging in negative behaviour patterns such as drinking more than two drinks of alcohol daily to cope with life stress that over time can impact our mental health. Many of us don't take charge of our physical health unless there's a health issue. There are lessons we can learn from this that can be adopted to promote mental health, By being proactive, learning and developing a mental health action plan promotes well-being and resiliency, and is a wise investment of time and energy.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto and creator of an online Pathway to Coping course offered through the University of New Brunswick.

Register today for the 2018 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at www.employeerecommended.com

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Read more columns like this, and read about the winners and finalists of the 2017 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at tgam.ca/workplaceaward

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