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Stress in the Studio

As we mentioned in our ethical coffee post, we have a culture at Studio Republic which values relationships and the team. Part of valuing our team means looking after ourselves and each other, keeping an eye on signs of stress, and supporting one another. As Dee, our brand and marketing lead, touched on in her LinkedIn article, we come together at the start of each week for a team catch up. With the focus of Mental Health Awareness Week being on stress, we devoted our attention during this Monday's catch up, to our 'stress footprint'. This means recognising that managing our own anxiety / stress could have a positive impact on the team more broadly.

Our Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week has provided us with a focused week during which to look at our practices, to review our processes, and to make refinements in support of people managing their stresses and stressors.

Thinking about how we might bring awareness to mental health at work during the week led to some valuable conversations and contributions. Suggestions of how we might come together, how we might encourage one another, and how we might remove stigma surrounding mental ill health were inspiring. A particular highlight was a suggestion from one of our designers, that (younger members of) the team might like to enter the Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner's competition to draw a line through the stigma of mental health.

Monday's well-being breakfast was a great way to add value to our existing Monday morning meeting. We come together to share what's on in the studio for the week ahead, any areas that we might need support or collaboration on, and any obstacles we're facing. Adding pastries isn't something we'd do every week - we do have waistlines to consider. But bringing a slightly more personal slant did enable us to express if any of our support requirements or obstacles were causing us stress or concern at all. We found that it kick-started studio conversations and over the course of the week we were more openly exploring the kinds of mental health challenges we've faced or observed, and sharing the ways that people manage such difficulties.

A well-being breakfast this #mhaw18 #mentalhealthawarenessweek #teamtalk #agencylife #stresstalk
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What we've Learned

Avoiding stress is neither possible, nor preferable. Short-term stress can even have positive outcomes, making us more alert and enhancing performance. However, longer-term stress can be damaging for us as individuals and, unchecked, can increase stress levels for our team mates too. So, how are we looking after ourselves as individuals? And what are we doing to support one another as a team? We recognise that mental health goes beyond stress. We want to harness an environment where it's ok to talk about mental health and problems you may be facing. We want to support each person to look after themselves, we encourage everyone in the team to ask for help if they need it - recognising that this is far easier said than done. In the spirit of sharing and empowering, some of us have shared our personal struggles with our mental health and how we manage those struggles.

Chris is our technical director. He kick-started the sharing with some of his personal experience. Depression and anxiety are often illnesses in themselves, but they're also often a symptom of something else. For Chris, a thyroid condition was causing his anxiety to "go off the chart".

"Modern life is stressful and living with an anxious mind can blow the simplest of situations up into a huge deal, but I've learned that being stressed out doesn't have to be inevitable. We're happy to moan about aches and pains, but the Great British stiff upper lip attitude makes it much harder to open up about issues with our mental health. Talking helps me. A lot. Talk to your friends. Talk to your parents. Talk to your doctor. There's nothing wrong with taking the happy pills if you're offered them - I do and they help loads. Getting properly diagnosed got my metabolism under control and curbed a lot of the anxiety, but there's still a lot to cope with when you have two kids and an agency to look after.

There are lots of changes and choices I've made that have helped along the way. Surrounding myself with a team of great people at work (genuinely, they're awesome!), accepting there are some things I can't change, eating more healthily and exercising more has made a huge difference. Making the SR studio a more positive place to be has helped me to wake up excited to go to work, and I genuinely arrive with a spring in my step rather than dwelling on every possible pitfall that may await me."

Rob is one of our developers. He's been open about a long history of depression, stress, and anxiety that he's lived with since his teens. Rob shares,

"Dealing with these issues has been a long and complicated process, but ultimately I have found that being open with people around you about issues you are facing is a big help. Bottling up emotions and issues seems to be a natural instinct to many of us; we’re often told to ‘deal with your own issues’ and assume a ‘stiff upper lip’, but in my experience this never leads to anything good in the long term.
Talking about stress at work is especially difficult; it can be embarrassing to talk to coworkers or your boss about a project causing you stress, but doing so has definitely helped me in the past. Finding the courage to do this can be difficult, but talking through the issue with someone you trust; whether they’re a friend, a family member, or even a coworker you get on with, can be a good start."

Halina, part of our design team shares that anxiety and stress have long been things that she's struggled with.

"On my bad days, something as simple as leaving the house became an enormous challenge for me. It has taken a lot of work to tackle my anxiety, including making a complete lifestyle change, quitting some old bad habits, and learning that sharing my story and learning how to trust people enough to talk to them about my feelings really does help. What helped me the most was learning how to reach out to someone for help. It’s pretty daunting, especially when you feel vulnerable about your situation, but I can’t stress enough how beneficial it is. If you don’t have someone in your family or friendship group who you think you can talk to, finding a qualified professional / talking to your doctor is a really amazing thing to do – it certainly helped me.

I also reconnected with myself and my actions – I switched to a plant-based diet and really started focusing on compassionate living, I reconnected with my childhood, picking up hobbies I’d long forgotten and really started to remember who I was before the grey cloud of anxiety dimmed my shine. Finally, I took up yoga, which was just a god-send for me, it helped me focus on the now and taught me how to silence that niggling inner voice which bred so much negativity."

Wellness at Work

Wellness at work influences wellness outside work, and vice versa. Tips for stress management and maintaining well-being may apply in and out of work. The Mental Health Foundation collected 101 tips for managing stress from their supporters. Many of them were echoed in the studio; here is the Studio Republic top 10:

  1. Talk. With talking featuring in Chris, Rob and Halina's experience, it had to feature highly in the top ten.
  2. Exercise. Again featuring more than once, Harley uses the gym to de-stress, Halina practices yoga, and Chris is learning Tai Kwon Do with his family.
  3. Be. Something that too many of us find challenging. Jamie's top way to manage stress is to do nothing; to be. He finds he can completely de-stress in this way.
  4. Eat well. Ok, Noodle Friday might not be viewed as eating well. Looking after yourself and, for us as a studio, eating together helps to reduce stress.
  5. Get outside. Get on your bike, go for a walk, sit on a bench and watch the world go by. Anything... just make it outdoors.
  6. Take a break from social media. Being part of virtual communities has a place, but entering the real world is valuable too. Here at SR, real world chat often leads to number 7 on our list.
  7. Laugh. We rarely go a day without laughter in the studio. A great diffuser of stress.
  8. Take up or make time for a hobby. "Hitting people with rubber swords I find helpful." Rob's hobby is LARPing (live action role play).
  9. Join a group, be part of a community. Halina take a German class, Dee has been invited on a social bike ride with a couple of people from her pilates class. Taking a class can be a great way in to a community, and the socialising is an optional extra.
  10. Learn to say 'No'. Recognise your limits and say, 'no', when you need to.