Five simple ways project managers can manage their mental health

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With the pace of work, the pressure not to fail, and the numerous unknown factors around project management, it’s crucial to manage your own wellbeing as well as your project. According to figures from the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of people felt so stressed in 2018 that they felt overwhelmed and unable to cope. One adult in every six in the UK has a common mental disorder such as anxiety or depression.

Here are five ways in which you can keep your head no matter what’s happening in your working life.

  1. Talk about it

One of the easiest things we can do to help ourselves is talk about how we’re feeling. If you feel like you need help, there’s no shame in asking for it. You might not feel comfortable talking to your sponsor, stakeholders or teammates if you’re feeling unable to cope, but the support from family and friends can be enough, and offloading can help to put things in perspective. The Mental Health Foundation lists talking about your feelings and seeking help among its 10 steps to better mental health.

  1. Keep active

Regular exercise can help to release endorphins, clear your mind, and boost self-esteem. According to the NHS, it can be used to alleviate the symptoms of mild depression and anxiety. You don’t have to necessarily join a gym – the NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity, which could be walking or cycling. By walking at least part of your journey to work every day, you might start noticing improvements in your wellbeing.

  1. Be mindful

Mindfulness has become a buzzword in recent years, but it is effective at managing mental health. In essence, mindfulness is about being aware of what’s happening in the present moment, both to you and within your environment. Acknowledging that you’re having a panic attack can be enough to stop it before it gets too bad, for example. Trying to pinpoint why you’re anxious, and putting those fears in context, can help you to rationalise them. It’s not always easy, but there are apps available that can help you, such as Calm, which provides tools and resources such as guided meditations, stories to help you sleep and simple exercises to help you be more mindful.

  1. Do good things

Believe it or not, doing good is an NHS-recommended method for improving your mental health. Random acts of kindness can benefit you as well as others. In fact, volunteering has been found to have numerous benefits.  A study published in Health Psychology in 2012 found that participants who spent time helping others tended to live longer than those that didn’t. Further studies have found that volunteering can lower blood pressure, improve heart health, and give people the feeling of having more time. Just taking the time to mentor someone could make a difference, but your skills as a project manager could really benefit community or charity projects that could do with a bit of direction.

  1. Start a hobby/learn a new skill

Taking up a hobby can force you to take a break from the day job. The right hobby can also help you improve your work-related skills; something project-based and linked to something that you enjoy. It could be as simple as sorting out your garden or learning a skill that you always wished you had, such as a language or musical instrument. It doesn’t matter whether your hobby is physically demanding or tests your brain; studies show that either can be a big benefit to your mental health.

If you can’t move forward – seek professional help

These simple ideas are great for managing mental health issues, but they may not be enough. If you feel you cannot cope no matter what you try, speak to your GP and they can refer you onto a specialist and outline your options for treatment. You could also try counselling. Websites such as Counselling Directory can help you find a counsellor or psychotherapist in your area.

Brought to you by Project journal.
Mark Rowland

Posted by Mark Rowland on 15th May 2019

About the Author

Mark Rowland is a senior writer on the Project editorial team. He has worked as a business journalist and editor for 15 years, and has won awards for his writing and editing. He has also worked in project and product management, overseeing the launch and continuous development of new websites and publications. Project is the official journal of the Association for Project Management (APM).

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