One of the tools we share in our Mental Health Conversations for Managers workshop, is our Wellness Action Plan (WAP) template, a self management prevention tool, with an emphasis on prevention, that enables employees to ultimately take responsibility for their own wellbeing, both in and outside of the workplace, and managers to support them in that.

Having Wellness Actions Plans in place for their team, can also help managers to start the conversation around mental health, as well as demonstrate a commitment to enabling positive wellbeing for the people in the organisation.  You can read more about our Wellness Action Plan template here.

Wellness Action Plan Reflections

Interestingly, although I worked in various public and voluntary sector mental health organisations, both as a team member and line manager, before my current role here at Mental Health in the Workplace (MHW), I have never (before now) been asked to complete a WAP.  In fact, until I began working with MHW, I wasn’t even aware of the existence of one as a management tool.

This month, Director of Culture and Associates, Tamsen Garrie and I booked in a wellbeing meeting to co-create a Wellness Action Plan for me and the experience was so valuable, that I wanted to share it.

Setting The Scene

The date of the wellbeing meeting turned out to be very well timed.  Several things happened, both at home and at work, in quick succession, that lead to a couple of very challenging weeks. I arrived at the meeting already aware that I was feeling under pressure and that my stress bucket was fuller than perhaps it is ordinarily. Thankfully through the work I do as both a therapist and mental health training facilitator, I have the self awareness and tools to recognise that, and it occurred to me right at the start, that this in itself was likely to contribute to a positive experience and outcome. 

Completing My Wellness Action Plan

Tamsen had asked me to complete the WAP template myself before we met and so I had scheduled some time in my diary that day to sit and do that.  Often when our stress bucket is full, being asked to complete, what is essentially, a form can feel like just another task to tick off our ‘to do’ list. However, as I was already becoming aware of tell tale signs of increased cortisol levels, I was actually quite looking forward to giving my mental health some much deserved focus.  I just knew I needed to do something different.

Once I was sat at the laptop with the WAP template open in front of me, it was actually much easier than I expected to go through and answer the questions.  Following the structure of the template, broken down into 9 sections, made it easy to reflect on what was going on and what support I needed.

The Creation and Impact of Stress

The WAP template starts off by asking you to think about what creates stress for you at work. Particularly helpful for my current roles (and the couple of weeks I’d been having) but also a great insight into and reflection of my previous work environments.

I then ticked the symptoms of stress that I experience most commonly. For me these tend to present mostly as cognitive symptoms, with things such as an inability to focus, uncharacteristic errors, negative perspective, forgetfulness and disorganisation. From there it was easy to see how these symptoms can impact me at work.

Minimising Stress and its Symptoms

This section of the WAP got me to focus on the things that I can control, helping me to think of things that I could do differently to minimise my stressors. For me, this mostly focused around self-care activities, like taking breaks, and having clear boundaries around work and home life, so that I am able to be the best version of myself.  Feeling connected with and supported by my colleagues is also really important for me, particularly when things are stressful – that sense of ‘we’re all in it together’.

When I prioritise self-care and maintain connection with my colleagues, I know I am generally able to cope with stressors that might otherwise trigger me.  Completing the WAP reminded me of that.

The Wellbeing Meeting – Talking it Through

During the wellbeing meeting itself, I talked Tamsen through each section of the WAP and the different insights I’d had.  This enabled an open dialogue around things that Tamsen had observed in me herself, as well as her own experiences in relation to specific points.  It turned our that we both experience stress in a similar way and it was encouraging to know that we could therefore spot when the other one is feeling under pressure, if they themselves do not.

I found the conversation really useful and Tamsen’s contributions and openness really valuable.  I also found that I had additional realisations about myself as a result, which led to me adding more detail to my WAP and things feeling much clearer in my own mind.

When discussing minimising stress, it was also helpful to discuss with Tamsen what support or adjustments she and the team might be able to offer or make. This mostly these included having clarity in my role, regular catch-ups, continued flexibility and coaching and support to develop – things that tie in with the need for team support and connection that I had already identified.

The final question on the WAP is:

“What can we do if we begin to see signs of stress?”

My simple answer that came straight to mind was ‘just talk to me about it!’  It seemed insignificant to me, but for Tamsen, it was, in her own words ‘a gift’.  She said ‘this is a gift for me – it is permission, and almost an instruction, that if I spot any of the signs that we have discussed today, to talk to you about it, thank you – I promise that I will’.

My Overall Reflections

On reflection completing my WAP was a really valuable activity that didn’t take long and wasn’t as challenging as I perhaps thought it might be. The timing for me was perfect, as I’d had a challenging couple of weeks and had already noticed some early warning signs of stress.  However, I think this is great exercise to do even when you’re not experiencing increased stress, as it helps you put strategies in place that will nip any potential stressors in the bud.

Completing the WAP is also a great opportunity to think about what might have the potential to cause us stress, how you can spot this quickly and what simple actions you can take yourself to help you to feel back in control. It also helps you to think about what external support you might need from your manager or wider team.

Having the opportunity to talk through the points in my WAP with Tamsen was also really valuable, adding extra insight to the process.

It felt good to have an open discussion around stress in the workplace.

The conversation felt easy, and it gave us the opportunity to understand each other better, creating an added feeling of connection.  Ending the session knowing that if any challenges or stress symptoms crop up in the future, the door is open to having another honest and constructive conversation was reassuring, but it was more than that.  It was energising too, because I know that the working conditions are such that I am enabled to bring my best self to my work, and that if, as inevitably will happen, I am not my best self, I have the tools to identify that (and people who will point it out to me if I don’t), and the support I need to revisit the solutions that I’ve identified in my WAP, to empty my stress bucket and return to my best self.

If you get the opportunity to do this piece of work in your workplace, I’d recommend you grab it with both hands.  And if it’s not offered to you, I’d ask why…  And if your manager wants to know more, you can direct them to us – we’d love to support them to support you better.  

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