What’s up, tech marketers? Let’s get serious for once.
We tend to focus our blog posts on SEO-related topics, which makes sense, considering that’s exactly what we do for a living. But I want to talk about something else today, something that everyone should be talking about.
I want to talk about mental health.
What Is Bell Let’s Talk Day?
If you’ve never heard of a mental health awareness campaign called Bell Let’s Talk Day, that probably means you aren’t Canadian. In 2010, Bell—you know, the old-school telephone company—started an awareness campaign about mental health to encourage open conversation in the hopes of bringing more awareness, compassion, and support to people struggling with their mental health. The campaign itself is built on four pillars:
Today, a few of us want to share our experiences and give advice to anyone who may be going through a hard time whilst working from home.
So, in honour of Bell Let’s Talk Day, let’s talk about mental health!
Why I Want to Talk About Mental Health
I’m sure you’d agree that as far as months ago, January isn’t the nicest. It’s cold, it’s dark, and there are no feel-good holidays to look forward to. In Montreal, Canada, where I’m from, and where temperatures can descend to –30℃ and snowfall is often measured in feet, January hits a little harder.
What’s worse is knowing that there are at least another two months of this kind of weather. In some parts of the country, it stays like this until May.
If you’ll permit me to gloss over the entirety of my mental health journey, I’ll start by saying that my life in Canada wasn’t always a happy one, but this was especially true in winter. I only found out later in life that seasonal affective disorder ran in the family. But by adulthood, it didn’t really matter what time of year it was.
It wasn’t until I moved to Portugal, where it’s sunny almost all-year long and where temperatures rarely hit below zero that I started to feel like I could manage and even conquer my depression. To be fair, removing myself from an extremely unhappy situation also helped.
Paralleling this story is my professional life, which I’ve managed to keep remote for more than five years. Working from home suits me. In fact, I love it. As an introvert, I couldn’t have asked for a better work setup. I am eternally grateful that I get to do this.
But I also live in the middle of nowhere. And while my three dogs and two cats are great company, I do find myself getting a bit stir-crazy (or worse) if I’m left to my own devices for too long.
Everyone approaches their work-from-home life differently, but what really helps cut the loneliness and isolation is driving into town and spending just an hour or so in and amongst people or catching up with friends over coffee or pizza. I don’t have to talk to anyone to feel less lonely, as I’ve noticed that just being around people for a little bit every day makes a huge difference.
I make lists of all the things I can, should, and will do to take care of myself and I try my best to stick with them (the list itself is a positive mental exercise).
At the time of this writing, Christmas is only 10 days away, and life is busier than usual. This is where I get to practice saying ‘no’ and where my list becomes extremely important.
My humble advice to anyone working from home who might be struggling right now: create a positive structure around your day that brings you the most creativity, productivity, and contentment. When you work from home, having structure is especially essential because it allows you to separate your work life from your home life.
How a Strong Support Network Helped Christian Overcome His Anxiety
Christian Scott is not the type of person you’d expect to want to volunteer his story about mental health…which says more about me and my preconceived notions of men and mental health than it does about him. It’s a stereotype. Christian is young, fresh-faced, always smiling, and really into physical fitness. What the hell would he have to be anxious about?
For Christian, his most recent struggles actually started at the gym where he worked as a personal trainer. He thought he wanted to climb the professional ladder and make a name for himself in the industry, and because of that, he was more than willing to work seven days a week for months on end; management had no problem exploiting his ambition.
They say that physical fitness is a form of therapy, but this wasn’t exactly a therapeutic experience for Christian, who was up-and-at-em by 6:30 in the morning and still taking on clients at 9:00 at night. It doesn’t take a physician to tell you that working non-stop is bad for you.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Meanwhile, Christian wasn’t coping. Outwardly, he was an ambitious member of the team who was always willing to say ‘yes’. Internally, he was fighting a battle against himself. He didn’t want to keep doing it anymore, but the critical voice in his head told him to suck it up. He dismissed his own feelings because no one else around him was struggling, as far as he could tell. Clearly there wasn’t a real problem. Clearly, he was just making it up.
We all tend to have that ‘quit being a big baby and pull yourself together’ voice inside our heads, which usually solves nothing. But I can imagine that toxic mentality being especially prevalent in a world where physical strength is so highly valued.
In the end, Christian’s body made the decision for him.
One Monday morning, he was supposed to get out of bed and get ready to go to work. But he didn’t. In fact, he couldn’t.
That was when he realized he was in trouble. He realized then that maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to talk about what was going on with him. He opened up to his girlfriend—someone he describes as ‘pretty special’—and his friends. He started sharing his feelings about the crippling anxiety he had been dealing with.
It turned out, he wasn’t alone. It seemed like everyone around him was going through a tough time. It was an amazing realization and also an immense relief to unload months of stress to his friends and loved ones. He found no judgement from others. Only understanding and support.
For brevity, I’ll have to fast-forward some of the juicy bits of Christian’s story. Now that he’s in a job that better aligns with his interests (and one that doesn’t exploit his natural ambition), he says his anxiety is gone, but he’s also much more aware of it creeping back into his body.
Now that there’s more of a work–life balance, Christian has learned the beautiful art of saying ‘no’. He also maintains his physical fitness. He still wholeheartedly agrees that exercise is actually one of the most powerful therapeutic tools. It takes you out of your head and into your body. Talking to his girlfriend and his friends about how he’s feeling has never gone away. And now, he’s not just talking—he’s listening. He tells me how grateful he is to have such a strong support system; how he couldn’t have asked for better friends.
Fun is an anxiety killer and Christian knows how to find it. Throughout lockdown and beyond, he has spent his free time gaming with his friends: a pretty ingenious way to hang out with your mates when you can’t leave the house.
I ask Christian if he has any advice for people who work from home and who might be struggling with isolation and loneliness. Not surprisingly, he recommends exercise. He also can’t stress enough the importance of talking. Just finding one person to share your feelings with can make an incredible difference.
How Taking His Dogs for their Daily Walks Help Mikey Stay Present
Mikey is one of the company’s longest-employed Geeks. He’s been around since before the company was even called Geeky Tech. Talking to him makes me realize that one of his strongest traits is his loyalty. Not only has he shown his devotion to the company, but also to our CEO, Ben, who has acted on many occasions as Mikey’s mentor.
When speaking to Mikey about mental health, I get the feeling that he can afford to cherry pick. As one of the newest members on the team, I don’t know much about the people I work with and have never actually met in person. Mikey confirms that he has loads of stories he could tell, but there’s only a few he’ll get into with me today.
Mikey’s been struggling with something called food neophobia. I’ve never never heard of this condition before, but he explains that it’s the fear of trying new food. He’s struggled with this for years. Right now, he’s on the other side of it. As of today, he proudly tells me his pantry is stocked with fresh produce and chicken.
His ability to overcome his food phobia has led to him losing 11 stone in less than a year. That’s a significant change for Mikey, who says his decision to take his health more seriously came when he moved into a new home and decided that enough was enough. As the father of two children, he has plenty of motivation to stay healthy.
I can’t imagine what it’s like being deathly terrified of new food, but Mikey tells me that it made life—especially his social life—really difficult. Not only was he terrified, but the thought of trying something other than the five foods he felt comfortable eating made him feel physically sick.
His phobia prevented him from meeting new people or maintaining a social life, which makes me realize just how many relationships have started on empty stomachs.
Mikey won’t tell me what those five foods were. He’s too ashamed to name them, but I know they were not exactly healthy and not items you’d necessarily find on a menu.
While Mikey has come a long way since he first decided to make a change, he still struggles with his food neophobia. Sometimes he slips back into old habits. Even though he’s lost 11 stone so far, his body dysmorphia prevents him from acknowledging the full scope of his progress.
I should probably mention that he’s very nervous for others at work to know about his phobia. But he doesn’t want to keep it a secret either. He tells me that if he can help one other person, it’ll all be worth it. He says that his condition is often misunderstood as being a picky or fussy eater, especially if that eater is a child. But no. It’s more than just being picky. And it affects more than just children. That’s why he wants to talk about it.
Like me, Mikey loves working from home. He tells me he thrives in solitude and doesn’t really ever feel lonely. But he understands that his two dogs, Dusty and Storm, probably have a lot to do with it.
Every day, Mikey takes his rescue pups for walks through the woods near his house. He thinks that dogs are better than people, and yeah, he’s probably right. The dogs help him get out of his head. They also get him out of the house.
There is, of course, a lot to be said about the time he spends with his young daughter, Sapphire. He claims that there are no limits to her curiosity and that a large portion of their time together is spent typing her questions into Google.
When Sapphire’s with her mum, Mikey focuses on his dogs, practices Wim Hof breathing exercises, and meditates. He also takes cold showers (I can’t even write that without clutching my pearls).
Mikey’s advice for anyone struggling with mental health is a delightful contradiction: work with what you’ve got and try something new.
Like Christian, he thinks that sharing your ups as well as your downs with your friends, family, and anyone you can trust, is a must. Be open and honest with how you feel. If they’re your real friends, there shouldn’t be any shame in what you have to say.
How Breaking Up His Work Day Helps Mark Stay Mentally Fit
I was a bit nervous when Mark volunteered to be a part of this conversation. You don’t just start asking the co-founder of the company personal questions without expecting to misstep or take the conversation too far.
It’s clear very early on that Mark has no intention of getting too personal. Unlike Christian and Mikey, Mark is a little more guarded about his struggles with anxiety and mental health. He’s worried that the contents of this post could be used against him. And I get it.
It’s a twisted world we live in.
Despite his resistance, he’s quite willing to talk about how he finds equilibrium throughout his day. And to be honest, it kinda sounds like he’s nailing it. Nothing he says sounds unusual, and his advice is similar to Mikey’s and Ben’s. But there’s a certain level of finesse in Mark’s work week that I think other remote workers would appreciate.
Like Christian, physical fitness is really important to skateboarder Mark. He takes care not to spend too much time in front of his desk by breaking up his day with moments of activity. Sometimes he gets up and does a few stretches while waiting for the kettle to boil. Other times, he leaves the house entirely to head over to the skatepark or go to the gym.
He takes advantage of the fact that our work hours aren’t regimented. He can bend and shape his day however he sees fit. And unless he’s taking important calls, he’ll make sure to get up and move. He can tell when he’s been at his desk for too long if his shoulders start to hurt or he can feel a headache coming on.
Mark’s main piece of advice for anyone working from home contradicts everything health administrations have been telling us for the last two years. Physical connection is really important. Just spending five minutes talking to a stranger can make a substantial positive impact on someone’s mood. Virtual meetings help—especially for those who live alone and could go days without ever needing to see anyone—but they aren’t enough.
Introverted people have become even more introverted, he says. We’ve all lost our ability to be easy around people. Understandably so. Although he’s aware that COVID has made us really self-conscious around people, he still thinks it’s important to find and establish connections with others. Even the smallest of interactions can have the greatest impact.
Because Mark isn’t comfortable getting into his own personal struggles, I start talking to him about the stigma of mental health. He believes it’s quite important to have someone to talk to for whenever you need a shoulder to cry on.
On the other hand, he admits how difficult it has been for him to reach out to people.
He doesn’t like being a burden to anyone, especially those who depend on him in some way. He doesn’t say it, but it sounds like he’s not comfortable being the vulnerable person in the room. How can he be weak when he’s the one holding others up?
It’s thoughts like this that make me realize how much more we have to work on in this space.
That’s why we need to keep having these conversations.
Let’s Keep Talking About Mental Health
January may be cold and miserable, but it also isn’t the only time of year we should talk about our struggles. In the last few years, we’ve come such a long way from hiding our problems, judging others for going to therapy, and pretending that we’re okay when we’re actually not.
But we still have a long way to go. The stigma against folks with mood disorders is reflected in our everyday language, and in the state’s lack of funding and support for people dealing with addiction, homelessness, and poverty. Our governments have come a long way in addressing the systemic problems that contribute to mental health issues, but we’re nowhere near where we should be.
We need to keep having these talks so we can learn from each other’s experiences and help each other when we need it the most.
Want to learn more about our Geeks? Click here to find out what the Geeks got up to this holiday season.