Mental Health – Lets Keep Talking
Danielle Meakin - 6 Comments - 29 Sep 2019

Most people will not have to suffer from severe mental health issues, depression, anxiety or suffer a full meltdown during their lifetime. But one in 4 of us will.

Thankfully, the stigma surrounding mental health is now being addressed and our attitudes are changing. Individuals can get the support that they need and be treated properly if they reach out.  It took many courageous individuals to stand up and be personally exposed in order to change perception and attitude.

We must never let mental health issues suffer the same stigma that it did in the past.  Only by maintaining an open dialogue and enabling sufferers to speak and share their personal stories without fear of repercussions, can we continue to increase awareness. We all have a role to play, even those of us that are lucky enough to have avoided any personal suffering.

 

stress management

 

I read one such individual story this week and wanted to share. Jonathan Trott, England international cricketing legend opened up about his return from England’s 2013-14 Ashes tour.

Whilst discussing mental health in an interview on Sky Sports, he revealed, that he had wrestled with his own problems.

 

Jonathan Trott: “The job I loved, filled me with dread”

 

Jonathan Trott

 

Speaking during Mental Health Awareness Week, the batsman revealed he began to experience symptoms of anxiety during the home Ashes series in 2013.

But Trott’s issues came to a head in Australia. Where he had scored 445 runs and two centuries during England’s Ashes triumph in 2010-11. When he flew home after the first Test in Brisbane.

In the show, Trott told host Nick Knight: “It was building. I probably realised during the home Ashes of 2013-14.

Understanding the signs

 

“I remember being at Durham for the fourth Test and not able to concentrate, which was something I pride myself on.

“There was something missing and going to The Oval I knew I was in a little bit of trouble, not wanting to play. That’s when the whole anxiety of putting the tracksuit on and going to the ground was triggered.

“The skill of playing cricket was something I was starting to dread, which I had loved my whole life until then. It was terrifying as it felt so foreign and you are so exposed with cameras everywhere. It was tricky to get some alone time and make sense of it all.

“I remember saying I wanted to play [in the ODI series against Australia that followed the 2013 Ashes] to get back into form before Australia, whereas now if I hadn’t played in that series I wonder if my career may have been a bit longer.

“I tried to fight my way through on the field and live up to the standards I had set for myself, which were pretty high.” He continued ”I was fine at the hotel, away from the ground – it was only going to the Test matches where the scrutiny was.”

“I did pretty well in the warm-up games but going to Brisbane was different. Another level that I had never experienced. I remember going down to breakfast with my cap over my eyes. Trying to sit away from the other guys hoping they wouldn’t see I was pretty emotional eating my cornflakes.

Getting the right support

 

“Coming back from Australia we said I had a stress-related illness. To me, that didn’t seem good enough for the press. It was a bit grey. But the reason for that was that we weren’t sure exactly what was going on.”

“I wanted to be as honest and open as possible. But when people want you to say 24 hours later what’s going on, it’s impossible.” He goes on to say ”I only got properly diagnosed five months later, in early April.”

Trott says he attempted to return to cricket with county side Warwickshire too soon. He only began the road to recovery after linking up with renowned sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters. Dr Peters has worked with the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton.

The 39-year-old retired from cricket in 2018. He implores anyone suffering from mental health problems to seek face-to-face help where possible, insisting it makes a huge difference.

Good advice – let’s keep talking.

Mark Stephens


Mark has established a reputation for his passion and enthusiasm over twenty years working in the recruitment industry, both client and agency side. For the last ten years, he has been researching the recruitment landscape from both a technology and people perspective. His insights into market trends are often used and quoted across the industry’s leading publications. His company, Smart Recruit Online, has been the winner of 5 international awards for technology innovation and Recruitment Technology in the last 18 months. And currently holds the accolade of filling more jobs from direct applications for their clients than any other online recruitment service in the UK.


Why is isolation and lockdown so stressful?
Danielle Meakin - 6 Comments - 29 Sep 2019

Isolation is incredibly tiring when you are not used to it.

A multitude of extra, tiny decisions are taxing our brains.

There have been a number of interesting articles posted in The Conversation over the last couple of weeks that make for interesting reading. In particular, I was drawn to those articles about how Covid and lockdown are affecting peoples’ mental health. One article by Professor Ben Newell, a specialist in Cognitive Psychology at the University of NSW, made intriguing reading. So I wanted to share some of his comments and thoughts along with some of my own.

 

mental health

 

According to the research, all the extra tiny decisions that we have to now make every day are taking their toll.

Anxiety, depression, loneliness and stress are all affecting our sleep patterns and how tired we feel.

But we may be getting tired for other reasons too. All those micro-decisions we make every day are multiplying and taking their toll. Our bodies and our brains adapt to patterns and routines and turn cognitive behaviours into mechanical ones. It’s the way our brains cope with the multitude of relatively mundane and basic decisions that we have to make.

New decisions, due to the change in circumstances, such as; should I go for a walk? Is it safe to pop to the shop? Is it OK to wear my pyjamas in a Zoom meeting?

All of these kinds of decisions are in addition to the familiar, everyday ones, like what shall I have for breakfast? What shall I wear? Do I hassle the kids to brush their teeth?

 

So what’s going on?

According to Professor Newell, we are increasing our cognitive load

One way to think about these extra decisions we’re making in isolation is in terms of “cognitive load”. We are trying to think about too many things at once. But our brains can only cope with a finite amount of information.

Researchers have been looking into our limited capacity for cognition or attention for decades.

Early research described a “bottleneck” through which information passes. We are forced to attend selectively to a portion of all the information available to our senses at a given time.

These ideas grew into research on “working memory“: there are limits on the number of mental actions or operations we can carry out. Think of remembering a phone or bank account number. Most people find it very hard to remember more than a few at once.

Coronavirus isolation can be exhausting, and it can affect how we make decisions.

To measure the effects of cognitive load on decision-making, researchers vary the amount of information people are given, then look at the effects.

In one study, they asked participants to predict a sequence of simple events (whether a green or red square would appear at the top or bottom of a screen) while keeping track of a stream of numbers between the squares.

Think of this increase in cognitive load as a bit like trying to remember a phone number while compiling your shopping list.

When the cognitive load is not too great, people can successfully “divide and conquer” (by paying attention to one task first).

In one study, participants who had to learn the sequence and monitor the numbers made just as many successful predictions, on average, as those who only had to learn the sequence.

Presumably, they divided their attention between keeping track of the simple sequence and rehearsing the numbers.

 

More and more decisions take their toll

But when tasks become more taxing, decision making can start to deteriorate.

In another study, Swiss researchers used the monitoring task to examine the impact of cognitive load on risky choices. They asked participants to choose between pairs of gambles, such as:

  1. A) 42 per cent chance of £14 and 58 % chance of £85, or
  2. B) 8 per cent chance of £24 or 92 % chance of £44.

Participants made these choices while also keeping track of sequences of letters played to them via headphones.

The key finding was not that increasing cognitive load made people inherently more risk-seeking (tending to choose A) or risk-averse (B). It simply made them more inconsistent in their choices. Increased cognitive load made them switch.

It is a bit like choosing the fruit salad over the cake under normal circumstances, but switching to the cake when you are cognitively overloaded.

It is not because a higher cognitive load causes a genuine change in your preference for unhealthy food. Your decisions just get “noisier” or inconsistent when you have more on your mind.

 

Wellness and Mental Health

 

‘To do two things at once is to do neither’

This proverbial wisdom (attributed to the Roman slave Publilius Syrus) rings true — with the caveat that we sometimes can do more than one thing if they are familiar, well-practised decisions.

But in the current context, there are many new decisions that we never thought we’d need to make. For example: Is it safe to walk in the park when it is busy?

This unfamiliar territory means we need to take the time to adapt and recognise our cognitive limitations.

Although it might seem as though all those tiny decisions are mounting up, it perhaps isn’t just their number. The root cause of this additional cognitive load could be the undercurrent of additional uncertainty surrounding these novel decisions.

For some, the pandemic has displaced a bunch of decisions (do I have time to get to the bus stop?). But the ones that have replaced them are tinged with the anxiety surrounding the ultimate cost that we, or family members, might pay if we make the wrong decision.

So, it is no wonder these new decisions are taking their toll.

 

So what can I do?

Unless you have had ample experience with the situation or the tasks you are trying to do are simple, then adding load is likely to lead to poorer, inconsistent or “noisier” decisions.

The pandemic has thrown us into highly unfamiliar territory, with a raft of new, emotionally tinged decisions to face.

The simple advice is to recognise this new complexity, and not feel you have to do everything at once. And “divide and conquer” by separating your decisions and giving each one the attention it — and you — deserve.

This post was heavily influenced and used extracts taken from an article originally written by Ben Newell, a Professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of NSW, that appeared in The Conversation.

 

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Mark Stephens


Mark has established a reputation for his passion and enthusiasm over twenty years working in the recruitment industry, both client and agency side. For the last ten years, he has been researching the recruitment landscape from both a technology and people perspective. His insights into market trends are often used and quoted across the industry’s leading publications. His company, Smart Recruit Online, has been the winner of 5 international awards for technology innovation and Recruitment Technology in the last 18 months. And currently holds the accolade of filling more jobs from direct applications for their clients than any other online recruitment service in the UK.


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