Healthy Minds

Did you know that 1 in 5 people will experience symptoms of a mental illness in any year and that is over 5 million here in Australia alone? And over half of those who experience a mental illness will not seek assistance. Black Dog Institute

Just like our physical bodies, we also want our minds to be healthy, free of disease and disorder. While we know what we need to do to build a healthy body, do we know what we can do to build a healthy mind?

When we build a healthy mind we find we enjoy and participate in life as we wish. We can utilise our resilience skills to manage difficult experiences and adapt to adversity. Building a healthy mind is also about accessing appropriate support when needed and actively choosing activities to assist us.

Below are some resources and tools to assist staff on how to build a healthy mind.

Building healthy minds

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  • Managing stress

    The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another. William James

    Stress is a reaction, it is feelings or concerns that arise within someone when something we care about is at stake. Stress and meaning are linked; if we don’t care about the issue or the person then we tend to experience lower stressors. For instance if you are caught in traffic when you are in cab while on holidays you will not feel the same levels of stress as if you were stationary in traffic on the way to an important meeting. Stress can help us engage with and adapt to life, it can clarify our values and priorities and can help us rise to a challenge.  It creates learning and growing and can be a catalyst for building and strengthening social connections. 

    There are many different types of stress, some include everyday life hassles and some are caused by the long term effects of trauma.  We say we are stressed, we are stressing out or something stresses us. But what happens if we change the way we view stress? What if we view stress as the body’s way of managing something that we care about?

    Tips to manage stress

    • Take action to give you a better sense of personal control. Acknowledge your emotions and the source of your stress, look for solutions and keep to daily routines. Try a problem solving mindset.
    • You may need to accept that there are some things you cannot control but try to face these with a positive attitude.
    • Try stress management skills such as mindfulness, gratitude or deep breathing.
    • Keep healthy and safe, exercise daily, eat fruits and vegetables, drink water, get enough sleep. Avoid using alcohol or drugs to lessen stress.
    • Avoid behavior that may increase stress levels such as news stories, social media or other stress-inducing information.
    • Set limits appropriately and learn to say no to requests that would create further stress in your life.
    • Seek assistance if you need help to manage stress. This maybe the EAP, your GP or UniCare, or a psychologist.
  • Building resilience

    Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.Nelson Mandela

    Resilience is your ability to cope with tough times by applying your inner strength and engaging your support networks. It involves being able to withstand and overcome adversity and unpleasant or difficult events successfully, and to be able to adapt to change or uncertainty.

    Resilience enables you to better cope with challenging situations and helps with your mental wellbeing. You already have skills and support networks that help you to be resilient. The great news is that you can continue to build your resilience, it is a work in progress. It is important to note that resilience is not stoicism. Tough mindedness and persistence is important however continuing to push ahead despite the effects on your health, your relationships or performance is detrimental.

    To build your resilience

    • Know your strengths and personal values and keeping them in mind.
    • Be emotionally aware and taking time to notice your feelings.
    • Find purpose and a sense of belonging in what you do.
    • Stay optimistic and solution focused. Reframe your setbacks and minimise negativity around you. Utilise your coping strategies (mindfulness, gratitude, etc).
    • Build your self-esteem — have confidence in your abilities and the positive things in life.
    • Build healthy relationships and social networks.
    • Know when to ask for help and feedback. When you are able to, support others who are struggling.
    • Manage your stress and anxiety levels.
    • Work on problem solving skills and coping strategies.
  • Adopting mindfulness

    Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.Buddha

    Mindfulness is the act of paying attention, noticing what is happening and pausing before reacting. It is being present in the moment. 

    Mindfulness practices

    Free mindfulness apps

    or you can pay a small free for apps such as Headspace , Buddhify and Simply Being (Apple /Android ).

    Mindfulness is the act of paying attention, noticing what is happening and pausing before reacting.  It is being present in the moment.  There are various mindfulness practices that can include breathing practices, loving kindness practices, mindful eating and mindful movement.  In addition there are free apps such as Insight Timer , Smiling Mind , Stop Breathe and Think , Calm and UCLA Mindful , or you can pay a small free for apps such as Headspace , Buddhify and Simply Being (Apple /Android ).

    Mindfulness is the act of paying attention, noticing what is happening and pausing before reacting.  It is being present in the moment.  There are various mindfulness practices that can include breathing practices, loving kindness practices, mindful eating and mindful movement.  In addition there are free apps such as Insight Timer , Smiling Mind , Stop Breathe and Think , Calm and UCLA Mindful , or you can pay a small free for apps such as Headspace , Buddhify and Simply Being (Apple /Android ).

    Mindfulness is the act of paying attention, noticing what is happening and pausing before reacting.  It is being present in the moment.  There are various mindfulness practices that can include breathing practices, loving kindness practices, mindful eating and mindful movement.  In addition there are free apps such as Insight Timer , Smiling Mind , Stop Breathe and Think , Calm and UCLA Mindful , or you can pay a small free for apps such as Headspace , Buddhify and Simply Being (Apple /Android ).

  • Cultivating gratitude

    Gratitude is a sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation of life.  While we often focus on things that are going wrong, cultivating gratitude is a tool that allows you to think about what went right.  To gain the most from gratitude it is best to do this in a formal practice.  You may like to keep a gratitude journal, do your gratitude practice just before falling asleep or do this as a family at a meal time.  If you like you can choose to complete a simple written gratitude practice. Remember to think about three things that went well today.  It may be events that happened, something you did well, goals you have achieved, individuals who care for you or who you care for or something beautiful you experienced whether from a loved one or total stranger or maybe it was something from nature.  Why did it go well?  How did you or others in your life contribute to the good thing that happened?  How did you feel?

    The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.Dalai Lama

    Gratitude is a sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation of life.

    While we often focus on things that are going wrong, cultivating gratitude is a tool that allows you to think about what went right.  To gain the most from gratitude it is best to do this as a formal practice. You may like to keep a gratitude journal, do your gratitude practice just before falling asleep or do this as a family at a meal time. If you like you can choose to complete a simple written gratitude practice.

    Remember to think about three things that went well today. It may be events that happened, something you did well, goals you have achieved, individuals who care for you or who you care for. It could also be a beautiful experience, whether from a loved one or total stranger or maybe it was something from nature.  Why did it go well?  How did you or others in your life contribute to the good thing that happened?  How did you feel?

    Gratitude is a sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation of life.  While we often focus on things that are going wrong, cultivating gratitude is a tool that allows you to think about what went right.  To gain the most from gratitude it is best to do this in a formal practice.  You may like to keep a gratitude journal, do your gratitude practice just before falling asleep or do this as a family at a meal time.  If you like you can choose to complete a simple written gratitude practice. Remember to think about three things that went well today.  It may be events that happened, something you did well, goals you have achieved, individuals who care for you or who you care for or something beautiful you experienced whether from a loved one or total stranger or maybe it was something from nature.  Why did it go well?  How did you or others in your life contribute to the good thing that happened?  How did you feel?

  • Random acts of kindness

    When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it also helps us to develop inner happiness and peace.The 14th Dalai Lama

    We have seen all round the world small acts of kindness which have lifted the spirit of those watching. We saw people coming out of the homes at a set time to clap the front line staff, people singing from balconies, choirs of thousands forming online and kindness shown to neighbours and communities.

    You may like to write and post a letter to a friend, send a loving text to a friend, check in on your neighbour, share your baking and home cooking with an older family member, pay for an extra coffee when you collect your own coffee or any other way that you can see to help someone.

    You can also recognise a colleague by using the online Recognition form. A simple ‘thank you’ can go a long way!

  • Developing a growth mindset

    Nothing is impossible. The word itself says ‘I’m possible’Audrey Hepburn

    A growth mindset is when we believe our abilities and intelligence can be developed with effort, learning and persistence. However, a fixed mindset, is when we think our intelligence and abilities are a fixed trait (e.g. we are born with a fixed level of intelligence). The good news is that it is possible to develop a growth mindset.

    A growth mindset assists us to embrace challenges, persist during setbacks and take responsibility for our own actions or words. It allows us to build new skills, to grow in what we are doing and achieving and view challenges as opportunities to learn. 

    Tips to develop a growth mindset

    • When a challenge arises try to view it as an opportunity to grow as a person.
    • Accept imperfections in ourselves and others. These help to make us unique but they don’t limit our abilities.
    • Pay attention to your own words and thoughts. Look for the negative message that plays on repeat in your head, especially when things don’t quite go right. Replace that negative thought with more positive thoughts and rather than judging yourself accept yourself for who you are.
    • Provide your own approval and not constantly seek it from others.
    • Remember that your brain has the ability to change and make new connections. This is called neuroplasticity.
    • Focus on the process as well as the result. Sometimes we don’t achieve what we set out to achieve.  However when we consider what we have learnt, we realise we have improved ourselves, even if it is how not to do something next time!
    • Reward the effort and actions that went to achieving the outcome, rather than the trait. For instance a child has studied hard and achieved a good mark you would say "I know how hard you worked for this result. Well done!" rather than "What a great grade, you are so smart!". It is about rewarding the effort that went into an activity rather than the outcome. This assists in building resilience.
    • Be open to constructive feedback and learn how to give as well as receive..
    • Learn the power of not yet. When you are struggling to achieve a goal it is important to re-frame what you are thinking to be ‘You are not achieving it yet’. The magic of yet is that there are still possibilities, you can still achieve it!

Self care at work seminar

Join us in a lunch time seminar to learn strategies to ensure that you more than just survive at work but you thrive at work.

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Life skills online module

Tips on building emotional intelligence.

Sessions available for continuing, fixed-term and casual staff.

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Everyday mindfulness

Do you ever find yourself feeling overwhelmed or scattered? Or maybe you forget someone’s name as soon as you are introduced to them? It might be that you are feeling mindlessness in these moments. The good news is there is an antidote and that is mindfulness.

Before you worry that you don’t have time for a mindfulness practice or you have already tried mindfulness and it is not for you, let’s explore a small way we can use this in our daily practice.

One simple definition of mindfulness is:

A set of skills for directing and managing our focus and attention and a way to engage with the present moment.

By using mindfulness we can help interpret our thoughts and feelings as temporary and become an observer of our thoughts rather that getting trapped in them. Through doing this, rather than reacting to our thoughts and emotions, we can choose a more skillful and flexible response to them. We can notice and observe what is unfolding in our mind and with practice we can question our thoughts and engage with useful thoughts and beliefs.

Mindfulness can help us understand that we are much more than our thoughts. This allows us to become calmer and less distracted by the chatter in our minds. It also assists us with managing stress by training ourselves to deal with the present rather than ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. In addition mindfulness helps us to develop our own self-awareness. This can help us notice opportunities for success and provides insight into how we can self-develop ourselves. We may also recognise our subconscious habits, such as positive or negative thoughts, and determine if these are beneficial or negative.

Mindfulness has also been found to assist with feelings of anxiety and depression. It enables us to notice and interrupt rumination and consciously replace our thoughts with those that are more helpful. We can then practice kindness and compassion for ourselves.  

Bring small practices of mindfulness into your life:

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  • Practice awareness

    When you find yourself undertaking a task that you don’t like or find annoying, bring your full awareness to the task and pay attention to it. Notice your feelings. If this is a task that you need to undertake then try to accept the task and engage with it in a manner that may make it more palatable. Can you do it faster or more efficently? Can you put your own flare on it or once it is done so you feel a sense of relief or satisfaction?

  • Eat mindfully

    When you are doing the daily rituals such as showering, eating your meal or cleaning your teeth apply mindfulness to this task. Notice how you feel during the task, how the sensations feel of the water in the shower, or how your teeth feel after they are cleaned.

    It's also beneficial to eat mindfully, taking your time, enjoying each bite and savouring your meal.  This not only helps us be in the moment but it can also help us identify if we are truly hungry, or whether we are eating out of boredom.

  • Centre your thoughts

    Take a deep breath when you are leaving the office and consciously leave the worries and issues behind. You may like to play your favourite music on your travels home to help step away from work or if you are not driving take time to look around you and notice five items, (these can be anything you may like to notice e.g. a dog being walked, a large tree, flowers or people laughing). Take another deep cleansing deep breath before you enter your home and centre your thoughts on your home and people waiting for you.

Five ways to declutter your mind and body

For many of us we feel happier in a neat organised environment. Being able to find something you are looking for is always a good thing! However have you ever given any thought to how to declutter your mind and body?

Jennifer Wolkin, a New York psychologist, has some tips on how we can do this. 

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  • Stretch the body, stretch the mind

    If you are finding that you are having trouble calming down or relaxing try doing some gentle movement such as yoga or tai chi. Gentle exercise can assist you to relax both in mind and in body.

  • Listen to your favourite music or song

    When you are engrossed in music you will find you cannot ruminate over and over. I personally like to listen to Louis Armstrong song What a Wonderful World or sometimes I will loudly sing along to Bohemian Rhapsody.

  • Get up and move

    Exercise is a great way to feel better. You may like to take yourself for a walk, dance to your favourite tune, do a gym class or undertake a You-Tube exercise session. Exercise will increase oxygen to your brain and aids in release of neurotransmitters such as serotonins and norepinephrine as well exercise promotes neurotrophins which are proteins that aid neuron survival. Anything that can help our brain is a great activity for us to undertake!

  • Remember the good times

    When we take time to reflect on the wonderful and great times that we have experienced we find that we feel more relaxed and happy. In our brain there are changes as well, our cortisol levels decrease and other neurotransmitter levels increase. We feel happier. We can trigger this through looking at happy photos as well.

    Article: Reminiscing about positive memories buffers acute stress responses

  • Practice gratitude

    The act of expressing gratitude is our final step to declutter our minds and lives. Finding things to be grateful for each day is another step to improve our mental health. This is not to take away from the times that we experience which are horrible or difficult. It is finding that glimmer in your day that things will get better and there is one blossom of hope in a dark time. You may like to verbally express gratitude, you may like to write a thank you note or just take a few minutes to see the things in our life that we are grateful for.

Attaining happiness

Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life." —Omar Khayyam

Happiness is an emotion that we all seek. We are often disappointed when we don’t achieve it or if something goes wrong. Sometimes we may find ourselves looking towards the future for our happiness to begin.

We may think we will be truly happy when:

  • We get that new job
  • We retire
  • The children leave home
  • We have enough money
  • We work less or more

When we think that the future is where we will attain happiness and success, we may not notice our happiness or even devalue when we are feeling happy.  This is described by Dr Robert Holden as destination addiction.

But what would happen if we just stop and focus on our mental health and accept that life is not always full of happiness? What if we focus on maximising positive emotions, while we fully experience all of life’s moments, including the difficult times and painful emotions? We may discover that through building good mental health we will increase our feelings of happiness.

Here are three small key actions that will assist us to develop our mental health which will build our happiness.

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  • Seeking pleasure

    People find pleasure in different activities and experiences.

    For some it is watching a good movie, eating delicious food, having a holiday or spending time with people we love. When we really look at what gives us pleasure often we find it is the sharing of positive emotions such as love, joy and gratitude. It is possible, that even in the most difficult of times, we can find these emotions. We do this by taking time to remember our loved ones, our moments of joy and practicing gratitude

    Action

    What are the activities that bring you pleasure? Make a list of these activities and these can be your self-care activities to do when things are feeling negative. They become your jolt of joy activity (something that makes your smile and brings happiness). We can attain happiness in this way.

  • Finding passion

    When we do the things we love we find ourselves getting so absorbed that time seems to disappear.

    These activities could be time listening to favourite music, time spent playing with children, undertaking a hobby or doing any activity in which you find yourself in the flow. Usually these times are when you have high involvement in the activity, actively engage and where you are not a passive observer.

    Action

    Note what it is that you are passionate about. Make a list of activities that you undertake and find yourself losing track of time. Why are you passionate about these? What is it that resonates with you? Can you notice when you are in this state and recognise your positive feelings and happiness and do this activity more often?

  • Discovering purpose

    A sense of purpose or meaning in our life can improve our mental health and comes from making deliberate choices on how we spend our time. 

    It may be your work, or the way you are raising your family or your volunteer work that is meaningful. It is possible to also craft your work to ensure you have meaning in your role. We can also find purpose in when things go wrong, such as when we cannot control the circumstances that we find ourselves in. During these time we may find we experience learning or growth and find we are more resilient than we thought!  

    Action

    Think about a time when you felt truly happy. What was it you were were doing? Was there something you were doing less of or more of? Is there a way that you can change what you are going to find meaning and purpose (job crafting) in your work?

Changing your perspective

The last 12 months have taught us that the only thing that is constant in our life is change. Often when faced with a lot of change we become fearful of what we may lose or how we will cope. This often leads to raised stress levels and anxiety. We are all experiencing changes due to COVID-19 and adjustments made within the University community. Some of us are struggling yet at the same time some of us are flourishing. Why is it that for some, when they approach a problem, they see it as a challenge and view failure as a learning opportunity? Is it the way that they approach the issue and how they think about it? Is there a way that we can all flourish even when things are tough?

One action we can take to build our psychological resilience and wellbeing is to create a more positive mindset. This then effects the way we think. Often when we are under pressure we rush through our work, our activities our interactions with others - including those we care about the most - and don’t take the time to be considered in our thinking. We take cognitive shortcuts and while this is helpful at times, at other times it can create our negative moods and actions. Have you ever found yourself thinking about that happened during your day and noticing that you were not acting according to your values and beliefs? We all have those times!

Here is small activity that you can undertake to help address your thoughts and feelings when you are under increasing amounts of stress.

Start by taking a short pause when you feel stressed or react in a manner that is not cognisant with how you want to act and think. This can allow you to reflect before you react, to really see the issue and plan your response and to connect with others. It only takes a few seconds to do. The power of reflecting and reframing your thoughts allows you to examine them and to question - is that thought true and accurate? Is what I am thinking actually true or do I have the facts to support my thoughts? Is it possible that my automatic thoughts are either incorrect or not truly reflective of who I am?

Three steps to accepting change:

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  • Observe

    Observe and reflect on your thoughts. Take time to notice what you are thinking when you are stressed, upset or frustrated. This can prove difficult at times and if this is the case you may like to make time later in the day to record some of the most common negative thoughts that occurred. Be honest with yourself.

  • Argue

    Argue with your thoughts. Search for the evidence to see if it is true or not. Often we make assumptions and use words such as always or never when really that is not true. The key to this step is to make a habit of asking ‘how else could I look at this?’ Questions give us new possibilities and flexibility to choose what you believe.

  • Replace

    Replace the original thought with a more helpful alternative. This may be the opposite of your original thought. You may change your thinking from viewing an issue to a challenge or a learning opportunity.

Through these small steps you can change our perspective and start challenging your negativity and worry to start viewing challenges as opportunities!

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

The University of Adelaide support staff and their families by providing access to two Employee Assistance Program (EAP) service providers, offering you a choice of providers and locations across Adelaide. 

Healthy minds support

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External mental health resources

Further information on mental health advice and support