Corporate fitness teams might not be the most obvious candidates for mental health and wellbeing training. But, as Brendan Street explains, encouraging corporate fitness teams to look beyond physical health has allowed them to step up and support the mental health of clients post pandemic, as well as become better connected to their own emotional wellbeing and resilience.
Everyone is different, and people navigate the complexities of work and home life with a range of individual responses.
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These vary greatly, depending on an individual’s background, circumstances, goals and motivation. This can be challenging, especially for those in client-facing roles, looking to work collaboratively and communicate effectively.
At Nuffield Health, our corporate fitness and wellbeing teams have experienced these pressures first-hand, with our most recent whitepaper suggesting these challenges are set to increase further as the mental health impact of the global pandemic comes into focus.
Our Nuffield Health Healthier Nation index reports that 41% of people said that their mental health had deteriorated during the past 12 months, with ‘pressures linked to work’ being stated as having the biggest impact on the nation’s mental health.
These figures alone have illustrated the need to equip our on-site staff with the right training to meet the changing needs of employees.
Client-facing teams will meet people who are experiencing difficulties with their emotional wellbeing every day, with the likelihood that they will be leaned on for support. These individuals, therefore, must be equipped to recognise potential signs of emotional distress in others and have the confidence to support and signpost them towards further emotional wellbeing services.
That’s why at Nuffield Health we have taken the decision, to roll out mental health training to all our teams working within our corporate fitness and wellbeing centres.
A holistic approach to fitness
When we think of a ‘fitness first’ approach to wellbeing, this has historically focused solely on physical fitness. Whilst the benefits of regular exercise, are well documented, there is less awareness and understanding of the inextricable link between physical and mental wellbeing.
It is well known, for example that physical exercise releases ‘feel good’ chemicals such as endorphins and dopamine, which make us feel positive and relieve stress. The benefits of ‘emotional fitness’ on physical health are however, less widely known.
Individuals with good mental health are for example more likely to engage in physical activity and have healthier lifestyles. Conversely those experiencing mental ill health, are more likely to experience musculoskeletal injuries, and be at greater risk of cancer and heart disease.
There is an inseparable link between physical and mental health and as such a holistic approach is much more likely to result in healthier outcomes than by making artificial distinctions between mind and body. Focus on one above the other can in fact lead to unhelpful behaviours, and negative cycles which can be difficult to break.
For example, those focusing solely on physical fitness may begin to over-exercise as they fail to notice more holistic improvements, leading to injury. Unable to exercise, these individuals would also start to experience a negative impact on their mental health, thus triggering unhelpful cycles.
Supporting emotional needs
Given the interconnected relationship between mental and physical health, it’s no surprise those in fitness careers are experiencing first-hand the negative emotional impact of the global pandemic. Research reveals 55% of personal trainers are seeing an increase in clients approaching them with mental health concerns.
For many, their job can share some similarities to a therapist’s role, with clients and visitors confiding in them with their personal stories. And even when individuals don’t actively reach out to them, they may notice changes in their behaviours that suggest they might be experiencing difficulties coping.
However, this is beyond the remit of most physical fitness experts. Many aren’t currently trained to be equipped to answer the questions they’re facing or to process the emotional impact of the personal accounts of struggle they’re facing daily.
That is why, through our “Emotional Wellbeing Advocate Programme”, all corporate fitness teams are being given training to improve their emotional wellbeing and their confidence to provide emotional support to others.
Emotional fitness training
This training is designed to equip teams with the knowledge and skills to recognise signs of emotional distress in others as well as knowing how to respond and provide support with confidence where needed.
It includes understanding common behaviour patterns that may signal distress, for example, changes in mood or appearance, overly critical behaviour, or indicators of low self-esteem.
Individuals who successfully complete the training can confidently but sensitively approach those displaying these signs and provide the first supportive steps. This may include informally chatting with them between exercises, asking ‘how are you?’ or ‘is there anything I can do to support you today?’.
Those working with long-term clients may have a closer personal relationship and even feel confident letting them know they’ve noticed changes in their behaviour and how they might benefit from professional support.
Of course, the training also highlights the importance and value of referring on. It provides teams with guidance on the emotional wellbeing interventions that are available and advice on when and how to direct people towards the most relevant and personalised support.
Supporting your workforce
Those who’ve successfully completed mental health awareness training are also reminded of the importance of ‘securing their own oxygen mask before helping others’. It is critical to take care of ourselves first, to be in the best position to effectively support others.
This is especially important for those who regularly experience individuals seeking them out for advice or to share their personal stories of struggle. These can have a significant and lasting impact on emotional wellbeing, juggling others’ distress on top of managing their own mental fitness.
We’ve had feedback from our corporate fitness teams that taking our Emotional Wellbeing Advocate training helped them to not only recognise signs of emotional distress in others, but also in themselves.
This has led to our own teams feeling empowered to seek professional support for difficulties including anxiety, depression, or panic.
Mental health training teaches us we not only have a responsibility to notice and intervene to support others, but also to notice our own signs of distress and take care of ourselves.