Rachel, what is your area of expertise?
I am an expert on the best ways to foster and maintain good mental health. Having suffered from depression and anxiety myself in the past, I am now calm and well. I share what I’ve learnt and the evidence-based strategies for both body and mind that really work. Physical approaches include nutrition and breathing techniques. Psychological strategies include how to connect with others, cultivate gratitude, think positively and use the consoling power of literature to heal a troubled mind. January 2017 sees the publication of my third book on the subject of good mental health: my most recent book Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness was an international bestseller and described by the New York Times as full of ‘excellent ideas’ on wellbeing.
What is it that you like about addressing audiences?
I love connecting with others, hearing their stories, and learning from them about what strategies they use to stay calm and well, in addition to hearing about the challenges they face at coping with stress in the workplace. I never leave an event without having learnt something. I’m lucky to have visited offices up and down the country which has given me an insight into the wellbeing issues affecting those at work – as well as the solutions that work. Addressing an audience helps my own mental health too. Even if only one person says that one idea I’ve shared helps them, then that makes my professional life worthwhile. I’m a big believer in what scientists call a ‘helper’s high’ and that’s what talking to an audience gives me.
What do you see as the important wellbeing issues that are concerning people moving into 2017?
The most important issue in 2017 will be how we move from a medication-based approach to good mental health to realising that we need a lifestyle approach for long term wellbeing and resilience. We need to take responsibility for our mental health in the same way that we look after our physical health by going to the gym. Lifestyle interventions, including those I share in my workshops, will be the future.
We need to change our attitude to mental health, and see it as just that – it’s about mental health, not illness. That shift in attitude, and talking openly about mental health, will also help defeat stigma which I’ve found is still a big issue in many offices. Another big issue in 2017 will be how we find the time to make the lifestyle interventions that will make a difference. A final big issue in 2017 that will concern people more and more is nutrition. People are realising that what they eat has a huge impact on their mood – which is the subject of my next book The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food which I’ve written with the nutritional therapist Alice Mackintos
What is your top tip for employers today?
My top tip for employers is that a happy workforce is an energised, productive workforce who look forward to coming to work. If you prioritise the wellbeing and mental health of your employees, they will reward you many times over.
What is your top tip for staff today in how to look after themselves?
My top tip for staff today is that you should find the time to look after your mental health. On an aeroplane, we are advised to put on our oxygen mask before attempting to help a child. Follow that advice yourself. If you learn to be calm and happy – and you can – then you in turn will be able to help others.