England rugby star’s trials encouraged me to speak about mental health

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Thomas Bird, AAT Assessment Manager (Design and Development), faced a crisis while he was studying. Here he shares his experiences and tips for wellbeing and resilience.

Why did you volunteer to be a wellbeing champion?

I think that it is really important to speak about our mental health and ensure that everyone knows where and how they can reach out. It is essential that we all realise that if we struggle with our mental health it doesn’t make us a failure or less of a person.

Men are less likely to talk about our mental health and a solution to this is for more people to talk about their struggles. I was inspired recently by Joe Marler, a professional rugby player for England and Harlequins, who spoke out about his struggles with ill mental health. I can certainly recommend his documentary Big Boys Don’t Cry https://youtu.be/R3F2hy93C0E

Have you been affected by ill mental health either yourself or by someone close to you?

When I was studying for my A-levels, I found it incredibly difficult. I felt trapped and didn’t want to let my teachers or my family down by admitting that I couldn’t cope and that I was struggling to keep up with what they were teaching. I seriously considered taking my own life to escape it all. In the end, I dropped the subject I was struggling with the most. When I finished my A-levels, I decided to go straight into work rather than going to university as I didn’t feel that I would be able to cope mentally. In hindsight I should have spoken up and asked for the extra support I needed. I am now a big advocate for getting people to ask questions if they don’t understand, as there is no point in suffering in silence, although I am still working on this myself!

How does work potentially affect your wellbeing?

While I have been quite disciplined in switching off the laptop when my working day ends. I find it a lot harder to switch off my mind, so I will often spend the evenings or the night thinking about work.

I also find that I will sit at my desk longer when working at home than I would in the office. To remedy this, I have a series of reminders around my monitor, to remind me to have a break, improve my posture and to go and have a drink of water.

How do you try to maintain your own good health during the working week?

At the beginning of lockdown, I was going out every morning for a walk or a run. But since lockdown finished and my wife stopped working from home, I have found that I don’t get out in the morning like I once did. However, during lockdown I stumbled down the rabbit hole of YouTube videos, and went from watching videos about Batman, to Batman training videos, to callisthenics and bodyweight exercises. So I am now trying to incorporate these into my work day. During lockdown my wife created a series of lollipop sticks with a range of exercises like push-ups and dragon kicks. My aim is to take a stick whenever I am waiting for the kettle to boil.

What do you like to do in your free time that helps support your overall wellbeing?

As mentioned above, I have gotten into callisthenics; my goal this year is to do a muscle up. This isn’t going as well as I had hoped, but there is still half a year left! I am enjoying the challenge and learning more about my body and its limits. I find swimming allows me to let go of whatever I am ruminating on. I also try and get out into nature, and practise shinrin-yoku (forest bathing), which involves being among trees and simply observing the nature around you.

If you could offer up one piece of advice, what would it be?

If you are struggling with ill mental health, talk to someone. Sometimes just verbalising a problem or feeling can make it feel much more manageable. I am still trying to get better at this, but looking back, my life would have been a lot easier, if I had spoken up earlier rather than trying to cope all by myself.

AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.

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