Taking Care of your Health at Work (mental and physical)

Content Warning: I should start this post by saying that there will be some mention/discussion of physical and mental illness in this post (neither extensive nor graphic), and that if that makes you uncomfortable for whatever reason, you may be better not reading it, and coming back on Friday for an update on my internship with Fuel instead.

As I mentioned on Friday, I had an interesting chat the other day with some of the women I work with about taking care of our health at work, and I wanted to remind everyone of some of the things we said. I cannot stress enough how important it is to take our health seriously, both in life in general, and in the particular instance I want to talk about, at work. This is not a concept exclusively relevant to theatre producers, but I think it’s an important thing to raise for us, especially when people on the outside look at your work in the arts, and, because it’s in the arts, assume that it is basically a paid hobby and that we cannot be subject to stress at/about work.

Obviously, this is utter rubbish.

Work as a theatre producer can, and will, if you’re, like me, on your way in/trying to make your way into it, be stressful and difficult. Unlike some of the jobs taken by your friends leaving college/university at the same time as you, it won’t be brilliantly paid if it is paid at all. This isn’t to say it isn’t worth every minute (I certainly think it is, or I wouldn’t be trying to do it, or writing advice to help others follow in my footsteps!) but to say that it isn’t easy, and therefore taking care of ourselves is absolutely necessary.

There are two elements of personal health that it’s important to remember to take care of when we’re starting out our careers as producers (and then throughout our lives): physical health and mental health.

Physical health is the one of the two for which there is clearer advice because advice is more similar for everyone. It’s important to follow general and specific medical advice, such as making sure to get enough sleep (the average adult needs around eight hours a night), eating well (a balanced diet, with a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables each day), drinking enough water (approximately eight glasses per day), doing enough exercise (the recommended amount for the average adult in the UK is something like three half hours of intense exercise or three hours of more gentle exercise per week) etc. I am not a doctor, and I recommend checking the recommendations made by doctors for people in our demographics, and asking our doctors if we are unsure. Likewise, if our doctors give us any specific advice, we should absolutely follow this, even if it makes our lives a little more complicated in the short term.

Mental health is the one which is perhaps a little more difficult to be sure how to take the best care of, because mental illnesses take different forms in different people and show themselves through very different symptoms. In addition, while it is slowly decreasing, there is still a stigma around mental health issues, whereby people do not always take them seriously. *Minor tangent, while Emily climbs onto the soapbox.* Please, if you are one of the people who believes that depression can be “fixed” by “cheering up a bit”, go do some reading and recognise that mental illnesses are medical illnesses and deserve to be taken seriously. And if you suffer from a mental illness and anyone has ever treated you disrespectfully, I apologise on behalf of humanity and I hope you are getting the treatment you need. *Climbs of soapbox and returns to the issue at hand.*

The first thing to say about taking care of our mental health is: if we think something may be not quite right, we should go to see our doctors, in the same samewe would with a physical illness. And if we are concerned about a friend or colleague, it is kind to go ask them how they have been recently, and if everything is going well, as it is often difficult to recognise what is wrong when we’re in the midst of it.

Mental illnesses take very different forms in different people, as I mentioned before, but if we notice any of the following happening regularly it may be worth going to see our doctors, just for a chat and a check up. Feeling excessively tired, being uninterested in things which we used to enjoy, feeling chronically lethargic, being sad for no clear reason, not feeling hungry although we should eat, craving sugar when we’ve already eaten a lot, being unable to process things as quickly as usual, struggling to be motivated to do anything… None of these things are abnormal once in a while, of course, but if they seem to be regular occurrences, it may be time to seek assistance.

Some things which may help keep us as well as possible mentally (as eating well may not prevent you from becoming physically ill, but will give us better odds of doing so) include: regular exercise, taking regular breaks for fresh air (at least, for example, our lunch break), taking time to do activities for pleasure either related to the arts (e.g. like this or this), or deliberately separate, such as spending time with friends or family in whatever way provides us with the most relaxation and happiness, or taking some time regularly and deliberately to help us unwind (however that works best for you, be it a hot bath, a long walk, doing some gardening, sitting with a pet or loved one quietly…) and making sure our physical health is as good as it can be to support our mental health (so again, eating and sleeping well etc.). 

I hope this post has been a reminder to take care of yourselves! I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and thank you, as always, for reading. Feel free to like this post if you enjoyed it, leave any thoughts or questions in the comments and follow the blog if you want to read more and you haven’t already. I’ll see you on Friday for an update on last week with Fuel, and again on Monday with more advice!

Emily xxx

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