For today’s blog post on The Wheel Of Wellness I’ll be focusing on the Occupational segment. This section is all about finding meaningful ways to occupy your time whether that be doing a job you enjoy and get personal satisfaction from, volunteering your time and services for a particular cause such as a charity, helping the community in some way (either in person or online), raising a family or simply being a good partner / friend / mum or dad / sibling / pet owner etc.
When we think of the term ‘occupation’, our thoughts tend to turn to our job or the way we earn a living. However, some of us, myself included, are currently classed as unemployed (for whatever reason), in education, or are retired, but we still occupy our time in a number of useful ways. So, throughout today’s article, I’ll be talking about occupation in the broadest sense i.e. as a way of spending time, particularly in a manner that is useful for ourselves, our family and friends or our wider community.
To maintain occupational wellness, it’s important to consider how what we do impacts on our general health – both physically and mentally. Does your work leave you feeling good about yourself and as though you’re really making a difference or do you dread each and every week, feel constantly exhausted, dissatisfied and undervalued? If you volunteer your time for a good cause, does your line manager thank you regularly and encourage you to recognise the impact you’re are having both on yourself and the organisation or do you feel unappreciated and as though it is a struggle to think of the benefits? If, like me, you’re a blogger, do you get a buzz when someone likes your post, follows you or leaves a nice comment or do you feel like you invest too much time on your writing and have lost your spark? For those of you who are retired, have you adjusted to your circumstances, and are you happy with how you structure your days, or do you feel like you would benefit from making changes which support both your physical and mental health? Whatever you current situation, do you feel well motivated, happy and purposeful or is there room for improvement in this area of your wellness?
My own experience of occupational wellbeing (and lack of)
(N.B. these paragraphs may be triggering for individuals who are currently struggling with their mood in some way or have a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder)
Before my diagnosis of Bipolar disorder, when I was teaching, there were periods of time in my work when I felt on top of the world, superior to most of my colleagues and as though I was making such a difference to the pupils and the school as a whole that I was a complete asset. At other times, I felt demotivated, dreaded each week, struggled to get out of bed and get things done and found my work-life completely unbalanced and unmanageable – drowning both at home and at work. For the rest of the time, I was satisfied with the way my career was going, felt I was becoming better and better at my job and was, along with most of my colleagues making a real difference. I also felt that I was able to manage my workload and had the ability to say ‘no’ when necessary. The swings in mood I was experiencing were exacerbated by occupational / work-related stress but were also heavily affected by a mental health condition that I was unaware I had.
At the time, during a period of severe depression, I was convinced the solution was to give up my job and career and that following handing in my notice, everything would be perfect. I was devastated that this was the answer as I’d wanted to be a primary school teacher from my early childhood but, I was making myself ill and it just couldn’t continue. However, I soon realised that although some aspects of my situation had improved (less stress, better work-life balance, more time for self care for example), my mood swings (although not as severe) continued and I had highs, extreme lows and periods of balance. When I was stable, I would set goals for myself and filled my time in productive ways. I would wake up feeling good and ready to get on with things. When I was depressed, I completely lost my confidence, had extreme anxiety and felt like I was a waste of space and no use to anyone. When I was high (shortly after a depressive episode), I slept very little, was brimming with ideas for what I wanted to do and achieve, flitted from project to project often leaving them half unfinished, spent money on all sorts of items as everything looked attractive and definitely on my want/need list and basically felt like I could take on the world. This eventually caused burn out and resulted in another bout of depression or physical unwellness.
Fast forward a good few years and, although I still have mental health difficulties, a correct diagnosis, medication for my illness, a range of therapies and help from my support worker have put me in a much better place and I’m currently able to manage my moods more easily and occupy my days in useful ways that leave me satisfied and feeling like I’m making a difference (however small). I’m also able to add in mindful and calming activities into my day and can recognise when I need to take breaks and when I might be doing too much.
As some of you who read my blog posts regularly will know, I’m continually working on my physical and mental health in a number of effective ways and I even have paid work lined up with my local university for next month which will make full use of my skillset whilst offering me the opportunity to take a break during any future periods of mental ill health. I also have the chance to work and socialise with other individuals who have physical and/or mental health difficulties so I will feel less alone. For the first time since I resigned from teaching, I feel like my occupational wellness is getting to where it should be.
Asking yourself questions to consider your occupational wellness
I think it’s really important to reflect on the different aspects of your life regularly and consider how things are going. Asking questions can be hugely beneficial. Of course, the assessment questions you ask yourself will differ depending on your current life situation but below I’ve shared some examples which you can pick and choose from depending which are most relevant. You might want to spend some time thinking and considering your answers but another good idea is to make notes or do some journalling so you can deep dive into how things are for you, and evaluate if your needs are being met. This kind of activity is great for self care and building self awareness.
Again, I’ve tried my best to include everyone here but I apologise in advance if you feel like most or all of the questions aren’t relevant to you. If this is the case, you are more than welcome to drop a comment explaining why and I’ll rack my brains and see if I can create a few tailor made question ideas.
- How would you rate your current happiness and life satisfaction? Why?
- What is it about your current role or the way you occupy your time that makes you want to get up in the morning?
- What does an average week / work week look like to you? Does this support your physical and mental health? Why? Why not?
- Do you feel like your current employment / routine offers opportunities to expand your skills and use your strengths? Why? Why not?
- If you are a student, do your chosen subjects interest you and are you learning well? Does your degree choice suit you and are you getting the help and support you need to learn? Are you able to study independently? Have you found the right balance between studying and enjoying life?
- What are your career / life aspirations?
- What do you feel is important in your life right now? Does your occupation / lifestyle reflect this? If there are areas for improvement, what changes do you think you could make?
- Do you feel that you’re currently achieving balance between your work and leisure time? Are there any ways you could tweak things?
- What opportunities do you currently have to use your individual gifts, skills and talents (try making a list of them first if you’re unsure what they are) in order to gain purpose, happiness and enrichment in your life?
- Does how you currently occupy your time support your physical health? Why? Why not?
- Does how you currently occupy your time support your mental health? Why? Why not?
- Can you identify one change you could make to your life right now that would have a positive impact on your physical or mental health? (this could be asking for help rather than taking on all of the responsibility yourself, or simple putting your foot down and saying no!)
- Social connection is considered important for wellbeing (even during periods of low mood). Can you name the ways you connect with others on a regular basis? Do these connections help or hinder your mental health? Are there any changes you’d like to make in this area to improve your wellbeing? Do you shy away from social situations during periods of depression / anxiety or low mood? Can you think of ways to remain socially connected that seem management during difficult times?
- How do you manage your work related / family stress and responsibilities? If you struggle in this area, can you think of ways to improve?
- What’s your current attitude towards life / work? Does this support your health or not? Why?
What about if I’m struggling with depression right now and feel pretty useless?
As someone with bipolar disorder, I have plenty of experience of depressive episodes and recognise the daily struggles. However, what I’ve learnt is that, if you feel like you’ve achieved nothing with your day, it tends to make you feel much worse. For this reason, creating a structure or plan for your time can really help. This might include going to your local recovery college to learn something new, identifying small and achievable tasks to do on each day of the week or planning activities which you know (either now or in the past) have given you a little mood boost such as going for a walk in nature, meeting a friend for coffee or doing something mindful such as colouring in, working on a jigsaw or doing some word puzzles. Then, by bedtime, you can celebrate all of your achievements no matter how tiny they are. And don’t forget, even something like getting out of bed and getting dressed shouldn’t be dismissed! Check out my post on Behavioural Activation if you want more help with making a daily plan.
I hope you’ve found today’s blog post interesting or helpful in some way and it has made you think about your occupational wellbeing. I’ve tried to include something for everyone no matter what your current situation as I know my readers are all individual and at different stages of their lives. Let me know in the comments if a question or idea has particularly resonated with you as I love to hear the opinions and thoughts of others.
Until next time, take care.