May 10, 2022

How to switch off in the ‘always on’ world of PR

What’s great about a career in PR is that no day is the same. You become a jack of all trades; an expert in pretty much everything. One minute you’re writing a detailed briefing document with reactive statements for a VP of a blue-chip global company, and next you’re deciding which cupcake colours to go with for an influencer event.

Yes, it’s fast paced, but it’s incredibly rewarding.

But in the 12+ years I’ve been in PR, one thing I’ve often failed to do is ‘champion’ myself – especially in the early years. When I started on a grad scheme at a previous agency back in 2010, I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to get everything right. I was often the first one in, and the last one out. I worked tirelessly and gave myself a hard time.

This way of thinking intensified over the first few months in the job and before I knew it, I was experiencing anxiety for the first time. This impacted by sleep, and within six to nine months, I found myself battling insomnia on a nightly basis. I often wouldn’t drift off until after 3am, only to be up and getting ready a few hours later so I could make my desk by 8am.

For those lucky enough not to have experienced insomnia, I can safely say it’s one of the hardest things to live with. Sleep affects everything from your mood – you find yourself downbeat, with little enthusiasm for everyday tasks – to what you eat and when you eat it (hello chocolate), and of course, it can sometimes affect work.

Luckily, no one seemed to notice at the agency I was working for and to this day, I don’t think it impacted the quality of my work too much. I tried my best to not allow either of these things to happen. However, I do remember it took me 30 minutes to construct a simple email one day. I knew then that I needed to make some changes.

The biggest lessons I learned is not to struggle alone – being open and honest with how you’re feeling with loved ones is the first step. The second is putting measures in place to encourage you to switch off.

I had insomnia for four years, in which time I can’t remember really switching off – but today, I’m happy to say that’s no longer an issue and I’ve finally managed to shake it. It took a few years, but within time, I was able to slowly detach from work in my personal time and focus on me. I now love my sleep! My husband often laughs and says he can’t get his head around the fact I ever had insomnia, as he often finds that I’ve drifted off within a matter of minutes of my head hitting the pillow!

Here are few key things I have learnt from this season that may help others:

  • Don’t ignore it – realising that you’re suffering with a low mood is the first step towards feeling better again. Chat to your friends and family about how you’re feeling – after all, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. And if it’s something that’s impacting work, again be open with your line manager – yes, they are there for your professional development, but many forget how much they can support your personal development too.
  • Booking regular holidays and time off – even if you’re not planning to jet off into the sunset, make sure to plan your holiday allowance so you’re taking regular time off (within reason) throughout the year. Taking time to recharge the batteries and experience new things meant I returned to work feeling ready to take on the next challenge!
  • Plan to eat well – stress will have you reaching for the nearest sugar fix. When you have a busy week ahead, try and plan healthy meals in advance. Good food fuels the brain and improves mood, which is just what you need ahead of a big launch or campaign.
  • Respecting boundaries – at Ketchum, we have a policy in place that work related emails, Teams messages, WhatsApps and calls should only happen in working hours, unless urgent. Staff are encouraged to mute team notifications and turn their status to offline. This has been so helpful as you know that once it hits 5:30pm, communication drops off as you transition from work to home.
  • Meditation and breathing exercises – activities like these can work wonders for your wellbeing. Something I’ve started recently is ‘The Wim Hof Technique’ which involves powerful inhalation, relaxed exhalation, and prolonged breath holds. Followers of the technique report increased immunity, better sleep, reduced stress and heightened focus. It’s worked wonders for me and I’d encourage anyone to give it a go!

Many people don’t realise that insomnia or poor sleep affects your mood, so for Mental Health Awareness Week (9th to 15th May), I wanted to write about my experience and also share these tips on being able to switch off from work and create a better balance that works for you.

 

Written by Sophie Harte, Senior Account Director, Consumer Brands