A chat with mental health expert James Routledge, founder of Sanctus

We caught up with James during Stress Awareness Month to talk to him about his life, his work, his motivations – and how our homes impact our stress levels.

How a break-down led to a start-up


Trussle: Thanks for sharing your story with us today, James. Can you tell us a little about how you got started on this journey to founding a mental health organisation?

James: Sure. I dropped out of university to start a business and pursue the startup dream. I wanted to get rich quick and thought building a business would make me feel important and good about myself.

Put simply, I was a bit of a classic ‘type A,’ with lots of ego and lots of bravado – and I would very rarely show vulnerability as I thought that would mean showing weakness.

I essentially broke down a year after shutting down my first business. It wasn’t a breakdown in the sense of leaving work and so on. However, the issues I’d bottled up for a long time surfaced in anxiety and panic attacks. That was the first time I’d felt mental health in a really embodied way; I literally felt it.

From then on, I realised how scared I was, how little I knew about myself and my mental health. That was the catalyst for me to get involved in the area.

As time went by, I opened up to other people about what I’d been through, and it was through sharing my story that I was inspired to continue to send this message that we all have mental health – and that we should treat it in the same was as we treat our physical health.

And it was this experience that led to you founding Sanctus. Do you have a vision of what you want it to achieve?

As a brand, it’s our mission to change the perception of mental health. We have a vision to put the world’s first mental health gym on the high street.

On a more day-to-day basis, what difference does the work you do at Sanctus make to people’s lives?

I’d like to think the impact we have on people is two-fold.

First off, on a cultural level, we’re part of a movement to normalise conversations around mental health.

Secondly, on a ‘product’ level, we want to make mental health more accessible to people.

That’s why we’ve put Sanctus coaches in the workplace to create a safe and impartial space for people to talk to someone about their mental health at work.

What role do you think stress plays in someone’s overall mental health?

To me, stress is one part of mental health and something many people can relate to.

It’s my dream to create a world where we treat mental health just like physical health, and where we talk as freely about an issue such as stress, as we would about the common cold.

Creating a stress-free home


We’ve talked about stress in the workplace, so let’s look at stress outside of work. What are the key ways in which people’s homes can impact on their stress levels?

Speaking from my own experience, I’ve definitely noticed a link between how settled I feel in my home and my mental health. A person’s environment plays a huge role in their mental health.

If someone doesn’t feel safe and secure – or doesn’t feel as though they belong – they can end up feeling really disconnected and isolated.

There’s a correlation between the times when I’ve felt very low and when I’ve been the most unsettled and felt the most alone.

By contrast, the times when I’ve felt the most connected and alive have been when I’ve felt settled, secure, and part of a group.

Do you have any tips to help people create a stress-free home?

I don’t think there’s a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution as it’s different for everyone. But what I do believe is that you have to start with you.

Begin by carrying out an audit of your life, your values – and what you want – and then the environment you need to create around you will stem from that.

Yankee candles and long baths might be the answer for some, but they’re not going to be right for everyone.

You mentioned how a person’s environment plays a role shaping their mental health. How important is it to be able to find a space to relax at home?

Home can definitely be your sanctuary, so you need to make it a place where you can unwind.

That said, other spaces – and activities – can provide that relaxation too. For example, walking, cycling, running, the gym, sports teams, communities, and meetups can all offer a ‘place’ where you can relax.

Finding spaces in your life that are just for you – whether that be at home or elsewhere – is so important. These spaces are beneficial to your mental health.

Talking about mental health


So what can people do to create a better work-life balance?

One of the things that a lot of people could benefit from is learning to say ‘no.’

Saying no – and creating boundaries in your life around what you will and won’t do – is massively beneficial both to your mental health, and to your relationship with work.

What else would you like to see done better in terms of helping people manage their stress?

I’d like to see people having more open conversations with the people around them.

Stress isn’t going anywhere so we need to be honest about it. We need to talk about it and support each other.

And finally, what else would you like to see happen in terms of changing the perception of mental health more generally?

More talking. More sharing. More people in positions of influence openly telling their stories. And, of course, more businesses investing in their people and caring for their mental health.

This article was written by Esther Shaw, an award-winning financial and property journalist who’s written for The Independent, The Mail on Sunday, The Telegraph, and Good Housekeeping.

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