Mental health in the workplace is a topic that I personally feel is not addressed enough. According to the National Institute of Mental Health Disorders, an estimated 26% of Americans aged 18 or over suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder each year. That’s over a quarter of the American population. With so many of us facing mental health issues each year, it is important to know how to stop your mental health from impacting your working life.
How to stop your mental health from impacting your working life
Our mental health, which includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being, can impact all aspects of our life. With contemporary working becoming increasingly more complicated, stressful and demanding, our mental health is becoming even harder to manage.
Unfortunately, we can’t just switch poor mental health on and off. But, at work, poor mental health can lead to worse attitude, lower motivation, sickness and just generally feeling unfulfilled and unhappy. So, what can YOU do to stop your mental health impacting your working life?
Find a counselor
When facing a mental health issues, it can really feel like you’re going through it alone. One of the best bits of advice I can offer you, as a psychologist, is to seek professional help. There are hundreds of benefits of talking to a counsellor, but the biggest is that counseling offers a safe and open space, where there is no judgment, to address your feelings and release your emotions.
Speaking about how you feel may seem daunting, but it can help you get things off your chest. It can make you feel less weighted down by your emotions and, in return, this will make you feel understood, happier and more fulfilled.
In fact, it has actually been found that when counseling is offered in the workplace, it alleviates psychological problems AND has an impact on sickness absence and on attitudes to work. So, if you have a workplace counsellor then you should definitely use them. If you don’t, ask your boss if they have the budget to bring one in. If worse comes to worse, try to source your own. I promise you that you won’t regret it.
Get your boss onboard to stop your mental health impacting your working life
As well as seeking professional support, its really important to communicate with your boss/team leader (or whoever is in charge). If they don’t know how you’re feeling, they can’t help you. Telling them may seem daunting, but if they understand what is going on then they might allow you some time off to attend counseling. Or, they might give you an extensions on deadlines that are increasing your stress, anxiety and/or lowering your mood.
As well as talking to your boss, I recommend talking to your friends, family and work colleagues. As I mentioned early, 1 in 4 people in the United States alone suffer with mental illness. The chances are, a lot of the people you’re talking to will have gone through a similar thing. Therefore, they will understand and be supportive. They might offer you advice about how they handled it and offer you some really helpful coping mechanisms. At the end of the day, a problem shared is a problem halved.
Find some time to exercise
I’ll admit that I’m a fitness fanatic. I genuinely believe that a lot of our daily worries and struggles can be resolved by shifting some heavy metal or pounding our feet on the road for miles and miles.
Of course, I don’t think ALL our issues can be solved by exercise – granted, somethings are far more complicated. But, it has been proven, over and over again, that exercise can improve our mental health, as it releases endorphins which can drastically improve our mood. For instance, it was found that adults who were more physically active had lower stress rates than those who were less active. And of course, the more stressed we are, the poorer our mental health.
You don’t need to go hell for leather every single day. It has actually been found that low-intensity aerobic exercise, for 30 to 35 minutes, 3-5 days a week, was the best at increasing positive mood.
Overall, physical activity is a great way to reduce our mental illness: it is free, it has no side effects, it’s natural and we can all make time to do it. Consider maybe exercising just before work, as this endorphin rush will improve your mood first thing and will then allow you to feel happy and positive throughout the entire day.
Invent some coping mechanisms
Although it’d be great to take some time off to focus on our mental health, nearly all of us have to go to work to make money so it’s not really a viable solution. Instead, we need to figure out things we can do whilst at work to help us. And, coping mechanisms are just the thing!
Here are some of my favorite coping mechanisms that you could use:
- Get things organized. This one is really simple. Often, anxiety can rise because we feel that we have too much to do. To help organize your life and realize what needs doing, use online diaries, planners, pop-up reminders or notifications. I even suggest breaking big tasks into smaller and more manageable tasks, as this will make them seem less overwhelming.
- Take five minutes whenever you feel like it’s getting too much. This follows on from my earlier point, where I recommended speaking to your boss. If they know you are struggling with your mental health, they will be understanding when you disappear unannounced for a couple of minutes! When you take a break, head outside for some fresh air, take some deep breaths and try to get your thoughts together.
- Track stressors. Everyday at work, we should be noticing the things that cause us stress and noting them down. If we are aware of what makes us stressed, we can do something about it and try to fix it.
- Fact check. This is a coping mechanism I use a lot myself. When we feel overwhelmed, we forget that there is a difference between facts and feelings. If we feel like we are rubbish at our jobs, we believe it. But look at the facts: did you meet all your deadlines? Are you a great team player? Or, you might think Bob from IT really hates you because he’s moody and short tempered with you. But, is Bob from IT just a bit miserable and like that with everyone? When managing your mental health at work (or anywhere, in fact) make sure you are differentiating the facts from feelings.
Learn how to relax, meditate and switch off
This one is perhaps obvious, but surprisingly very overlooked. Ten minutes of meditation each morning, before getting ready for work, will enable you to clear your head and prepare yourself for the day ahead. Meditation is a cost effective and simple way to help prevent depression and anxiety from intruding on your working life and there are plenty of free/low cost phone apps that you can use at home for guided meditation.
Similarly, learning relaxation techniques to use after work will help you unwind and switch off from the workplace. You could also consider going for walks, reading a book, having a bath, cooking, socializing, taking up a new hobby – basically, taking some YOU time after a day at work to recover, reflect and unwind.