Managing Mental Health at Work
Your mental health at work can make or break your career. It has been shown that having excellent mental health can improve thinking, decision-making, workflow, and work relationships.
Unfortunately, a 2015 study show that 15 million Americans experienced a major depressive episode in the previous year. And that doesn’t account for millions more who suffer grief, anxiety, low self-esteem, and other mental health issues.
The good news is that employers are starting to take note and take mental health seriously. More and more companies are putting mental health programs into place. But the reality is that you also need to take steps to manage your own mental health.
How? Here are some steps that will help.
Take Advantage of Employer Programs
The first thing to do is to discover and take advantage of any mental health programs your employer has in place. They are there to help you, so make sure they do!
It’s common to feel ashamed or to worry that using mental health services will impede your career. It’s OK to be discreet about the programs you use or the appointments you have. However, there’s no reason not to use the resources at your disposal.
Unilever is a company that is leading the way in this area. They have comprehensive programs in place, along with mental health training for leaders and employee workshops on caring for yourself.
Your company may not be that forward-thinking, but they likely have counseling services, wellness seminars, and other resources you can use.
Care For Your Physical Health
Your physical health is inexorably linked to your mental health. The more you can do for yourself physically, the better off you will be mentally.
Getting exercise can reduce anxiety and depression by increasing blood circulation and stimulating the limbic system. Exercise will also help you feel better about yourself, which improves self-esteem and enables you to perform far better at work.
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables also makes a big difference. They have a lot of nutrients that feed your mind and muscles. Eating less sugar also helps, as sugar can cause difficult energy crashes in the middle of your day.
Caring for your physical health is a big part of maintaining mental health!
Take Breaks and Lunches
In some workplaces, skipping breaks and lunch is tacitly encouraged. It’s illegal to deny someone a break, but you can create an environment where it feels “not OK” to do so.
If you’re in that kind of job, buck the trend and take the breaks you deserve. It’s vital for your mental health that you have downtime and take time to eat nourishing food.
Taking a break doesn’t mean you’re a “slacker.” In reality, breaks prevent decision fatigue, leading to better decision-making. They also restore motivation and increase productivity and creativity.
If you’re penalized at work for taking breaks and eating lunch, it’s not likely the kind of company you want to advance within anyway. Breaks are essential to your mental health at work.
Build a Strong Social Network
Feeling isolated can have a significant negative impact on your mental state. Numerous studies have shown that friendships and good family relationships increase your sense of belonging, boost happiness, and reduce stress.
However, as an adult you might find it challenging to create strong friendships. You can reach out and meet new people through meetup groups, book clubs, or religious groups. It takes time and energy to maintain friendships, but it’s well worth it in terms of your mental health.
At the same time, harmful or toxic friendships can drag you down. It’s OK to cut ties with someone, even if you’ve known them for years. It can dramatically improve your mental state and help you perform better in every area of your life, including work.
Make Your Workspace Pleasant
Most companies allow you to decorate your desk or work area to some extent. Think about the images, pictures, and reminders that help you stay motivated and focused.
Maybe you love being reminded of your kids as you work, and it helps you remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. Or, you may have special friends or unique artwork you enjoy.
If you like humor, hang up some of your favorite (work-appropriate) comics or sayings. If you need something to hold your pens or supplies anyway, you might as well make it something attractive or cute that you enjoy seeing.
You can enjoy being in your workspace when it’s filled with items that motivate you. It will be much easier to manage your stress and mental health.
Allow Yourself to Feel Your Feelings – Even at Work
This might be the hardest tip in the whole list. The reality is that suppressing your emotions is not only almost impossible; it’s also very unhealthy. Suppressing your feelings not only causes mental health problems, but it also causes physical illness such as heart disease, digestive problems, headaches, and more.
You might be asking, “But I’m at work! How can I express emotions there?”
The answer is to practice ways to excuse yourself so that you find a private area to feel your frustration or overwhelm and compose yourself so you can move forward.
Practice saying things like, “Excuse me, I’ll be back in a moment.” All you need is a few phrases in your pocket that get you away from the situation and buy you some time, even if it’s just a few minutes.
With this, you can go for a walk, to the bathroom, or to your car to privately express your emotions and gather yourself. It might even help to say to yourself out loud, “I’m very upset right now, and that’s OK.”
What you’ll find, though it might surprise you, is that emotions pass much more quickly when you acknowledge them than when you try to ignore or stuff them.
Your Mental Health Matters
There’s a significant stigma surrounding mental health issues in society and at work. That doesn’t mean that your mental health is unimportant.
In fact, when you take care of yourself on the job and off, you’ll be a better worker and a better human. You matter. Prioritize your mental health!