By Lauren McCluskey | 16 Mar 2020

How to Take Care of Your Mental Health at Work

This blog looks at some of the different strategies that can help you to take care of your mental health, both at home and at work. See which approach works best for you and if there are any new techniques you can try out.

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Mental health in the workplace is becoming an increasingly important issue. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates depression and anxiety related conditions costs the global economy up to USD 1 trillion a year in lost productivity, and that one in four of us will be impacted by a mental health issue at some point in our lives.

As a result, companies around the world are doing more to support their employees’ mental health. Many businesses now actively promote the importance of work-life balance or allow employees to take “mental health days”. While such employer led schemes are hugely beneficial, it’s also important we take time to invest in our own mental health.

Take Care of Your Mental Health at Work

For many self-managing your mental health can be difficult, especially if you are already feeling anxious or depressed. However it’s important to remember that taking care of your mental health at work isn’t just something you do from 9 to 5, and that looking after your mental health more broadly will also pay dividends in the workplace.

This blog looks at some of the different strategies that can help you to take care of your mental health, both at home and at work. See which approach works best for you and if there are any new techniques you can try out.

Take Time to Talk, Unload, and to Ask for Help

Discussing how we feel at work can be tough. Whether our issues relate to the workplace, home, or elsewhere in our lives, it can often feel like our job merely exacerbates these issues.

Put your mental health first and try to find someone at work that you can talk to. This doesn’t have to be a manager or a supervisor. If you’re in a leadership position, try not to be afraid to discuss your feelings. If the rest of the office sees that you’re open it might encourage others to talk.

If you feel unable to speak to someone directly at work, many employers now offer pastoral services or helplines you can call for a confidential discussion.

Outside of work, make it a personal priority to keep in touch with friends and family members. Spend time with the people you care about. Talking through work pressures with those you are close to can help, as they are removed from your workplace and may be able to provide a fresh perspective.

Don’t just exchange Likes on Facebook or consider participation in a WhatsApp group as keeping in touch! Real life social interaction is important to our mental health, but in a world connected by technology it’s often the thing we neglect the most.

Most importantly, if you feel like you’re really struggling, ask for help. If you find this difficult to do in person or with people you know, search online for mental health support and for people to talk to.

Stay Active

The link between exercise and improved mental health is well-established. If your job is office based and involves hours sitting at a desk, you might need to be creative about how you stay active during the day.

  • Use methods such as the pomodoro technique to manage your activity. This is predominantly used as a productivity tool but can be great for reminding you to get out of your chair and get moving every 25 minutes. Regular walks around the office or hosting standing meetings can work wonders.
  • Get up and talk. If you need to speak to someone at the other end of the office, go and speak to them rather than communicating via email or messenger. As well as keeping you moving this is also a great social interaction opportunity.
  • Ban yourself from eating at your desk. Even if you work in a big city, there’ll usually be a park close by where you can go at lunchtime. Get out of the office and take a walk!
  • Walking or cycling at least part of your route home is also a great opportunity to process any negative thoughts you may be having and to put workplace stress and anxiety into perspective.

Eat and Drink Well

Working 40-plus hours per week can make eating well difficult for many of us, but there are plenty of simple techniques to help you eat and drink well. A small amount of advance planning is key to avoiding this well-known food trap…

Sugary breakfast on the go Morning sugar crash, leading to Unhealthy, fast food lunch Feeling rubbish all afternoon, leading to Unhealthy, comfort food dinner

We’re all entitled to the occasional off day, but if most of your days look like this, not only will you be hurting your physical health but your mental wellbeing will suffer too.

Great ways to plan your “food week” and avoid unhealthy foods are:

  • Become a “food prepper” and spend part of the weekend planning and preparing your meals for the week ahead.
  • Eat slow release breakfasts such as porridge or prepare a fruit and yogurt that you can eat on the go. Whatever you like for breakfast, prepare it the night before so you’re ready to go even if you oversleep.
  • Deliberately cook too much for dinner and take the leftovers to work as your lunch.
  • Take healthy snacks to work with you that will keep blood sugar stable and energy levels high throughout the day.

When it comes to drinking, make your walks around the office coincide with refilling your water cup. Caffeine and sugar are known to exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety, so if you enjoy a cup of coffee or a carbonated drink at work, try to cut down. Water with a slice of fruit is a great way to ensure you’re drinking healthily while also getting some taste.

It also goes without saying that you should limit your alcohol intake; the link between alcohol consumption and mental health is well known and even moderate drinking has been shown to increase occurrences of unhealthy eating.

Take the Time You Need to Look After Yourself

Whether you need to take five minutes to go outside and get some fresh air or take advantage of a mental health day if your employer offers them, it’s crucial that you make time to look after yourself.  A change of scenery, even for a short time, is often all it takes to help you ease any feelings of stress and anxiety.

You should also plan to use your annual leave entitlement throughout the year. Even if you don’t take a vacation, spending a week or two at home disconnected from work will make a huge difference to your mental health.

Speaking of being disconnected, we know it’s difficult to do in the modern world, but if you’re able to leave work at the office and avoid spend your evenings and weekends checking emails or talking about work with colleagues, this will also be of significant benefit to your mental health.

Do Something You Enjoy

Although we may enjoy some aspects of our jobs and get on with our colleagues, very few of us are doing what we’d call our “dream job”, particularly due to financial restraints.

That’s why doing something you enjoy or are good at during your down time is crucial. Whether it’s going hiking, joining a cookery class or re-reading your favourite book, we all have something that motivates and nurtures us.

Although we all need days where we relax and do nothing, getting out and reconnecting with things we love to do is a great way to safeguard your mental wellbeing. If you’re able to plan your annual leave around these activities, you’ll also have something to look forward to which will have a positive boost on your motivation levels while at work.

Ask Someone How They Are

As well as looking after your own mental health, it’s important to look out for others.

It can be easy to overlook what is happening in another person’s life, but something as simple as asking a colleague how they are can make a big difference.

If there’s an idea we’ve talked about here that you think someone could benefit from, share it! We should all be more open about talking about our mental health to help avoid the stigma that it is sometimes associated with.

Take Care of Your Mental Health at Work

Taking care of your mental health at work starts and ends with taking care of your mental health in general. Building up good habits to help maintain your mental health will pay dividends in the long term.

Start putting these ideas into practice in your life today. It’s easy to let work take over and dictate how you feel, but with a little time and effort you can take control and work to achieve positive wellbeing both at work and at home.

By Lauren McCluskey

Lauren is a certified HR practitioner and has gained generalist HR experience in service and aviation industries working with key international brands supporting large client groups. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Business, majoring in Human Resources and Economics, and is Training and Assessment (TAA) qualified. 

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