6 Ways to Support Mental Health and Wellbeing at Work
The average individual spends a quarter of their adult life at work.
Work doesn’t just provide us means to finance daily life, it can also give us a sense of purpose and structure.
But work can also be a major source of stress.
In this article, you’re going to learn how to reduce stress and take care for your mental health and wellbeing at work.
Ready? Let’s get started!
- 2 Key Components For Wellbeing
- Work and Stress
- How to Look After Your Wellbeing at Work?
2 Key Components For Wellbeing
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as: ‘A state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’.
Our mental health affects the way we think, feel, and behave towards ourselves and others. It also affects our productivity and work quality.
Most people measure their wellbeing by their level of happiness. But there is more to wellbeing than the positive feelings of happiness.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that wellbeing also involves resilience: the ability to manage problems and challenges as well as bounce back, and recover from them.
In other words, wellbeing requires both, the ability to enjoy life and having the resources to manage life’s ups and downs without feeling overly stressed.
Work and Stress
Issues such as a poor working environment, unrealistic deadlines, poor communication and interpersonal relationships quality, too much responsibility and workload, and a lack of management support can increase stress for people at work.
Not to mention that most of us will also have to deal with stressful situation outside of work.
Although stress isn’t a disorder, the mental health charity Mind argues that, ‘it’s closely linked to your mental health in two important ways:
Stress can cause mental health problems, and make existing problems worse. For example, if you often struggle to manage feelings of stress, you might develop a mental health problem like anxiety or depression.
Mental health problems can cause stress. You might find coping with the day-to-day symptoms of your mental health problem, as well as potentially needing to manage medication, healthcare appointments or treatments, can become extra sources of stress.
This can start to feel like a vicious circle, and it might be hard to see where stress ends and your mental health problem begins.’
Stress is responsible for emotional and physical problems such as experiencing racing thoughts that won’t switch off, inability to concentrate, indecisiveness, irritability, impatience, aggressiveness, muscle tension, headaches, chest pains, indigestion or heartburn, constipation or diarrhoea, sleep problems, etc.
When left unchecked, excessive or prolonged stress can result in burnout – a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion can affect all areas of a person’s life, not just work.
Burnout is characterized by three dimensions:
1. Energy depletion or exhaustion;
2. Increased mental distance from one’s work, or increased negativity or cynicism related to one’s work;
3. Reduced professional efficacy.
How to Look After Your Wellbeing at Work?
To a large extent, your wellbeing at work is in your control.
You have the potential to build the resilience to deal with most situations, cope with difficulties and challenges, and bounce back.
#1. Establish and Maintain a Good Work–Life Balance
If you feel like work is taking over your life, that’s clue you’re not balancing work and life well.
This doesn’t just include the number of hours you spend at work or working, it also includes the time you spend thinking about it and the constant access to the internet, email, and texts even when you’re away from work.
A healthy work–life balance requires that both your work demands and your personal needs are being met.
If most of your time and attention are invested in work, you end up with little time or energy for anything else. The cumulative effect of neglecting your personal needs can leave you vulnerable to stress and eventually burnout along with other mental and physical issues.
Aspects of your life, such as rest, physical activity, healthy eating, leisure activities, and relationships are essential to help you cope with life challenges.
Assess your work-life balance by tracking down how many hours you’ve worked or spent thinking or worrying about work.
Think if you are neglecting other aspects of your life – time with family and friends, time for leisure activities, etc.
Becoming aware of the imbalance is the first step to take action.
Here are a few ways to disconnect and leave work behind:
1. Set a firm cut-off time
Set a firm time to get away from work by planning something afterwards, like attending an event, attending a yoga class, or meeting up with a friend.
2. Leave work at work
Before you leave work, empty your head by writing down a list of tasks or work-related notes that are on your mind. Writing things down can provide the same mental relief as actually completing the task.
3. Make the commute less stressful
Use your commute to calm yourself before and after work by using deep breathing exercises or a meditation app.
If you’re driving a good audiobook, or podcast can help you take your mind off work.
If you work from home, taking a walk can help you clear your mind and get some exercise done.
4. Set healthy boundaries
Set firm boundaries around when you are and aren’t, available.
Let clients or colleagues know that you won’t be able to respond outside of your working hours.
You can do this by setting up an automatic message that replies to out-of-office emails, like ‘Thank you for your email. My work hours are Monday– Friday, from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. I’ll reply to your email as soon as possible.’
Even if someone sends a text, unless it’s an emergency, resist the urge to respond and reply the next working day.
Disconnect your work email and stay away from your laptop.
Do something you enjoy that’s completely different from what you do at work.
#2. Take a Proper Lunch Break
If you use your lunch break to get more work done and eat at your desk, reclaim back your lunch break and start doing something different.
The following is a list ideas of things you can do on your lunch break:
1. Take an afternoon nap
3. Read a book
4. Listen to an audio book
5. Catch up on some podcasts
6. Catch up on your favorite TV show
7. Do some research on a topic you’re genuinely interested in
8. Have a Skype Date
9. Call a loved one
10. Send kind messages to your loved ones
11. Leave nice comments on friends posts on social media
12.Meet a friend for a lunch date
13. Go for a walk
14. Go to a park, take off your shoes, and watch the clouds
15. Stretch, or move your body in some way
16. Get a manicure or pedicure
17. Get a 15 minute massage at a local spa
18. Do some low-stress errands to reduce your post-work errand stress
19. Check out a local bookstore or library
20. Get a treat at a bakery
21. Visit a museum or an art gallery
22. Make some art
Taking breaks throughout your day, and especially during your lunch break is important to reduce stress and pressure and boost your energy.
It is also important to watch what you’re eating. Diet can make a difference to how you feel at any point in the day.
Bring food from home or choose healthy options when buying lunch. Avoid snacks that will make your blood sugar rise and fall rapidly, such as sweets, cakes, and sugary drinks. Instead, snack on fruits, vegetables, or nuts.
#3. Manage Stressful Busy Periods at Work
Having a proper work-life balance might not be enough to maintain your wellbeing when you struggle to manage the pressure at work – the amount of work you need to get done in the time you have.
The strain and distress that can result from being overloaded with pressure and demands can increase your work stress and eventually lead to burnout.
The best way to manage pressure is to remain present. Instead of becoming overwhelmed with how much you still have to do and how little time you have left, stay present with what’s happening and what you’re doing right now.
Here’s how you can do that:
1. Accept it
Recognize that there is only a certain amount of time available to get things done and let go of any thoughts of how unfair and difficult things are.
2. Focus on your breath
Focusing on your breath is the best way to bring your attention back to present and focus on the task at hand.
Breathing deeply will also help calm you and clear your mind.
3. Prioritize and plan
Successful people use the 80/20 rule to prioritize their work.
The 80/20 rule or the Pareto principle simply states that 20% of the work is responsible for 80% of the results.
So take a look at your tasks list and decide which key tasks are responsible for the most results (revenues, productivity, etc) and start with these.
4. Have realistic expectations and goals
Set realistic targets when it comes to how much could be done in an hour, a morning or a working day.
Leave room between activities and tasks. For instance, if have a meeting, block out a 15-minute slot afterwards to decompress or take care of anything urgent that might come up that you couldn’t have foreseen.
5. Manage your energy
When planning your working day take your energy levels into consideration.
For instance, if you’re a morning person, start with your key tasks first thing in the morning when your physical and mental energy and concentration levels are at a maximum and leave the more mundane ones for later.
#4. Know Your Limits and Be Assertive Enough to Say No
Feeling overwhelmed with the workload you have doesn’t mean you’re incompetent or that you need to toughen up.
You need to know your limit and when more work isn’t going to be worth it, whether for your physical and mental health or you’re your productivity at work.
The Mental Health Foundation recommends that ‘when work demands are too high, you must speak up. This includes speaking up when work expectations and demands are too much. Employers need to be aware of where the pressures lie in order to address them.’
Being assertive when you need to say no and turn other people down is a skill that needs practice.
When you say no to extra work or unnecessary meetings, you’re saying yes to more important things; doing your job more effectively and maintain your wellbeing.
1. Be clear about what you’re being asked to do
Before you commit yourself, make sure you’re clear about what’s involved and what the other person expects from you. Don’t be afraid to ask for more information.
If you don’t think you can do it, be clear about it rather than say yes and regret it later.
When saying no, be honest but give only one genuine reason.
2. Acknowledge the other person’s response but stand firm
For instance, you can say, ‘I understand you need someone to. . .
(acknowledging their response) but. . .I’m not going to be able to do it.’ (standing your ground).
3. Negotiate and compromise
You can still negotiate or compromise with the other person but be firm about what you can and can’t do.
For instance, you might say ‘I could ask someone else to do that for you,’ or, ‘I could maybe do that if you’re happy for me to drop a couple of other tasks and focus on this instead,’ or ‘I could get it done by a later date.’
#5. Get Help with Your Work
Mind’s publication How to Implement the Thriving at Work Mental Health Standards in Your Workplace recognizes that employees themselves are ‘responsible for accessing support when they need it and raising any concerns with their line manager, HR or occupational health.’
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the load of work you have, talking with your manager about this or asking a colleague to take something off your plate or work with you on something can be essential here for your wellbeing.
Asking for help doesn’t mean that you’re admitting you’re inadequate in some way. It simply shows that you know your limit and have enough courage to speak up for yourself.
Be direct and honest when asking for help. Don’t drop hints.
Consider whether the other person actually have time to take on more work and simply tell the other person what you’re needing help with and what you’d like them to do.
#6. Build Positive Relationships with Others
Positive, supportive relationships at work, is key to wellbeing and good mental health.
Other people can a source of support and make being at work more enjoyable.
Be more welcoming and nice to new members of staff. Remember what it was like when you were new and share the knowledge, the lessons, and the skills you’ve accumulated.
Aim to be sociable with your colleagues, especially when you take breaks, and before and after work. Find common ground, offer tea or coffee, and help whenever you can. Even a smile or asking how someone’s weekend was can make a difference to someone’s day.
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- Portions of this article were adapted from the book Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace, © 2020 by Donna Butler and Gill Hasson. All rights reserved.