It can be difficult to juggle the pressure and stress of a busy work life alongside mental ill health, or you may find it difficult to be in a work space with people on a daily basis if you’re not feeling your best. I’ve certainly been there before.
As society learns how to support people experiencing mental health issues, this is filtering into one of the places we find ourselves most regularly; at work.
These tips are here to help you take the important first steps to address difficulties in managing your mental health in a work environment by making well being a priority in your day-to-day life.
However, it’s important to remember that if this is an on-going problem, speak to a professional as soon as possible. You may need to consider alternative options (such as reduced hours or time off) to make your employment suit your health needs.
Talk to someone
This should be your first step. It can be easy to isolate yourself and start pushing away from people when you’re managing mental ill health but talking to someone is the crucial first step to changing your circumstances so you can feel well again.
Try talking to your manager, or a colleague you feel you have connected with about how you are feeling. It’s important to be honest so that you can get the support you deserve. If you don’t feel comfortable with your work peers just yet, could you speak to a family member or friend about the challenges you are facing? Starting this conversation might help you to feel more comfortable addressing the health issue in a work environment.
Work life balance
Take a look at the role that work plays in your life. If you start early, finish late and regularly work on projects or emails outside of typical hours then it is important for you to set clear boundaries – and stick to them.
Start by turning off your phone and laptop when you should, and resisting the temptation to check it ‘quickly’. It’s important that you schedule in down time for you to switch off from work and focus on yourself, especially if this doesn’t come naturally to you.
Identify stress and triggers
One thing I found useful was identifying where the stress and negative feelings were coming from, what was exacerbating them and what my triggers were which led to me having to take time off work.
By looking at any patterns in when your mood changes or key things which are causing difficulties for you, you can recognise the steps you could take to change or relieve them before they become a much bigger problem.
Review daily habits
How well are you looking after yourself in work? Try to make your daily work life as supportive to your general wellbeing as you can.
Are you taking lunch breaks? Are you eating properly? Are you getting enough to drink? Do you take breaks away from your screen?
These things can be easily forgotten when you’re busy but they play a really important role in your physical AND mental health. Avoid skipping meals, snacking on sugary treats or pumping yourself full of coffee. Instead, plan in time away from your screen and eat a nutritious meal to give yourself the energy you need for the rest of the day.
Even if it’s only for ten minutes, it’s important that you get out into the fresh air every day. It’s important to get some natural light as well as some time away from your screen or work place to decompress.
If you can spend your lunch break outside that that’s fantastic, but even if you can only commit to a 5 – 10 minute walk around the block, you can take yourself into a more calming, natural setting.
Employers have a responsibility towards the health and safety of their staff so it’s worth checking whether your organisation offers any form of employee assistance programme. You may find that there’s counselling sessions available or alternative working opportunities.
If there’s not currently anything in place, talking to your employer can help them to understand the challenges you’re facing so they’re better able to support staff both now and in the future with their mental health.
The great thing about technology is that businesses are starting to realise the value of allowing staff to work remotely and flexibly with their hours to suit their specific needs. Discuss opportunties for working in an environment or pattern that supports you so that you’re able to be productive AND mentally well.
It can be daunting to bring up struggles with your mental health in a professional work environment but as well as your employer having a duty of care towards you, it’s important that you prioritise your emotional wellbeing and ask for help when you need it.
It’s likely you spend a lot of time in work or doing work-related tasks so it’s worthwhile to make this part of your life as fulfilling or beneficial as possible. If improving your current work situation still doesn’t help, it might be worth considering another role or path that is more valuable or rewarding to you, as well as addressing the wider context and circumstances that are impacting your mental health.