I’m the VP of Internal Communications and Company Culture at Insider Inc. Here are my four tips to improve your mental health at work.
For many people, work is the ultimate source of stress.
The internet is full of tips, to-dos, and not-to-dos.
The most effective way to improve your mental health at work is to figure out which tips actually work for you — and the best ones are easier than you think.
When it comes to balancing work and health, many Americans prioritize work, either by choice or necessity. And yet, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has found that a quarter of Americans say work is their number one source of stress. The internet and bookstores are filled with advice about how to improve your mental health at work, reduce stress, and live a healthier life, but the sheer amount of advice can be overwhelming. To simplify things, I’ve compiled four small steps you can take to improve your mental health at work starting today. The trick is to tailor them to you.
Pay attention to your body
Knowing things like what time you actually get tired at night, how many hours of sleep make you feel the most refreshed, when you’re going to get your period, and what time of day is best for you to exercise can all help you organize your time and make the best decisions for your health. I get hungry every day at eleven in the morning, no matter what, and I have done so my entire life. And yet, I used to force myself to wait and eat lunch during a “normal” time, ending up hangry and tired in the process. Making sure that I eat when I’m actually hungry keeps me alert and energized, not tired and starving. While depression, anxiety, and stress can express themselves in physical symptoms, reducing physical stress can also alleviate mental stress. Listen to what your body is telling you and don’t ignore the message.
Make mental health part of the conversation
Bringing your full self to work and being authentic about your experience can help you connect with your coworkers. Opening up about your mental health if it is safe for you to do so isn’t an excuse or a weakness; it’s just another fact about yourself that makes you you. Once, when I was getting coffee in the kitchen, a co-worker greeted me with a standard “Hey, how are you?” This coworker was an acquaintance, so I was honest and said, “Eh, I’m not having a great mental health day, but I’m glad to have work to focus on.” Later, another co-worker who had overheard the conversation messaged me to say thank you. They said, “I’ve never heard someone mention mental health at work. I’m also having a bad mental health day and knowing that I’m not the only one was actually really nice.” I felt the same way.
It is a personal decision to disclose information about your health in the workplace, especially if your health has had a negative impact on your performance or you are worried that it might hurt your career. There are ways to talk to your boss about your mental health and again, this journey is not the same for everyone. Take care of yourself first and if necessary, work with a licensed mental health professional.
“Instead of trying to incorporate every bit of self help into your day — which will probably lead to analysis paralysis — figure out which tips actually work best for you.”
Schedule time to recharge
There are tons of articles and studies that say that taking breaks from your computer, working movement into your day, meditating, or simply stopping and doing nothing can be beneficial for your mental and physical health, and yet I hear many coworkers say they never get up from their desks or they’ve continued to work through headaches or eye twitches. Even though the World Health Organization has medically legitimized burnout as a "syndrome," and millennials consider themselves the “burnout generation,” few of us seem to be doing anything to combat it. I myself am guilty of eating desk lunch and working for nine hours straight without taking a mental break, which any self-help article will tell you are big no-nos. I’ve found that the best way to incorporate the many tips into your own life is to figure out the one or two that work best for you.
I walk around a lot, so I would never get a standing desk, while my more stationary co-workers swear by them. I don’t actually mind eating lunch at my desk since I eat smaller meals more frequently and when I’m in a state of flow, nine hours can go by in a flash. I do, however, always feel better if I go outside at some point during the workday. I feel even better if I walk down to the waterfront, a mere ten minutes from our office, and yet, entire months go by where I don’t do it. Instead of trying to incorporate every bit of self help into your day — which will probably lead to analysis paralysis — figure out which tips actually work best for you. For the past few weeks, I have committed to going outside once a day during the workday (even if I simply walk around the block) and walking down to the waterfront once a week. Since walking is something I truly enjoy, it feels like a major break and is actually refreshing.
Give yourself a mini-coaching session
At least once a week or so, I’ll take about twenty minutes and check in with myself. You can do this anywhere; I like to do it at home on a Sunday with my planner and some coffee, but I’ve also done it while waiting for folks to show up to a morning meeting or on the subway home from work as well. Think about your work life and your home life. Create a checklist with questions like:
Is there anything hanging over my head or anything I would like to change that I know would make my life better? Is there a quick fix I can execute in the next few days?
When was the last time I was sick? Am I tired? Am I in pain? Is there something I can do right now to alleviate that?
Is there something I’m looking forward to in the next month or few months? Is there a nice memory from the last few weeks that I can replay in my head or share with someone to solidify it in my mind?
Is there something nice I can do for myself in the next ten minutes?
You can just take time to think or write these things down. One of the characteristics of burnout is the inability to complete (seemingly) simple tasks. Checking in will make it easier for you to make that doctor’s appointment, or stand up and stretch. Then you can go ahead and reward yourself for accomplishing these to-dos. Being mindful and taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be a huge commitment or time-suck, but the benefits can be huge.
Editor’s Note: This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice, is not a substitute for such advice, and should not be used to make a diagnosis or treat a condition. If your mental health is suffering, please consult with a licensed mental health professional.