How to Handle Mental Health at Workplace
For many of us, work is a major part of our lives. It is where we spend much of our time, where we get our income and often where we make our friends.
Having a fulfilling job can be good for your mental health and general wellbeing.
People working from home face different kinds of challenges. We will be talking about these in this article and also on measures to handle them.
What is Mental Health?
Mental health is the way we think and feel and our ability to deal with ups and downs.
When we enjoy good mental health, we have a sense of purpose and direction, the energy to do the things we want to do, and the ability to deal with the challenges that happen in our lives.
When we think about our physical health, there's a place for keeping ourselves fit, and a place for getting appropriate help as early as possible so we can get better. Mental health is just the same.
If you enjoy good mental health, you can:
- make the most of your potential
- cope with what life throws at you
- play a full part in your relationships, your workplace, and your community.
Your mental health doesn’t always stay the same. It can fluctuate as circumstances change and as you move through different stages in your life.
Distress is a word used to describe times when a person isn’t coping – for whatever reason. It could be something at home, the pressure of work, or the start of a mental health problem like depression.
When we feel distressed, we need a compassionate, human response. The earlier we are able to recognize when something isn’t quite right, the earlier we can get support.
What Are Mental Health Problems?
We all have times when we feel down, stressed or frightened. Most of the time those feelings pass, but sometimes they develop into a mental health problem like anxiety or depression, which can impact on our daily lives.
Factors like poverty, genetics, childhood trauma, discrimination, or ongoing physical illness make it more likely that we will develop mental health problems, but mental health problems can happen to anybody.
Different mental health problems affect people in different ways and it’s key to understand an individual’s experience.
Diagnosis is not a definite way to understand a person’s experience. Some people with schizophrenia for example live pretty much ordinary lives, and some people with anxiety are severely impacted by their condition
How Do I Recognize A Mental Health Problem?
If we have significant challenges in our home or work life, the chances are that it has an impact on our mental health.
Mental health problems can have a lot of different symptoms and signs. As a rule, you should seek help from your GP if you have difficult feelings that are:
- stopping you from getting on with life
- having a big impact on the people you live or work with
- affecting your mood over several weeks
- causing you to have thoughts of suicide.
At work, we might notice that we are more tired than usual. We might make uncharacteristic mistakes, find it hard to motivate ourselves, our timekeeping might slip, or we may be short tempered.
We might look or feel very tired or drained. We might find we isolate ourselves, avoid colleagues or appear distracted. We might procrastinate more – or grind to a halt altogether.
Or we might speed up or become chaotic, intruding into others’ conversations and work, and taking on more work than we can manage.
We may find these early warning signs hard to see in ourselves, and it can help to have colleagues who can help us connect this to our mental health.
If things progress, you might see more obvious signs of a mental health problem in a colleague – outbursts of anger or emotion, absences from work, or not looking after their appearance as they normally would.
You may see signs that they have been sleeping less or perhaps drinking more in the evening.
Why Don't People Talk About Mental Health?
Awareness of mental health is increasing, but we still face a world where people with mental health problems face discrimination.
They can face challenges getting the help they need. Many people who experience distress try to keep their feelings hidden because they are afraid of other people’s responses.
Fear of discrimination and feelings of shame are among the top reasons people give for not telling their colleagues about their mental health problems.
When we create workplace cultures where people can be themselves, it is easier for people to speak about mental health concerns without fear, and easier for them to reach out for help when they need it.
Looking After Your Mental Health At Work
We can all take steps to improve our own mental health, and build our resilience – our ability to cope with adversity. Self-care is a skill that needs to be practiced. It isn’t easy, especially if we feel anxious, depressed or low in self-esteem.
Try looking through the 10 evidence-based ways to improve your mental health below. These are even more relevant if you work from home or remote.
There’s bound to be one or two you do well. These can be your assets – your go-to methods for working on your wellbeing.
Look for one or two you find hard. These can be your challenges. It may be that these areas are the ones you neglect under stress – for example drinking too much, isolating yourself or comfort eating.
Finally, look for one or two areas that you feel you could work on or try. These can be goals.
Your goals and challenges can be the same but it's sometimes kinder to yourself to have some goals that you can meet more easily.
1. Talk About Your Feelings
Talking about your feelings can help you maintain your mental health and deal with times when you feel troubled. Talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s part of taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy.
It can be hard to talk about feelings. If you have colleagues you can talk to, or a manager who asks how you are at supervision sessions, it can really help.
Especially if you are working from home, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and reach out to a colleague. Working from home can often lead to loneliness and isolation.
Identify someone you feel comfortable with and who will be supportive. You may want to think about what you want to disclose, who to and when a good time and place to do this could be.
If you are open about how you feel at work, especially if you are a leader, it might encourage others to do the same.
If you don’t feel able to talk about feelings at work, make sure there’s someone you can discuss work pressures with – partners, friends and family can all be a sounding board.
2. Keep Active
Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and can help you concentrate, sleep, and look and feel better.
Exercising doesn’t just mean doing sport or going to the gym. Experts say that most people should do about 30 minutes’ exercise at least five days a week. Try to make physical activity that you enjoy a part of your day.
It can make a huge difference to get out for a walk or do a class at lunchtime, or to build in exercise before or after work to ease you into the day or create a space between work time and personal time.
3. Eat Well
What we eat can affect how we feel both immediately and in the longer term. A diet that is good for your physical health is also good for your mental health.
It can be hard to keep up a healthy pattern of eating at work. Regular meals, plus plenty of water, are ideal. Try and plan for mealtimes at work – bringing food from home or choosing healthy options when buying lunch.
Try and get away from your desk to eat.For busy times, or times when you are feeling low or stressed, try reducing or giving up caffeine and refined sugar. Make sure there is a ready supply of fruit/vegetables and snacks like nuts or trail mix that provides ready nutrients.
4. Drink Sensibly
We often drink alcohol to change our mood. Some people drink to deal with fear or loneliness, but the effect is only temporary.
Most people don't drink at work – but most of us recognize the pattern of drinking more at the weekend or in the evening when work is hard going.
Be careful with work functions that include drinking. It can be tempting to have a drink to get 'Dutch courage', but if you feel anxious you may drink too much and end up behaving in a way you'd rather not, which will increase feelings of anxiety in the medium to long term.
5. Keep In Touch
Relationships are key to our mental health. Working in a supportive team is hugely important for our mental health at work.
We don’t always have a choice about who we work with, and if we don’t get on with managers, colleagues or clients, it can create tension. It may be that you need to practice more self-care at these times, but you may also need to address difficulties.
Work politics can be a real challenge when we have mental health problems. It can be helpful to find a mentor or a small group of trusted colleagues with whom you can discuss feelings about work – to sense check and help you work through challenges.
Try and make sure you maintain your friendships and family relationships even when work is intense – a work–life balance is important, and experts now believe that loneliness may be as bad for our health as smoking or obesity.
6. Ask For Help
None of us are superhuman. We all sometimes get tired or overwhelmed by how we feel or when things don’t go to plan.
Your employer may have an employee assistance program. These services are confidential and can be accessed free and without work finding out. You may also be able to access occupational health support through your line manager or HR service.
The first port of call in the health service is your GP. Over a third of visits to GPs are about mental health. Your GP may suggest ways that you or your family can help you, or they may refer you to a specialist or another part of the health service. Your GP may be able to refer you to a counselor.
7. Take A Break
A change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental health.
It could be a five-minute pause from what you are doing, a book or podcast during the commute, a half-hour lunch break at work, or a weekend exploring somewhere new. A few minutes can be enough to de-stress you. Give yourself some 'me time'.
If your employer offers mental health days – discretionary leave to look after your wellbeing – take these, and make sure you use them well. It can be hard to take holidays and time off from work.
When we are stressed, it can seem even harder to take the breaks we are entitled to – when we need them most. Try and plan periods of leave for the year so that you always have a break to look forward to.
When you are on leave or at home, resist the temptation to check in with work. If you find that you can’t break away, it may be a sign that you should be re-examining your workload to manage stress.
Sleep is essential to our mental health. Listen to your body. Without good sleep, our mental health suffers and our concentration goes downhill.
8. Do Something You're Good At
What do you love doing? What activities can you lose yourself in? What did you love doing in the past? Enjoying yourself can help beat stress.
Doing an activity you enjoy probably means you’re good at it, and achieving something boosts your self-esteem.
Concentrating on a hobby, like gardening or doing crosswords, can help you forget your worries for a while and can change your mood.
It’s OK to be good at your job – when you feel stressed, it can be easy to forget your talents, or fall foul of imposter syndrome (where you feel like a fraud, or that you don't deserve your successes).
If possible, you should plan your workload to include tasks you know you are good at, so as to 'sandwich' things you know will be harder or more stressful.
At work, you may have a hobby you'd like to share or join in with colleagues on – a work cycling club, book group or crafting group can be a great way to share a skill with others.
9. Accept Who You Are
We’re all different. It’s much healthier to accept that you're unique than to wish you were more like someone else.
Feeling good about yourself boosts your confidence to learn new skills, visit new places and make new friends. Good self-esteem helps you cope when life takes a difficult turn.
Be proud of who you are. Recognize and accept the things you may not be good at, but also focus on what you can do well. If there's anything about yourself you would like to change, are your expectations realistic? If they are, work towards the change in small steps.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that involves paying deliberate attention to what is happening, as it happens. Mindfulness practice can help us to be more present with ourselves, our work, and our families.
It can help us feel more connected, take stock, and be compassionate to ourselves and others.
10. Care For Others
Caring for others is often an important part of keeping up relationships with people close to you.
Working life can provide opportunities to care for others – contributing through vocational jobs like nursing or care work can be hugely significant for mental health.
In most jobs, you can choose to be there for colleagues – either as a team-mate, or as a line manager, when strategies like coaching and training are good ways to support others.
Helping can make us feel needed and valued, and that boosts our self-esteem. Volunteering can be hugely rewarding, and it helps us to see the world from another angle. This can help to put our own problems into perspective.
Tips for maintaining mental health for home and remote working
1. IT And Technology
For many of us IT and technology will be a lifeline during a period when our working patterns will change. However, for some of us, the move to spending a lot of our working time online may take some adjusting to, especially if we find technology difficult or overwhelming.
Here are some things you can do to help you adjust:
- Ask for help with IT – from your IT department and from your colleagues. Wherever possible try and use equipment provided by work - but if you find that there is no alternative, you can use most conference software on your mobile and tablet.
- Use online training to learn new skills - Microsoft and other companies provide remote working software and have good, free videos available to help you.
- Try and use video calls whenever you can - there's no substitute for seeing another person's face. If videoconferencing is not available to you, then you can try using WhatsApp video for basic video calls with close colleagues. Try and keep the routines that you had with your colleagues before the outbreak, for example if you'd check in with colleagues in person in the office - check in with them virtually as well - whether by video or by call/email.
- Try and keep your work channels clear for work topics. Create social channels on your intranet or messenger tool to create a space to stay connected and social with your work colleagues outside of work topics, such as sharing recipes or sharing photos of your pets
- Think about your digital working style and how it fits with others in your team - you need to find a rhythm.
2.Getting Into A Routine
Working from home or remotely can be very challenging and isolating. Sometimes our attention wanders, or we miss people.
A structured day can be a good way to address this:
- Designate a place to work that is as free of distractions as you can make it.
- Set a routine for working at home - it's important to get up and get started, to take regular breaks including a lunch break, and to finish working and turn off at an appropriate time.
- No matter how tempting, avoid working in your pyjamas all day. Try not to lose all your daily routines at once.
- Try and set clear tasks for the day - three major decisions or activities is a good day's work - but keep an eye on ongoing tasks too.
- Have a proper lunch break. Stop, make something nice to eat, and eat away from your work area. Try and get outside and get some natural light if you can do so safely, and try some exercise, again within guidelines on social contact.
- Use your diary to clearly say to others when you are working and when you are available to speak.
- When you are done for the day, pack away your work things or leave your work area at the end of the day.
- If you are home-schooling or looking after children whilst trying to work, have a conversation with work about those realities. Try and set up a routine whereby you have distinct times for working and for helping with school time. Dividing your attention may leave both things suffering..
3.Keep Up The Formal And Social Flow Of Work
It's really important that structured and unstructured connections with work and colleagues carry on whilst people are working remotely or flexibly:
- If you are a manager, discuss with your teams how you'd like to run supervision, check-ins, and sign offs remotely. Let people know how and when to contact you.
- Try to use video for all formal discussions, and any discussions where you are checking in on someone’s well-being - the non-verbal communication is key for this.
- Follow-up video chats or calls with a quick note with a summary of the actions to take, or your understanding of the major points to ensure that things are clear.
- Use video calling software for informal chats - soup, sandwich and Skype lunches - or virtual coffee catch-ups for example.
- If a new starter joins your team during this period, have a video conference induction with them. Acknowledge they’re not starting under ideal circumstances and this might stress them out on top of the common stress of wanting to demonstrate their skills and fit for the new job.
- Consider having break or lunch buddies to encourage you to take a break or a lunch break - or check in with your team at the end of the day to update on what you've done - work and otherwise that day.
- Try and keep a separation between work and personal - think for example before connecting with colleagues you wouldn't ordinarily link with on things like Facebook and respect the boundaries people have between work and home life.
4.Use The Support That's Available
This is a challenging time for all of us – and whether we are at work or not many employers provide support.
- Many employers offer employee assistance programmes, and wider benefits. Use these wherever you need to - many have dedicated apps and websites and they aren't just about counseling.
- If you have ongoing health or mental health conditions, even if they aren't disclosed, your employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments. In this case this could include home working, additional support from managers, or equipment.
- It's quite likely that we will need to accept a certain amount of distress and anxiety relating to the outbreak, in the short and medium term. If you have self-care techniques that work for you, try and make sure that you have what you need. You may need to think differently - for example doing exercise workouts from videos instead of attending classes. You may want to consider looking at mindfulness practice or finding ways to help others in your community.
The sum of it all:
To summarize, mental health forms the foundation of our work life and our personal relationships.
It becomes even more vital to make it a priority if we are working from home or remotely.in such a scenario we need to be more proactive in reaching out for support incase of distress,maintaining work routines and developing healthful habits.
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