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How to Prioritize Your Mental Health at Work: An Actionable Guide to Workplace Well-Being

stressed man using macbook

Overview

More and more job seekers and employees are prioritizing their mental health at work. Need proof? Just check out healthcare forums, social media, and human resources/talent acquisition chats. This isn’t a local or nationwide trend—it’s global. Why the hype?

Mental health challenges’ prevalence rose sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic, and work itself caused greater strain on mental health. Additionally, our collective awareness of mental health grew. It’s a more common topic among people at lunch, in the breakroom, and even after work. Employers have recognized the need to invest in preventing toxic workplaces and improving mental health through providing new or improved benefits and training programs. Add to the mix the simultaneous wave of retirement of many Baby Boomer leaders and the influx of new Gen Z employees (many of whom lack strong soft skills and career readiness).

This is where we are currently—with great need for mental health and wellbeing prevention and damage control in the workplace, great awareness of the need, and the greatest variety of resources and tools for addressing the need we’ve ever had in history. The task seems daunting, but let’s eat the elephant one bite at a time and focus on our own part in the mental wellbeing landscape at work.

How can you, as an individual contributor, prioritize mental wellbeing at work?

How to Put Your Mental Health at Work First: Recognize and Remove Stressors

If we want to prioritize mental wellbeing and take proactive measures to maintain mental health, we need to understand how stressors in the workplace and poor management of mental health affect us. When we fail to manage mental health well, our bodies react. Mental health issues and too much stress can result in a range of physical illnesses like hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular conditions. In addition, poor mental health can lead to burnout and toxicity, seriously affecting our ability to achieve and maintain career success and fulfillment.

Most workplace and mental health experts identify common sources of stress and mental health issues. This is a short list of stressors in the workplace.

·         Relationship problems (personally and professionally)

·         Miscommunication

·         Performance pressure from supervisors or colleagues

·         Financial needs unmet

·         Personality conflicts in the workplace

·         Trying to handle too many responsibilities

·         Job insecurity

·         Toxic workplace culture or low morale

Rule #1: Educate and Regulate

One common problem in the workplace is a failure to recognize early warning signs of toxicity, excessive stress, depression, and other mental health issues. How can we work to become more aware of early warning signs?

“Educating ourselves is always key. As individuals we can allow some time for self-reflection, for being honest with our feelings and thoughts,” shares Natasha McCoy, Licensed Associate Counselor (LAC).

If your employer provides mental health and wellness benefits, perhaps through Employee Assistance Programs, take advantage of those benefits, training opportunities, and educational resources. Spending three hours in counseling to address why your colleagues’ failures on projects are causing you so much stress may save you from blowing up at them, or it may help you find tools to handle your stress and detach from their failures. Time invested in education and regulation of your own mental health and stress levels is not time wasted!

Find (and Be) a Safe Space at Work

“I believe employers willing to create a safe and supportive atmosphere to address issues related to mental health will improve awareness as well,” McCoy adds.

Ideally, you work in an atmosphere like this, conducive to transparency, open communication, and mistake tolerance. But what if you don’t?

Even if you don’t work in a safe, supportive work environment, you can be the change by creating your own safe space at work and being a safe, supportive colleague to others. Listen intently and mindfully when others are sharing. Give yourself and colleagues permission to fail without berating them—even jokingly, because sometimes a little sarcasm leads to lots of resentment. Try to accept others as they are while encouraging them to be the best version of themselves.

Daily Preventive Actions to Boost Your Mental Health at Work (And Beyond)

It’s important to boost mental wellbeing through taking daily preventive actions. When we fail to proactively prevent mental health decline, and we ignore stressors, we end up doing damage control. And damage control is costly to everyone.

Take Breaks

One way to create your own safe space at work is to find a time-out spot. When you start feeling your anger rise, or you notice you’re expressing signs of anxiety, it’s time to take a few minutes to regain focus.

Maybe your safe space is just a spot on the sidewalk outside your building. Maybe it’s just the inside of the elevator that isn’t often utilized. Where can you go to get away from your colleagues and your workload for a few minutes? Go there daily. No talking—just breathing, stretching, and disconnecting. You’ll eventually train your brain and body to identify the space as safe, calm, and free of stress.

Practice Mindfulness

You can practice mindfulness almost the entire workday without interrupting your productivity. Here are some simple ways to practice mindfulness regularly.

Breathe

Sounds simple, right? In and out, all day long. But it’s more than regular breathing. Mindful breathing involves taking conscious, deep breaths repeatedly. While breathing, pay attention to how you feel—for better or worse. Take a deep breath and envision the oxygen rejuvenating your tired feet or foggy head.

Experts cite multiple benefits of regular deep breathing exercises, including pain relief, less pain, stress reduction, improved cognitive function, better sleep, and improved emotional regulation.

Practice Gratitude

As with mindful breathing, experts agree that practicing gratitude on a regular basis brings zero harm to you! Quite the opposite—practicing gratitude produces an array of awesome side effects, including reduced depression and anxiety, greater heart health, lower stress levels, and more positive interactions with peers.

If you’re new to the notion of practicing gratitude, you’re in luck. The internet is overflowing with ideas for practicing gratitude, ways to appreciate your colleagues, and habits you can incorporate into your work life easily. Try to kick off your gratitude practice by starting and ending your work day with giving thanks, whether to your supervisor, your office mate, or to someone in your personal life whose positivity rubs off on you.

Accept What You Cannot Change

One key to mindfulness is a greater awareness that much of what bothers you lies outside the realm of your control. We cannot control others’ thoughts, feelings, or even actions (short of forcing people to comply with our wishes). But the good news is, by practicing mindfulness, we can learn to exercise greater restraint and patience, even when our colleagues are rude, our boss demands too much, or a client refuses to cooperate.

If you find it difficult to modulate your emotions and seem to practice knee-jerk reactions on a regular basis, consider seeking help from a professional counselor, a life coach, or a Twelve Step recovery program. Learning to manage emotions and expectations is key to creating a healthier outlook on your career and to building positive relationships with colleagues.

Cultivate Resilience

If you heed the advice in this article, you will buffer yourself from toxicity, stressors, and difficulties. In short, you will become more resilient—both personally and professionally— and have better mental health at work.

“Some practical ways of becoming more resilient in our personal lives is recognizing our strengths and utilizing them. Understanding how we may address situations and what we tell ourselves in those situations is part of becoming resilient. Learn to challenge unhelpful thoughts and replace them with more helpful thinking. Resiliency helps us engage and interact effectively with others in the workplace. Also, resiliency helps us deal with situations/stress in the workplace,” shares McCoy.

Lensa.com offers millions of jobs. Find one where you can prioritize your mental health today!

Bethany Wallace
Bethany Wallace
Bethany Wallace partners with mission-minded organizations to build better workplaces through soft skills solutions. Bethany aids leaders in strengthening workplace relationships through communications consulting, training, executive coaching, keynote presentations, & career coaching. Bethany enjoys presenting research at conferences and contributes regularly to major publications & recognized podcasts, including Glassdoor, College Recruiter, Zip Recruiter, Jobscan, FlexJobs, the New York Daily News, BusinessTech, Human Resources Online, Life After Teaching, Love Your Story, The Conversation Guy (10 Minute Mindset), Everyday People Podcast, The Success Chronicles, and more.

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