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Mental health can impact our motivation and performance, as well as affecting the way we behave and interact with others inside and outside of work.
In this section, we’ll explore some solutions for maintaining good mental health and wellbeing. We’ll also provide some tips for what to do when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
Mental Health at Work Sections
What are the signs of mental health challenges?
When it comes to managing your mental health, it’s important to understand the signs of declining mental health and wellbeing so that you can take actions to address them as soon as they crop up.
Mental health challenges look and feel differently to everyone. To determine your own challenges, try to reflect on what your usual habits and behaviours are, and how these change when you’re under pressure, feeling stressed or struggling with shifting moods.
Any number of things could be causing you to feel low, anxious or stressed at work, including:
A dispute with a colleague
Being ineffectively managed
Additionally, it’s important to recognise that the issues or challenges you’re experiencing outside of work aren’t automatically checked at the door as soon as your shift begins. Things that are going on outside of work are likely to affect your mood and performance inside of work, too.
A health condition such as arthritis, or a learning difficulty such as dyslexia, can also make work challenging and potentially contribute to workplace stress and mental health challenges.
If you’re experiencing any of the above and concerned about the impact on your mental health and wellbeing, be sure to reach out to the relevant people at work, such as your manager or HR representative.
Opening the conversation is the first step towards improving your mental health, and by learning about the things you’re struggling with, your employer will be able to make any necessary changes and direct you to the support you need.
Indicators of stress at work
Symptoms of stress can display themselves in a number of ways. Stress and mental health challenges can impact our behaviour, mood, and performance at work.
Often when we’re stressed, we might experience:
Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
Changes in diet (overeating, eating unhealthy foods, or not eating enough)
A tendency to drink more alcohol than usual
Difficulty managing time or keeping schedules
A short temper with work colleagues, friends or family
Frequent mood changes
To combat this, it’s important to first consider the aspects of your life that are causing you stress. If you believe your stress is work-related, try to pinpoint exactly what it is about your work that is elevating your stress levels. Only then you can speak openly with your manager and seek an appropriate solution.
Reducing stress at work and promoting wellbeing
Whilst it’s always a good idea to speak to your manager about your specific struggles at work, there are a number of things you can do to reduce work-related stress and promote general wellbeing.
Maintaining good working relationships
An open, authentic and supportive workplace culture is key to keeping people happy at work. Working in a toxic environment is one of the key contributing factors to sickness absence, extended sick leave, and resignation.
To feel comfortable at work, it’s important that you feel everyone is treated with equal respect and consideration. Whenever that isn’t the case, it’s equally important that you feel comfortable in raising any issues or concerns (whether they’re related to how you’re being treated or how you have witnessed others being treated), and that your employer acts accordingly, not tolerating bullying or discrimination.
For more information and guidance on how you can foster strong relationships at work, and what to do if you feel you’re being discriminated against, visit our ‘Relationships at Work’ guide here.
Being clear on your role
A lot of workplace stress can be related to lacking clarity on your role and what’s expected of you, or being asked to carry out tasks that are unrelated to your role.
If this is the case, consider approaching your manager and requesting a meeting to discuss your job role, responsibilities and expectations, so you can be sure everyone is on the same page.
Communicating when things are becoming too much
For a lot of people, the go-to response when their task board is overflowing or things are becoming overwhelming at work is to bottle up their stress, keep their head down at work and then vent to friends and family members about how stressed they are when they get home.
But bottling things up can lead to bigger problems, including loss of motivation and, potentially, unintentional outbursts later down the line when the emotions become more difficult to manage.
Your employer can’t make changes or provide you with the support you need if they aren’t aware of what needs to change. Communicating honestly as soon as you start to feel stressed will help your employer to take action faster and prevent things from escalating to an unhealthy point where you’re having to take time away from work or considering leaving your job.
Pursuing training and development opportunities
Investing your time into personal and professional development opportunities is another great way to maintain good mental health both inside and outside of work.
Without a clear pathway for progression, we can end up feeling stuck and might even begin to question the purpose and the value of the work we do.
Setting out a clean plan for your professional development will give you something to work towards, which can increase your motivation and boost your passion and performance at work.
If training and development isn’t something that’s been discussed with you, try setting up a meeting with your manager to talk about your ambitions and the opportunities that will help you to achieve them.
Maintaining good mental health outside of work
There are a few simple steps and changes that you can implement to help improve your mental health and wellbeing.
Healthy body, healthy mind. Whilst physical activity may sometimes be a challenge due to your condition, doing even a small amount every day can really help to boost your mood and improve your mental health and wellbeing.
Physical activity is also a key component when it comes to managing your condition, helping with bone strength and muscle development, so it’s important to make time for exercise as often as you can.
Stress and poor mental health can lead a lot of people to fill their diet with unhealthy foods.
Whilst this might work to improve our mood in the short-term, seeking comfort in junk food and regularly consuming foods high in sugar, fat or sodium can have a negative impact on mental health. It can also lead to weight gain, which can place additional strain on joints and cause other health issues.
Whilst it can be challenging, especially if you often find yourself reaching for the biscuit tin when you’re stressed, keeping a balanced diet of fruit, vegetables, protein, fibre and healthy carbohydrates will help to keep you in good mental and physical health.
Value yourself and others
It can be difficult to do when we feel our mental health is slipping, but reminding ourselves of our positive qualities, acknowledging our achievements, and practising self-care are all key for our wellbeing.
Just as it’s important to be kind to ourselves, it’s equally important to extend the effort and take the time to value those around us, including those in our support network of friends and family.
As mentioned in the previous section, no benefit comes from bottling things up. Poor mental health can bring up a host of emotions, from anxiety, panic and depression to anger and frustration.
Whatever you’re feeling, it’s really important to find a healthy way for you to communicate your emotions, as not doing so and keeping everything to yourself will only cause them to bubble over — at which point they’ll be even harder to understand and control.
Think about the person in your life who you’d be most comfortable sharing your emotions, stresses, challenges and concerns with, and reach out to them. Be sure to meet in a place where you’ll feel comfortable speaking about what you’re dealing with — this might be in your own home, in theirs, or even over the phone, if meeting in person is difficult to arrange.
When you’re speaking, it’s important to regularly remind yourself of where you are in the present moment, otherwise you might find your emotions running away with you. Take deep breaths and tell yourself that you are in a safe space with a person you trust. Communicate openly, but try not to take your frustrations out on your confidante.
Try something new
Trying something new can bring a sense of refreshment to our lives, as well as a sense of pride at having pushed the boat out and ventured into the unfamiliar.
The new thing you try can be pretty much anything. You might have a go at trying:
A new recipe or cuisine
A new route for your walk to work
A new experience, like eating out at a restaurant you’ve never been to, taking a trip to a town you’ve never visited, or trying out a new hobby
Whatever you choose, it can be something big or something small, but it’s also a good idea to share the experience with a friend or family member.
When your mood is low, you may feel the urge to keep yourself as busy as possible as a form of distraction. Whilst staying active and being productive are both great ways to improve your mental health, it’s important not to overdo it — listen to your body and take breaks as regularly as you need to.
If switching off is something that you struggle with, try taking time out every day and making the conscious effort to relax. Practising breath work, meditation and mindfulness exercises can all help with getting you into the habit of resting.
Ask for help
If you’ve already tried a number of these solutions and still find yourself struggling with poor mental health, it’s important to reach out and ask for help.
Speak to your GP about how you’re feeling, and open up to your manager/employer about what you’re struggling with at work — they’ll be able to support you further and direct you to other resources you might not have considered.
Returning to work
Returning to work following a period of absence can leave you feeling a little bit nervous, but it doesn’t need to.
Your employer should be familiar with the return-to-work process and will be there to support you at every stage. They may also call on additional sources of support and involve your GP, occupational health therapist, or a representative from HR to ensure your return to work is successful.
The return-to-work process
As part of the process, it’s likely that your employer will take some time to sit down with you and talk through the factors that contributed to your leave from work. This will help them to establish where changes need to be made, and what accommodations should be granted to make you feel more comfortable. They should also catch up with you about what’s been happening, both in work and socially, too.
Your employer should also take the opportunity to speak with you about what the first few weeks are expected to look like for you, and how your progress in these early stages will be measured. Goals set at this point should be achievable — be sure to speak up and voice your concerns if you feel they’re not.
Part of your employer’s responsibility is also to ensure you don’t return to an overwhelming amount of work or an overflowing inbox, and that any clients you manage have not been neglected in your absence.
You may find that your employer takes time out to check in with you quite regularly in the early stages of your return. Keep in mind that this isn’t to check up on you, but rather to make sure you’re comfortable with your goals and the work you have on your plate. They should also be more forthcoming with feedback, if they haven’t been previously.
Anyone who takes a period of leave due to sickness (physical or mental) will usually need some time to fully recover. As a result, you might find that, upon your return to work, you have fewer, or less intense, projects on your task board. You might also find that the tasks you’ve been set limit physical activity. These changes, also known as ‘reasonable adjustments’ are all perfectly normal and aren’t something to panic about — your employer is simply setting you up for the best chance of success.
In some cases, the ‘reasonable adjustments’ required may involve larger, more extensive changes to your work, your working environment, or your working pattern. These can include:
A phased return to work (starting with part-time work and building back up to full-time)
Rearranged responsibilities to reduce stress
The option to work from home
Changes to shift patterns
Exploring different working options, such as going part-time, job sharing, or flexible working
Adjustments made to your physical workspace to accommodate your needs
For more information on ‘reasonable adjustments’ and your returning to work right, visit our guide here.
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