Eight Tips to Mind Your Mental Health at Work
Workplace wellness has become an increasingly important topic in recent years. Studies repeatedly show that mentally and physically healthy employees are happier, more likely to stay with their employer, and more productive. However, maintaining that status can be challenging. According to a 2021 study, 76% of employees reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition.
Fortunately, there is some good news. Although everyone experiences workplace stressors, you can take active steps to minimize these stressors and improve your mental health.
These steps can take a wide range of shapes, from the right start to your day to strategically using your paid time off. Use these tips to develop good habits. Habits make the process of minding your mental health at work a natural step you will not even have to think about most days.
1. Start Every Day the Right Way
The first and perhaps most important step begins before your work schedule starts. Try to avoid checking your phone and especially your work email and messaging platform right after waking up to avoid immediately starting to think about work long before you are on the clock.
Instead, begin your day with mindfulness. Start a morning routine that might include an activity like reading, yoga, or meditation. Consider waking up 10 minutes early to make time. That way, you can begin your day calmly before thinking about work.
This practice can extend to starting work each morning, as well. Create a routine revolving around checking your email and messages, reviewing your to-do list, and making coffee or tea. That way, you can get some of the most significant typical stressors out of the way before the clock has moved too far forward.
2. Keep an Organized Workspace
Speaking of organization: it might seem like a small detail, but keeping your work area clean and organized can go a long way toward maintaining your mental health at work. Avoiding clutter means avoiding some of its most common mental health links, like increased stress and decreased productivity.
Part of the reason for this connection is obvious. A cluttered desk will make finding what you are looking for more challenging, decreasing efficiency. However, the actual pitfalls of clutter are much more subtle.
The research mentioned above connects physical clutter and our mind space. A cluttered surface or area can induce a mental block because our thoughts will naturally align to become just as chaotic. Keeping your workspace clean and organized, even if you have to take a few minutes out of each day to do so, can alleviate these issues.
3. Practice Breathing Exercises
Who knew something we do thousands of times daily could have profound mental health effects? The proper breathing techniques, including periodic deep breathing, can go a long way toward alleviating feelings of stress and producing a calming effect. The correct breathing exercises can get you there, helping you stay calm and stress-free on any given workday.
Most workplace-appropriate breathing exercises are so straightforward that they quickly become automatic. Especially in the beginning, consider monitoring yourself to ensure you regularly perform them to reap their rewards and mind your mental health.
4. Step Away When You Need To
It might seem counterintuitive, but stepping away from your work for a mental and physical breather can improve your productivity by allowing you to focus more distinctly on the work you have to do while working on it. As a bonus, frequent breaks can also improve your mental health.
Studies vary on how often employees should take a break for maximum productivity. Start by taking five to ten-minute breaks every 30 to 90 minutes until you find a frame that works for you. Set yourself an alarm and be sure not to blow off that break just because you are busy when the time comes. The more you can build these breaks into your schedule, the better.
5. Use Your Paid Time Off
Regular breaks at work matter; however, taking more extended periods of time off might be even more beneficial to your mental health. Studies have demonstrated that taking time away from the job can have both physical and mental health benefits. People who take time off from work tend to have lower stress, less risk of heart disease, a better outlook on life, and more motivation to achieve goals. Other benefits of taking your PTO include a reduction in unscheduled absences, higher morale, and a better work-life balance.
If you are worried about causing issues for your team or employer, plan your paid time off ahead of time. Schedule your vacations and mental health days that you can use to recharge and come back refreshed. Your goal should be finishing the year with as little PTO time left over as possible.
6. Prioritize Communication
Very little work happens in isolation, but communication within and beyond their team is among the most significant mental health challenges workers face, especially (but not only) when working remotely.
The key to alleviating this challenge is simple: prioritize communication in everything you do. That includes the following:
- Talking actively about current and potential projects
- Scheduling calls or meetings for brainstorming
- Other simple but essential tasks that work better as a team
But it also includes non-work-related communications with your coworkers. Socialization is vital to robust mental health at work, from physical water cooler conversation to a virtual book club where team members can share their favorite reads.
7. Maintain Your Work-Life Balance
Studies repeatedly link work-life balance to workplace mental health as one of its most vital indicators and precursors. Lack of balance inevitably leads to more stress and serious issues over time.
Maintaining that balance, of course, can be challenging. A start to your workday, as described above, helps. So does avoiding the mixing of your work life and home life. That means not answering emails only when you are on the clock and having clear expectations for coworkers when you are unavailable outside of business hours.
It also works the other way around. Avoid your home life infringing on your work life where you can help it. That means no checking social media or buying birthday gifts online during work hours unless it is during one of your scheduled breaks. The more you can keep your work and home life separate, and your time dedicated to each when needed, the better.
8. Seek Help When You Need It
Finally, always remember that you are not alone. As the 76% figure shows, mental health is a common challenge at work, which means others are going through the same things you are. There are plenty of resources to help you address your challenges.
Start with your company’s HR office to learn about any standard or covered resources you can leverage. Talk to your team about your struggles and see if others feel the same way. Of course, you can always seek professional help through your health insurance.
Mental health in the workplace is not a new phenomenon. But the number of companies prioritizing it appeared to skyrocket during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, a few easy steps can help you build healthy habits. This will protect you from the drain that stress, anxiety, and more serious issues can bring with them.