Four ways to care for your mental health at work

Friday 10 January 2020
In 2020, we want to encourage you to look after your overall wellbeing by offering practical tips for self-care in a working environment
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Everyone has mental health. Sometimes, your mental health can be negatively impacted by outside circumstances – like anxiety or stress at work. In times like this, your personal wellbeing takes precedence. If you feel able to, speak to someone; when you are ready, seek professional help; above all, be kind to yourself.

It’s no surprise that, in a world where our jobs account for the majority of our time, that our mental health affects our professional performance, just as our profession can impact our mental health. There’s a lot of overlap between these two aspects of our lives – so here are four tips from Dr Shaun Davis and Andrew Kinder, authors of Positive Mental Health, about how you can take care of your mental health in the workplace.

Learn to say no

At any time, it’s important to know how much work you can take on so that you don’t overstretch yourself – but especially so during a period of ill mental health. Of course, it’s natural to want to please your manager and colleagues by taking on lots of projects and tasks and performing well, but sometimes you can only be at your best when not committing yourself to too many things.

“Only you will know when ‘possible’ turns into ‘impossible’ – one key skill to manage workplace stress and the huge variety of demands is to say ‘no’ when you should and at the earliest opportunity,” write Davis and Kinder. “You may be tempted to take on more work than you can handle to win praise or recognition, but in the long term you might be asking for trouble.”

Establish some boundaries

With today’s technology, we’re contactable 24/7 – which can create a toxic, ‘always-on’ culture. To protect yourself from not being able to fully relax when away from work and feeling like you can’t ignore the messages from work popping up on your phone, set some boundaries early on. Simple things, like not working through lunch and leaving work on time, can help to establish some boundaries and keep your work well within the workplace.

“Try to resist checking or responding to work emails after hours,” Davis and Kinder recommend. “Certainly don’t check them before bed, over the weekend or while you’re on leave.”

Build a positive relationship with your boss

It’s a great thing to have a good rapport with your colleagues, but especially your boss. This person allocates your workload and is your main port of call for any issues, so maintaining a good relationship with them is important. It will also make it easier to approach your manager with a problem as well as to help when touching upon a sensitive topic, like your mental health.

“A positive, two-way relationship with your supervisor can be crucial in helping to manage your workload, and facilitating a conversation about resolving the issues that may affect your mental health. Even if there isn’t an issue now, the foundations of a strong relationship will ensure you can start a conversation as and when the need arises.”

Ask for help

In all sectors and across all roles, your employer has a duty of care towards you, their employee. Tell your manager how you are feeling and what your doctor has recommended, and see if together you can make adjustments to your working conditions to make sure you feel comfortable at work.

For many of us, “work can have a positive impact on our health and general wellbeing. Organisations simply operate better when we, the employees, are physically and mentally healthy,” say Davis and Kinder. So it’s worth asking your manager how they can help you perform well in the team – it’s in both of your interests.

Are you dealing with mental health problems at work? Learn more about the surprising mental health triggers in your workplace.

There are fantastic resources in ManagementDirect for CMI members which can help you manage your own, and your team’s, mental health. We recommend logging in and searching under “Stress management”. You’ll find checklists, leader videos, pearls of wisdom and many articles.