No matter what you do for a living, work impacts the state of your mental health — for better or worse. On the positive end of the spectrum, jobs give a sense of purpose, fulfillment, and accomplishment. On the other end, a toxic work environment can completely erode both physical and mental health.
Even if your job falls somewhere between these extremes, your mental well-being is affected daily. Here are 10 ways to ensure you are making the effort to protect your mental health at work.
1. Get Help If You Need It
Even the most resilient people face times when life gets overwhelming. Stress, loss, and change can be difficult for anyone to navigate. However, if you have experienced prolonged periods of depression or anxiety, you may benefit from mental health treatment.
These symptoms might not respond to simple behavioral or lifestyle changes and could worsen over time. Moderate to severe levels of mental health distress can negatively impact your physical health, relationships, and career. Fortunately, seeking online treatment is easy and most people find a significant improvement in their symptoms.
2. Create a Support Network
Humans are social creatures, and they are hard-wired for social connections. In good times, sharing with others can help you more deeply appreciate the things in your life. In difficult times, your friends and close contacts may help you talk through problems, offer solutions, and supply necessary resources.
When building a support network, begin with the people you already have in your life. A support network might include family, friends, a counselor or therapist, and work colleagues. Be sure to choose people you feel comfortable talking to about personal matters, both good and bad.
3. Set Boundaries
Knowing your limits and learning when to say no are vital to protecting your mental health at work. Without good boundaries, you may find yourself taking on more than your fair share or more than you can handle. This in turn leads to stress, burnout, and resentment.
It may take time to learn to put yourself first without feeling guilty for not giving more to your job. But with practice, setting boundaries becomes easier and ultimately improves your relationships with yourself and others.
4. Eat for Nutrition
Research shows that your diet not only affects your physical health but also your mental health. It is tempting to reach for processed, sugary foods when you’re stressed or strapped for time. However, that may be the worst thing for you when your body and mind are already struggling.
Instead, reframe food as the fuel for your body. Choose things that will give your body and mind the energy and endurance to make it through the day. Fueling your body with nutrient-dense foods will boost your physical and mental well-being.
5. Get Adequate Sleep
It’s hard to overstate the importance of a full night’s sleep. Poor sleep leads to decreased mental health, which can lead to more serious sleep problems. Inadequate sleep also affects how we feel and function at work. If you find yourself tired, irritable, or less attentive on the job, you may need to improve your sleep habits.
Be sure to take care of any underlying health issues that could be affecting your quality of sleep. Prioritize cultivating good sleep hygiene by maintaining a regular sleep routine. And structure your day to allow for the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep.
6. Strive for Balance
It’s easy to want to give your all to your career; after all, it’s your livelihood. Between an increasingly demanding culture and more people working from home, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is harder than ever.
While it’s easy to normalize being overworked and overstressed, both are detrimental to your mental health. Strive to work set hours and make an effort to disengage in off-hours. And don’t skip out on using your vacation days. These can be especially helpful when you need some extra downtime.
7. Exercise Often
Exercise is a fantastic means of managing and improving mental health. Exercise releases feel-good chemicals like serotonin and endorphins. It’s also an outlet for stress and frustration, and can dramatically raise the quality of your sleep.
There is no wrong way to exercise. You might enjoy morning workouts at the gym or taking simple walks on your lunch break. Thirty minutes of moderate activity five days a week is sufficient for most adults to see substantial improvements.
8. Take Breaks
If you find yourself stuck on a complicated problem at work, try taking a short walk to clear your head. When the 2 p.m. slump hits, try dancing to an upbeat song to get your energy back up. If you’re feeling burned out at work, take a day off to go for a hike.
Research has shown that taking breaks, whether large or small, improves your productivity as well as your mental health. Spending time away from work doing something relaxing or social is especially beneficial.
9. Keep Gratitude Lists
The impact of gratitude on mental health has been well studied and documented. People who regularly focus on being thankful report better moods, lower stress, improved relationships, and greater life satisfaction. An attitude of gratitude also leads to even more gratitude!
There are plenty of special books and apps for tracking daily gratitude in fun and creative ways. But there is just as much benefit in jotting down a simple list in moments you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
10. Manage and Reduce Stress
There is a certain level of stress that is unavoidable in life. Everyone experiences stress at times. Learning to manage and minimize stressors can be powerful tools in those times when life is just inherently difficult.
Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and relaxation techniques are all great instruments for making sure stress doesn’t get the best of you. There are also endless books, videos, classes, and apps to strengthen your relaxation methods. Even something as simple as practicing breathwork could be surprisingly helpful in mitigating tension.
Self-care is a learned skill. And like any other skill, practice is necessary to reach proficiency. When you put your well-being first, everything that follows will reap the benefits from your efforts, including your work. Prioritizing mental health is not easy, but you’re worth it!