We’re never going to be free from stress at work, but we can fortify ourselves with tips and tools to manage our mental health before it chips away at our productivity, relationships, and well-being.
According to the World Health Organization, 450 million people live with some form of mental health issue—that is one in four people. If you are one, know that you aren’t alone. Asking for help can be hard, especially when it comes to something as personal as your mental health. But there are resources available to you and ready to help.
In honor of World Mental Health Day on October 10, we are devoting this week’s Cup of Calm to building our mental well-being with advice from meQuilibrium Chief Medical Officer Dr. Adam Perlman and Chief Science Officer Dr. Andrew Shatté.
1. Know the Signs
Rising anxiety or frustration, difficulty focusing and concentrating, problems sleeping, and increased irritability and fatigue are all signs that your mental health might be under assault. When you know what to look for you can take steps to ease these symptoms before they derail you.
To get better at catching troubling thoughts and emotions, practice observing your thoughts, where you take a moment to become aware of the ongoing ticker tape of thoughts rolling through your head, many of which are doing you no good. Catching negative thoughts in action allows you to weed them out, improving your confidence, clarity, and mental well-being.
2. Watch Your Triggers
Too many deadlines, a team presentation, or a meeting with the boss can trigger mental health symptoms for many people. Triggers can catch you off guard and lead to prolonged mental health problems. Instead, take a minute to identify your triggers—the things that cause you the biggest strain and stress—before they appear and consider what you can do to manage them.
3. Access Your EAP
Take a look at the benefits available through your Human Resources Department and the Employee Assistance Program before things feel hard and hopeless, says Dr. Perlman. Most offer a variety of confidential care options that you can access for free. Start by taking a look at the website and reading up on relevant information and then access what you need.
4. Get Grounded
Tuning into what’s tangible in the present moment can keep our anxious thoughts from taking control, says Melody Wilding, a licensed social worker and career coach for sensitive high-achievers. Start by clenching and releasing your fists, says Wilding, or consciously relax your hips into the corners of your chair, or try other mindfulness-based practices like breathing deeply with attention on each breath.
5. Take a Break
Take regular breaks throughout the day to disconnect and relax, even just for a moment. Do a three-minute mindfulness practice at your desk, go for a walk on your lunch hour, or visit with co-workers. A short guided imagery exercise can also help you ease and unload feelings of anxiety and depression, Dr. Perlman says, and diffuse the stress that can chip away at our mental health.
6. Eat, Sleep, Repeat
Physical stress can intensify mental strain and disrupt sleep. So when you’re feeling under pressure, make sure you eat nutritious meals, stick to a sleep routine, and drink plenty of water. Even mild dehydration can cause fatigue, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and mood fluctuations, according to research.
7. Say “No” with a Solution
If you are feeling overwhelmed and triggered by the mounting workload, it may be time to create some space in your schedule. But it’s tough to turn down new assignments from your supervisor, so if you find you do need to say no or put off a project, Dr. Perlman suggests you come to the table with a solution. “I can’t do this right now, but, I could do it next week” or “No, but I could delegate this to a co-worker.” When appropriate explain to your manager that you are feeling overloaded.
8. Talk to Someone
When mental health issues are making it hard for you to get the job done and connect with the people and things you care about, says Dr. Shatté, it’s a good time to reach out for help, starting with your EAP representatives. You can also check-in with your doctor and a mental health therapist to get support and tools that can help you manage the day-to-day. The stress you feel is not permanent, and it is manageable. The key, Dr. Shatté says, is to recognize the symptoms and triggers that impact you and then find a few approaches that can help—even before the pressure mounts.