6 Ways To Turn Your Mental Un-Health into Mental Health At Work [with resources]
We’ve all been there - leaving work every day feeling drained. Noticing your mental health is slipping down a steep slope. Is it your job? Should you quit? You tell everyone that you love what you do, so why are you feeling like this? It’s not always work; it’s how you work. If you’re not putting all the right systems into place to look after your mind, you’re going to start feeling the effects.
In my older jobs, I used to only consider my mental health outside of work. I convinced myself that because I always had so much to do, I didn’t have time to think about it at work. Overtime, this had a detrimental effect on my mental health, as well as the quality of work I was producing whilst at work. I was making mistakes and I wasn’t developing my skills. So, I changed my mindset and started putting better habits into practice.
1. Eating & Drinking Good
This one is a biggie if you want to kickstart your mental health into a better place. I’ve tried to lose weight whilst leading a busy work life, I’d stick to a calorie deficit diet, meaning I wasn’t eating enough, and I wasn’t getting the right foods to support my body. When I did eat a lot of food in one go, it wasn’t healthy food. I was lacking nourishment and goodness. This affected me at work, I felt sluggish all the time and it felt like I lacked the mental energy to do my work. So, my work was taking me longer. As soon as I started eating healthier foods in healthy amounts - I stopped feeling so lethargic and low-mood all the time. I got my energy back, focusing at work was easier so I got more done. I wasn’t working past the clocking-out hour to finish off the work that was taking me ages to do.
I don’t mean to be that person but - drink plenty of water! People don’t say this for no reason, it does wonders. It’s great for your body inside and out, as well as your mind.
You are a beautiful plant, darling, make sure you’re well-watered and have plenty of nutrients.
2. Taking Regular Breaks
Anytime I had a big workload of things to do, I couldn’t stop myself from working until I’d got them done. I would tell myself “If you get them all done in one go and get them done fast - you can relax afterwards.” I thought this was a healthy mindset, but it just led to me burning out (which I’ll speak more about later on). I’d just end up getting flustered with all my work and start feeling overwhelmed.
Once I started taking regular breaks, I found things actually got done quicker. They also got done properly and to a better quality - I was making way less mistakes and noticing finer details. Taking regular breaks keeps your mind in check and makes you so much more productive.
My top tip for this one - avoid using up the majority of your break scrolling on your phone. You’ll feel a lot more productive if you just switch off from this too - and you’ll find it much easier to get your brain back into your workflow. It’s recommended that you take at least a 5-minute break from the screen every hour, so yes this includes your tiny fun screen too.
3. Getting Outside and Switching Off
Following on from that last point, try and go outside for breaks. When I work from home, I used to spend my lunch breaks sitting inside on my phone to unwind. I now use the time I have left after eating to go for a walk.
I know it sounds like one of those “go for a walk, that’ll cure your depression and anxiety” things - I used to roll my eyes whenever someone said, “drink lots of water and go for a walk”. But once I actually started doing that stuff, it did have an impact on me. It didn’t cure the depression or anxiety I was feeling at the time but just regularly going outside and not looking at any screens for half an hour did wonders for me. It made a small impact by helping me build good habits. Once I trained myself to do this regularly, I found it easier to start building other good habits on top.
Listen to Shrek, go for a walk. Sit on some grass (weather permitting), take the deepest and heaviest breath in that you can and just sigh it all out. Sit and stare for a while. Zone out as hard as you can and don’t think about a thing. Just be present outside with fresh air and no pixels or responsibilities in front of you. Your work is at home on the laptop, you don’t need to think about that right now. It can wait until you get back and you’re done just taking a moment for yourself.
You’ll start to really appreciate small moments when you do this more often. One of my favourite small things to do is go down to the fields near my house on a sunny day, sit on the grass, take a huge breath in and as I push it back out, I fall back onto the grass and stare at the sky. It feels like nothing else in the world matters when I do it, and I love it.
4. Setting Realistic Goals
When you set goals that are too ambitious, you will just keep failing and it’ll start getting on top of you eventually. Make sure when you plan out your time, you’re setting goals that are actually attainable.
Like I mentioned earlier, if you set a goal to get your massive workload done in a short space of time, you’re going to panic about everything you have to do. You’ll trip yourself up with the burden of the goal you’ve set for yourself. You won’t get anything done, or at least you won't get anything of good quality done.
Think about how long each task or project might take you. Look at your day and space your time out with those regular breaks in between. How do you work? Do you prefer to eat the frog and get all the big scary tasks done first so you’re left with a bunch of small and easy bits to finish at the end? Schedule your big tasks first. Do you prefer to get the small and easy bits done first to get you motivated for the bigger parts? Schedule in the smaller bits first.
However you work, don’t make unrealistic schedules for your day. If there’s a part of you that thinks the big task is going to take all day, don’t even consider scheduling in the smaller parts. You can look at how to organise those once you’ve got the time after completing the big one. If you make a checklist with one big thing on it that day, you get through it and you’re able to check it off - that’s great, you’ve done everything you set out to do that day. There’s nothing worse than coming to a checklist at the end of the day with 1 out of 5 things completed. Finish your day with some sense of completion and accomplishment.
5. Stop Overworking Yourself
Something most of us are guilty of is always taking on work we can’t handle. If you know you’ve already got a lot of work on and the pressure of this additional task is going to strain you, don’t put yourself through it. I’ve recently learned that it’s okay to start saying no. People won’t hate you for prioritising your own mental wellbeing.
Next time someone asks you to do something when you’ve already got too much to do, just try it. Say “Hey, I’d love to help but I have so much on at the moment so realistically I don’t think I have enough time for this.” Don’t try and make time for it that doesn’t exist, don’t move other stuff that’s already a priority. Once you say no, that’s it. Maybe once you’ve shifted a workload, you can always revisit it later if they still need you.
It’s time to stop glorifying working your ass off - mental health is important and we need to make time for it. Obviously do your very best, but don’t burn yourself out (which leads me onto my next point).
6. Recognising Signs of Burnout
The best way to protect your mental health is being able to detect burnout. There’s a whole bunch of signs that it’s heading your way or might have already hit you. Here’s a few of the signs:
● When you’re no longer excited to be doing what you’re doing
● Working non-stop without seeing any decent results
● Falling into a rabbit hole of doing small admin tasks - deep down you’re doing these to avoid the bigger and more pressing stuff
● Having intrusive thoughts telling you to quit
If you’re dealing with any or all of these, you’re probably facing burnout. It can have an effect on your emotions, you could start feeling emotionally depleted, self-doubt, detached or trapped. It can take its toll on you physically, you might feel tired and drained, have low immunity, constant headaches and even sleep problems.
The best thing to do is take a rest and think of a new approach. Figure out where it’s coming from and what you need to do to stop it now. If you evaluate your burnout like this, you can prevent it happening in future too.
So, that’s my experience of dealing with mental un-health at work. These are just small things, but when you start doing them and keeping it up regularly - you’ll notice the positive change within yourself and it’ll even start showing in your work too.
Here’s a few things that I use or do to serve me, my body and my mind:
Sleep problems & meditation: Headspace - this is a subscription, but this particular part of their website has 3 free guided meditations and some articles too.
Looking after your body & meditation: Yoga With Adriene - all free videos! I use this as a form of exercise, a break from the screen and a meditation session (Bonus: she has a cute dog).
Taking regular breaks: Pomodoro Technique - helps you to time how long you spend on tasks and reminds you when you should be taking a break.
By no means am I saying that anything in this blog is going to cure a medically diagnosed condition, I know this because it didn’t cure mine. These are just things that made it easier for me to deal with everything whilst I was recovering. If you need deeper help please look at the following resources:
Contact Samaritans: 116 123
Talk online on The Mighty website about your mental health issues
Mind’s online mental health tools
Everything is going to be okay and you are capable of great things.
Emilia Drag, Cohort 32, Junior Content Producer at Brazen PR