Staying mentally healthy at work
October 10 marks Mental Health Day, a day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy.
Working is generally considered to be a good thing for our mental health. It provides us with a livelihood, structure, social interaction and a sense of achievement.
However, the Government of Western Australia Mental Health Commission estimates that between 15 per cent and 30 per cent of workers will experience mental health problems at some point in their career.
In some cases, our work can be a source of stress and anxiety. This might be because of overwork, time pressures, bullying or a pre-existing health condition. There’s also some evidence to suggest that certain occupations, like farming and construction, increase the likelihood of suffering from mental illness.
Staying mentally healthy in the workplace means putting coping strategies in place and making sure that our lifestyle supports good mental health.
The physical benefits of daily exercise are well known but exercise is also important for our mental wellbeing. It can decrease depression and anxiety and contribute to preventing dementia. Being active also improves our mood, contributes to feelings of self-worth and makes us happy.
So the next time you feel overwhelmed or anxious at work, go for a walk, ideally with a workmate who will chat things through with you.
Make healthy choices
When things get tiring and stressful at work, our inclination is to try to push through or to reach for artificial stimulants like alcohol, nicotine, caffeine or sugar. When we are feeling a little blue, we might also be tempted to ‘treat’ ourselves with unhealthy snacks and foods.
When the going gets rough, our best option is to choose nutritious meals and snacks that will maintain blood sugar levels (preventing highs and lows) and nourish our bodies.
For information on nutrition in the workplace, Healthy Choices Healthy Futures has plenty of resources. LiveLighter has lots of healthy meal and snack ideas which are perfect for work as well as at home.
We should also aim to avoid cigarettes and other drugs and to keep alcohol use to a minimum (drink plenty of water instead). It can be so tempting to use alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate but in reality, they only make the situation worse.
If we want to enjoy good mental health we all need to find ways to give our minds a break.
Finding ways to deal with stress at work is essential. Whatever it might be - meeting friends in your lunchbreak, going for a walk around the block, going to a yoga class after work - make time for it no matter how busy work gets.
It’s also important to work regular hours and take the breaks and holidays we’re entitled to. If things are getting too much, book a day off or a long weekend. Also aim not to take work home. Working long hours on a regular basis does not generally lead to better results.
There is also evidence to suggest that meditation and mindfulness practices are a good way to learn to deal with stress, anxiety and depression.
And don’t forget to laugh with workmates. Research shows that laughter can boost our immune system, ease pain, relax our bodies and reduce stress.
Get help if you need it
There are some excellent resources available to create a workplace environment that supports good mental health, like these from Beyond Blue.
Stay healthy and happy,
The happy worker :)