Whether we like it or not, most of us spend the majority of our lives at work.
What happens within that cubicle or behind that counter can impact us in many ways, particularly when it comes to our mental health. In fact, a new study has found that high job strain is associated with an increased risk of developing common mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. And it's a vicious circle – mental illness has now become the leading cause of absence in the workplace, with research finding that 25 per cent of workers have taken days off due to stress. So what can we do to better our mental wellbeing in the workplace? We turned to psychologist Breanna Jayne Sada, from online psychologist network Lsyn, to find out.
The signs you might be struggling
"For employees, self satisfaction is often found through accomplishments and success at work, and if you are burdened by poor mental health which impacts on your productivity and performance, you in turn may see a reduction in your self esteem further impacting on your mental health," Breanna explains.
According to Breanna, the signs that something is not quite right at work include:
- Loss of motivation and energy towards work and goals that may generalise to other areas of your life
- Irritability and aggression in the workplace that is out of character
- Decline in work performance
- Taking days off from work
- Constant searching for new work
- Reduced self confidence and doubting your abilities which may stop you applying for new roles
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Changes in eating habits
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Strain on relationships
- Withdrawing from work colleagues
- Increase in the severity of physical problems
If you're feeling this way, there are are a number things you can do. First of all, set clear boundaries between your work and the rest of your life.
“Switching off when you leave work is really important, make time to do things you love outside of work, and spend quality time with friends and family,” Breanna says.
Leaving on time and ensuring you take a lunch break are also important.
“If you are spending extra time in an already unhealthy environment, spending more time there will only further increase your feelings of distress,” Breanna adds.
Methods that improve your physical health, will also have a significant impact on your mental wellbeing.
"We know how great exercise is for our mental health and scheduling a session before or after work will not only help your mind, but a session with a punching bag may also ensure you don’t knock out someone in the office," Breanna says.
She also recommends asking for help when you need it.
“Those around you might not realise you are in need of help, so don’t be afraid to speak up.”
What if a boss or colleague is to blame?
If work-related stress is more than just the workload and you’re dealing with a problem colleague or a bad boss, it can be a lot harder to remain positive each day.
“Very few of us get through our careers without having a difficult boss or colleague… research has shown that most people leave a job because of their managers, not workplace stress,” Breanna explains.
So what can we do about it? Breanna advises to deal with the problem person head on.
“Appeal to their motives, figure out what motivates them… and use language and behaviour that appeals to their objectives.”
As hard as it might be, don’t let their negativity bring you down.
“You will not gain anything from being on their bad side or exposing their shortcomings, this will only tarnish your own reputation,” she says. Try to celebrate their success and always remain pleasant when dealing with them.
“Always take the high road, and don’t be intimidated by a bully”.
And if you're the one in charge?
Whilst most companies aim to foster positive, inclusive work environments, stress is contagious and may spread throughout the workplace if not properly addressed. For employers, Breanna says it’s important to consider the mental health of your employees.
“If they are mentally unwell, they are not as productive. Do not assume a mental illness is something that develops outside of the workplace - an unhealthy work environment, poor colleague relationships, and workplace incidents can all contribute to poor mental health and mental illness.”