How to Look After Your Mental Health At Work | The Sterling Choice
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Employees: Your mental wellbeing should be protected at all costs – this includes when at work

January is known to be a tumultuous time when it comes to mental health. While ‘January blues’ is a term thrown around casually, the quiet aftermath of Christmas and the time when the reality of resuming everyday life and routine means that many people hit a wall, feeling melancholic. Further to this, the cold and dark of the winter months can make those that suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder feel particularly down and lonely. 

Let’s not disregard the fact that the entire world uses January as a time to kick-start our health, leading to fad diets and extra pressure – not a recipe for feeling positive and at peace. 

  

How will ill mental health affect your job performance? 

As much as you might try to compartmentalise your home and work life, when it comes to coping with symptoms and feelings of stress, anxiety and depression – this won’t be possible all the time. 

As well as affecting our sleeping patterns, leading to tiredness and an inability to focus, ill mental health leaves us physically and emotionally drained. This is turn switches the body’s natural stress response to kick in, worsening the feelings further, and a vicious cycle begins. 

It’s important to note that there is no shame in feeling like your mental health and wellbeing is suffering. A failure to acknowledge, and instead suppress, these feelings will further exacerbate them. Eventually, the exhaustion and anxiety will begin to impact your productivity, performance and relationships with those you work with. 

When you understand these core elements, it’s soon easy to see how quickly ill mental health can seep into all aspects of your life. This includes work, which is why it becomes so important to recognise, acknowledge and work through any feelings of stress, anxiety or depression that you may be experiencing, however severe. 

  

 How to recognise the symptoms of ill mental health 

Signs can vary between individuals and conditions, but some of the warning signs of ill mental health include: 

  • Changes in sleep or appetite 
  • Withdrawal from social activities, communication and relationships 
  • Low mood, changes in mood and volatility 
  • Problems with concentration and focus 
  • Paranoia and illogical thoughts 
  • Low motivation or productivity 
  • Feeling tearful and disconnected from others. 
  • Nervousness and anxiety 

 

Talking about mental health in the workplace 

There has been a lot of work by charities, mental health experts and public figures to break through the taboo of acknowledging and discussing mental wellbeing and ill health. However, many still find this a difficult subject to broach – especially with their employer. 

The first thing that needs to be normalised is talking about mental health in the workplace. This should not be a tick box exercise and is mostly down to the employer to create an environment of trust and put their employee’s mental wellbeing at the top of the agenda. 

  

How to be accountable for your mental health at work 

Making your mental health a priority at work is a sign of accountability – this should be thought of (by all involved) as an act of professionalism, wanting to be as productive as possible. By taking care of yourself in this way, you ensure that you have the mentality, drive and clarity of mind to perform at an optimum level – being present in every sense of the word. 

The following can help you create boundaries, form a schedule that works for you, and maintain a healthy mental wellbeing approach. 

 

Create structure – having some structure and routine to your day is excellent for managing feelings of fear and uncertainty. Plus, the sense of accomplishment that comes with ticking an item off your task list is hugely positive, acting as a reminder that your role is essential and of value to your team. 

By creating a routine and daily task list, you understand your capacity and manage others’ expectations regarding deadlines and the volume of work that can be completed. 

 

Setting boundaries and saying ‘no’ – We are conditioned to believe that taking on more and more work, rather than admitting you can’t accomplish anymore, is a weakness. 

It is, in fact, a strength. By saying yes to every favour or extra task that is asked of you will lead to pressure, stress and eventually burn-out. Don’t be afraid to say no, or to push back and compromise your task list, for example -, ‘I can do this, but it means I can’t do X, or X will have to be pushed back until X.  

This may take some time to get used to doing, but this mindset of being the guardian of your time and not spreading it too thinly means you will be able to produce high levels of high-quality work. 

 

Take your lunch – sounds simple right? But more than 50% of employees admit to skipping lunch. While it seems like a productive thing to do on the face of it, it is the opposite. You need, and deserve, time away from the screen to recalibrate from the morning’s activities and come back refreshed and ready to give your full attention to the afternoon’s tasks. 

 

Be your own cheerleader – Seeking our seniors’ approval and recognition is ingrained in us, and sometimes….can cause us negative feelings when we don’t get it. As much as this is irritating and disheartening, it’s essential to realise that it’s ok to be your cheerleader! Acknowledge and celebrate your wins, and if you want to – share them with your colleagues. 

 

This should build your confidence and lead to understanding the value to bring to the business. In turn, this can also lead to other internal discussions such as: 

  • Am I being paid appropriately for the value I bring to this business? 
  • Do I need to explore taking my career to the next level? 

 

If these are questions you are asking, then the answer is probably, ‘yes’. In that case, we can help you find the next role to meet these criteria. 

 

What to expect from your employer 

Not every employer will have taken steps to shake the outdated, dismissive view of mental health, and make it a priority in the workplace. 

You might have some work to do to put it on the agenda. This can seem like a daunting task, and if you aren’t up to it, that’s ok – you need to do what is right for you. However, suppose you do feel like you want to raise awareness and make sure that the business is taking the approach that will ultimately positively impact the company, then kudos. In that case, you should recognise this is a courageous step. 

Only you can judge the response accurately, but it is fair to expect one that is empathetic and understanding, with a willingness to support you.  

It is good practice to go into the conversation with a clear idea of the steps you feel would be of help to your situation, or others who might be experiencing similar feelings. 

  • Is your workload too much? 
  • Are there certain aspects of your job you find particularly difficult? 
  • Do you need some time off to recover? 
  • Would you benefit from the flexibility to attend appointments, such as therapy? 
  • Is there a colleague that you have a strained relationship with? 
  • Do you need to see a change in culture that offers more support?

To get the most out of this conversation, it might benefit you to acknowledge any areas of your job that are causing, or adding to, ill mental health. 

 

What you should do if you feel discriminated against due to mental health issues?  

In these instances, it is extremely easy to feel like the easiest option is to suffer in silence or walk away rather than face the issues head-on – but there are several options available. 

We would recommend doing two important things initially – one is getting to know your rights and two, it is essential to collect evidence. 

 

Getting to know your rights.  

As strict time limits govern the time taken to invoke legal action, organisations such as ACAS provide free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees about workplace relations and employment law, including the Equality Act 2010. The Equality Act 2010 protects you from discrimination at work and applies to jobs and through the recruitment selection process. The Equality Act protects certain groups of people from unfair treatment and discrimination, including mental illness.   

  

Collect evidence  

It can be quite tricky to prove discrimination – so keep a record of all interactions, be it conversations, emails etc. Be as factual as possible in your evidence-taking, including times and dates and whether any witnesses were present. It is a good idea to follow conversations up with an email reiterating the points raised in the conversation to have a clear trail of events.  

As always, do not suffer in silence, contact your HR department. You may initially want to try and solve things informally with the support of your HR Team. If you feel this is not stopping the discrimination, then you could submit a formal grievance. There are further steps, such as taking legal action. There are many sources of help and advice available, including Rethink.org who have beneficial discrimination and mental health factsheet, with a whole host of useful sources of help with contact details, including Civil Legal Advice, Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS) and ACAS. 

 

We hope this post provides some tangible advice that you can use in your daily routine. If you are considering a change in career to inject some new perspective and positivity in your life, we can help with that too. Its important for us to understand what you want your new role to bring you in terms of work/life balance, support, and progression – not just money and annual leave.   

We strongly believe in aligning values between candidates and employers, if this sounds like something you want to learn more about, get in touch today.  

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