Sarah Landrum
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Prioritizing mental health at work can feel like a trap for professional women. A woman who shows vulnerability, weakness or even emotion at work can feel discredited or at risk of not being taken seriously. Yet mental health is crucial for not only succeeding at work but also living a balanced, holistic life — and making it a priority can help set an example for everyone you work with, regardless of gender. Finding some ways to put your mental health first can help you maintain the strength you need to succeed at work without compromising your mental health. 

How to improve your mental health at work

1. Be realistic.

One of the biggest factors of succeeding is setting goals and working to achieve them. As human beings, we tend to set extravagant and sometimes unrealistic goals that are nearly impossible to attain. While setting goals is a healthy and useful way to get things done, setting unattainable goals has been shown to be detrimental to mental health. Instead of setting work goals that you won’t be able to reach, set your goals up in small stages. Each stage should be easily attainable, and once you complete that stage of your goal, reward yourself. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant or expensive, but a small reward is a great way to encourage yourself to continue on your path. 

Set goals both related to your work and to your work-life balance. If you make your healthy habits goals — like setting a goal to stop checking your email after 6 p.m. — you’ll reap the benefits of those habits while feeling a sense of accomplishment.

2. Try meditation.

Meditation is a great way to help everyone manage stress levels and improve overall well-being. Studies have shown that meditation is a good way to maintain your mental health, reduce your stress and even improve your physical health. Most meditation techniques encourage you to mediate either first thing into the morning or last thing in the evening before bed, but sometimes the stress relief that mediation offers is best taken advantage of during your stressful workday. There are meditation techniques that are designed to help you de-stress during the day without taking up a ton of time or requiring you to sit cross-legged on your desk. Take a couple of minutes, a few deep breaths and center yourself throughout the day. 

3. Institute healthy habits.

When work consumes most of our day, it can be hard to remember to take time for the healthy habits that fuel us. This might mean taking a walk, calling a loved one or eating something that energizes you. Block time in your calendar and make the time — even if it’s a few minutes — to set your intention and do that healthy habit. Sometimes, a five-minute walk or quick check-in with a friend can make a big difference.

4. Try therapy.

Sometimes, all you need to do is talk to someone to help improve your mental health. Unfortunately, only two of every five people with anxiety or mood disorders actually seeks assistance early on. With anxiety being the most common mental health issue in women, it’s all too easy to brush it off as stress. However, anxiety and depression are serious conditions that interfere with your daily life and should not be taken lightly. If you’re concerned for your mental health, it’s important to talk to someone.

Therapy, either individually or in a group, allows you to talk out your problems and get feedback from an unbiased third party. While this isn’t something that’s easy to do during the workday adding a weekly session with a therapist, whether it’s cognitive behavioral therapy or art therapy session, can be a great way to make sure your mental health is taken care of. 

5. Take breaks.

We all try to get as much done during the day as we can, with as many as one in five employees working 60 or more hours a week. The idea of taking a break is often utterly terrifying, but it can be a great way to improve your mental health throughout the day. Taking periodic breaks helps you stay focused, keeps you from getting bored, helps you retain information and keeps you from getting frustrated with your daily tasks. Most importantly, though, is not to feel guilty about taking breaks. Don’t let yourself feel bad for walking away for a few minutes. Breaks will make you a happier and more effective worker — so don’t feel bad about taking them.

6. Get support.

Mental health is one of the most important things to consider when you’re at work, but you can’t always do it alone. Support from friends, family and co-workers is a great way to help you maintain your mental health.  Creating a safe workspace is a great way to both give and get support in the office. Transparency can even help you strengthen your relationships with your coworkers and help set up boundaries that work for you. 

7. Embrace creativity.

Working can be a grind of the same thing, day in and day out. Adding a bit of creativity to your day is a great way to help you break out of that rut and improve your mental health. Something as simple as listening to music or coloring a page in a coloring book can be beneficial by improving your mood and relieving stress. As an added bonus, studies have also found that creativity and creative exploits help to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life. 

8. Establish a healthy work-life balance.

Most of us inevitably take work home with us — we check our work emails from our cellphones or respond to calls or texts from co-workers asking for help without even thinking about it. Unfortunately, that workaholic nature can be detrimental to your mental health. Make it a point to leave work at work. Turn off your work email notifications when you walk out of the office at night. Turn off your phone, if that is an option for you. Stop thinking about work when you leave for the day.

Of course, a healthy work-life balance is easier said than done. If “turning off” work seems impossible, start with small boundaries. Have open conversations with your boss and coworkers about when you’ll be available and when they shouldn’t try to reach you.

9. Make a change.

In the words of the late entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn, “If you don’t like how things are, change it! You’re not a tree.”  When it comes right down to it, there are plenty of things you can do to improve your mental health at work, but if too many pieces of your job have negative effects on you, it will wear you down. If that becomes the case, it may be time for a change — potentially in your role, team or the workplace itself.

How workplaces can create a mentally healthier workplace

Workplaces can take simple measures in order to create mentally healthier safe spaces for their employees. Here's a list of ways that workplaces can make small changes:

  • Have an open-door policy, so employees feel comfortable opening up about their questions and concerns.
  • Promote diversity so that all employees feel accepted, valued and respected at work.
  • Encourage the use of paid time off so that employees get a break.
  • Respect work-life balance by allowing employees to take time off when they need to and work flexible hours when necessary.
  • Motivate employees with incentives like wellness bonuses.
  • Offer self-care benefits like discounted gym memberships.
  • Support working parents in the workplace by offering paid parental leave for new parents and respecting the responsibilities of existing parents.

Remember: You and your mental health are more important than any job.

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This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice on prioritizing your mental health at work? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!