11 steps you can take to protect your mental health at work

One in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point. And work is often a contributory factor to these problems, or can aggravate them.

So it’s important to be aware of our feelings, and identify any potential mental health triggers or issues before they start impacting our lives and health.

According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, employers have a legal responsibility to help their employees – whether work is causing the health issue or aggravating it.

They recommend that work-related mental health issues are assessed to measure the levels of risk to staff. And, if a risk is identified, steps must be taken to “remove it or reduce it as far as reasonably practicable”.

A government-commissioned report in 2017 (the Thriving at Work report) recommends that employers:

  • Create a mental health at work plan.
  • Promote communications and open conversations, by raising awareness and reducing stigma.
  • Provide a mechanism for monitoring actions and outcomes. 

11 steps you can take to protect your mental health at work

However, not all employers are able to adequately spot, prevent or help with mental health issues (or, in some cases, even try to). We also need to take responsibility for our own mental health where possible.

And, according to Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services for AXA PPP, if you’re experiencing stress in the workplace, there are positive steps you can take to help address it. 

Here are 11 actions you can take to help prevent and tackle stress at work.

1) Conduct basic wellness checks

Should you be doing more exercise, improving your diet, or getting more sleep?  Fairly simple changes in these three areas can improve your outlook and ability to cope with stressful situations at work. So give your lifestyle a quick audit and make any positive changes needed.

2) Challenge your thinking

If you find yourself taking a negative perspective on work issues, could there be a more balanced or alternative way of looking at things?  Write down what’s troubling you and challenge it. Take some time to  focus on the positive instead  – what are  your strengths and what have you achieved? 

3) Make lists and plan workloads 

Not only do lists and plans help keep you on track and ensure you get everything done, but by ticking off  jobs on your list you’ll acknowledge your accomplishments and feel more in control. Try our Success List or even start writing done lists.

4) Find time to relax

However you like to relax – whether it’s yoga, exercise, reading, a bath or a walk around the beach – make sure you prioritise these activities. Even 15 minutes to yourself snatched during your lunch break can help reduce your stress levels. Switching off will also improve your sleep health, allowing you to tackle tasks with a fresh head the next day.

5) Be fair to yourself 

Think about  what you have the power to change  in your current circumstances, and prioritise these things rather than worrying about areas you can’t control. Keep things in perspective. Ask yourself ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ It’s probably not as bad as you imagine.

6) Try not to avoid things

Whether it’s faking a sick day or putting something off, ignoring the source of your stress won’t make it disappear. Instead, you’re just putting of the inevitable – and adding to your to-do list. So deal with whatever you need to when you need to.

7) Identify the real problem

Are you afraid of failing? Sometimes we’re our own worst critics.  Think about what you’d say to a friend or a colleague in the same situation. Would you be as hard on them as you are on yourself? If you’re struggling to be objective about your own situation, speak to a trusted friend or colleague. You may find they have a different perspective on a feeling or situation you’re stuck in.

8) Protect your work-life balance

Don’t abandon social plans for the sake of working late. Not only can overtime lead to diminishing returns on productivity, but making time to catch up with friends and family will boost your mood and take your mind off work pressures. You’ll also return to work the next day fresher and with renewed energy.

9) Avoid unhealthy habits

Relieving stress with excessive food or drink consumption may make you feel better in the short term, but you’ll just be storing up more problems for the future. instead, find healthy habits that can boost your mood and energy levels instead. Exercise, for example, releases a chemical in the brain called dopamine which gives you a healthy high.

10) Don’t bottle it up

It can be helpful to share any concerns you have, so speak to your manager or a supportive colleague.  Or, if necessary, your HR department. Getting the right support can solve problems and make a huge difference to how you feel. But if no one knows what you’re experiencing or suffering, the chances are that nothing will change.

11) Find a career you love

If your current role or career isn’t a natural fit for your skills, talents and interests it can gradually wear you down over the months and years. If you regularly dread Sunday nights, take our Career Audit to find a career that’s a more natural fit for you.

Photo by Brooke Cagle