Mental Health at Work: Looking After Yourself

Looking after yourself isn’t always your number one priority but it should be.

With the past ten years taking a massive leap with the public’s understanding of mental health, becoming a more talked about and less stigmatised subject, among many, it’s still unfortunately considered a taboo. Here at The Tess Group, we are big advocates for mental health, and we feel it’s important that it’s addressed. Because of this, we will be posting a two part blog on mental health within the workplace.

What is Mental Health?

Everybody has mental health. It’s a mixture between our social, physiological and emotional well-being. We all experience times of sadness, fear or stress, but sometimes people are just unable to overcome those uncontrollable emotions, and sometimes they develop into mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. Whether you develop one of these is caused by many different factors, examples include genetics, trauma, abuse, pregnancy or bullying, but anyone can develop a mental health issue at any time in their life, despite their background. One in six of us experience a mental health issue in our lifetime, with three out of five facing it at work, and only one in ten telling their manager. Tight deadlines, lack of managerial support and too much responsibility are usually a factor contributing to this within the work place.

12 million working days were lost due to work related mental illnesses in 2016 and 2017, resulting to days being taken off because of depression and anxiety increasing by 24%. It isn’t just the sick days costing companies money, it’s been noticed that presenteeism is increasing costs. This is when employees work more hours than needed, resulting in being worn down. These statistics show that mental health needs to be talked about more within the work place, as these figures are only increasing. But by addressing mental health, and creating an environment where people feel like they can safely talk about how they’re feeling, will reduce these. Mental illnesses affect people in different ways, and it’s important to understand an individuals experience, although someone may be diagnosed with an illness it doesn’t mean that they have the same severity of it as other sufferers. Some people are able to live with and cope with their condition without being severely affected by it, but others with the same diagnosis may be extremely affected and are unable to undertake regular day-to-day activities. Think before you make premature assumptions on the way someone is affected, when you only know about their diagnosis.

Talking About it

One of the most important things to do when you’re suffering in silence is to talk about it, because you’re never, ever on your own, and you should never feel like you are. The thought of telling someone how you’re feeling when you’re suffering may seem hopeless and daunting, but whether it be someone in your work that is there for you to talk to, such as a well being officer or a close colleague, there is always someone who will be happy to listen and offer advice. By talking about mental health you are helping get rid of the stigmatisation that surrounds it. You are never obliged to declare mental illness to your employer, however, if it’s affecting the way you work, it is definitely a good idea to speak up. Time To Change recommend requesting a one-to-one meeting with your manager, this will be some private time where you can discuss your mental health, resulting in discussing different ways which will help with your performance. Speaking to your manager may allow them to understand your mental illness, and how it can effect your work during more difficult periods. You will be able to discuss different reasonable adjustments in which could help you to become more productive and help level the playing field. For example changing someones working pattern to enable them to start later or finish earlier because of side effects to medication or excusing someone from attending work time functions involving food, as someone with an eating disorder may find eating around others extremely uncomfortable, so therefore allowing them to arrange their own networking arrangements. Mental health issues are actually listed as a disability, under The Equality Act, so therefore the state of your mental health shouldn’t put you at a lesser advantage to mentally healthy people, this was put in place to ensure that no discrimination is involved and you are protected in every eventuality. As well as the duty to provide reasonable adjustments, The Equality Act and The Disability Discrimination Act is also there to protect people from bullying and harassment because of a protected characteristic just the same way they would for other protected characteristics such as gender, sexual orientation or faith.

What You’re Doing Outside of Work

What you’re doing outside of work is a massive contributor to how you’re feeling day to day. Although we spend most of our time at work, it’s important to ensure we look after ourselves every single day, and night. There are different things that contribute into worsening or sustaining your mental illness that you may be able to reduce. Often at night time when getting home from work, we’re partial to a glass of wine or a pint of beer, but that can often escalate into multiple, you may not think this affects you, apart from having a bit of a headache in the morning. We often drink alcohol to change our mood, some people drink to deal with what they’re feeling to feel a sense of escape and numb their painful thoughts, but the effect is only temporary. Our brain relies on a delicate balance of chemicals and processes, and alcohol is able to disrupt that balance. Alcohol is a depressant, these inhibit the function of the central nervous system. Alcohol disrupts our body’s ability to rest and relax, meaning it’s harder for our body, having to work harder to break down the alcohol in our system. This affects our ability to sleep, leading to reduced energy levels. It also depresses the central nervous system, resulting in our mood fluctuating. Regular alcohol consumption changes the chemistry of what happens in our brain, it decreases the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is an important chemical in our brain, and causing an imbalance can seriously affect your mental health. Drinking alcohol can stop this from being produced, therefore resulting in feeling more depressed. So if you’re feeling depressed, try and lower you alcohol intake. A lot of times this is better said than done, but you will see the effective results, helping you to become happier.

When you’re depressed hearing someone say “hey, have you tried exercising?” may feel very condescending, and when you’re struggling to get out of bed each day you may not even be able to fathom the thought of getting up and being active. But if you can find the motivation, it’s extremely rewarding, and you may feel a lot better after doing so. When you exercise, your body releases a chemical called endorphins, these react with the receptors in your brain to boost your mood. Endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to morphine. People often describe the feeling after a jog as a “runners high”. This is described as euphoric, accompanied by feelings of positivity. Exercising regularly will also be a contributor to sleeping well, and getting a better nights sleep will help with your energy levels for the following day.

Take a Break

Most people are given breaks at work to unwind, eat some food and gain some energy. So it’s important that you utilise your time effectively. By not taking a break, or not eating this could affect your energy levels, as well as your mental health. A lot of people eat their lunches whilst they’re working at they’re desk, not taking a long enough time to relax, resulting in being constantly switched on, and over worked. Taking the time out of your day to eat is vital, but have you ever considered what you’re eating at work? What your digesting will affect the way you’re functioning, eating too much salt and fat will not only affect your cholesterol levels, it will affect the way you work, and your liveliness. Try and bring a healthy alternative with you, instead of buying something when you’re at work. Try bringing your leftovers from the night before with you, this saves time and money, also ensure to bring plenty of fruit with you. They act as a nice snack and will provide you with lots of energy and vitamins, as well as being one of your five a day. Not taking a break will affect your well being more than you think. Contrary to most peoples beliefs, taking your lunch break will actually improve your productivity. There are many studies proving that without regular breaks you will be less focused, and without a proper lunch break you will struggle and start to lose energy around mid-afternoon.

Not only will eating correctly help you, but it’s very important to stay hydrated. Our bodies are made up of 60% water, so i’m sure you can guess how urgent it is that you’re drinking the right amount of water. Aside from our body storing all of that water, we’re also unable to retain it, so when it’s gone, it’s gone for good. So therefore it is vital that you are able to restore this water in your body to maintain a healthy mind. When you’re in need of more water it’s taken from the cells in your body and your brain, and when this happens, your brain tissues shrink. Resulting in even mild cases of dehydration causing impact on your health. The worst part is if you’re dehydrated, there’s a high chance you wont even realise. Even with mild cases your cognitive function is impaired, and it will make it increasingly more difficult to solve everyday tasks, therefore effecting your mental health. If you’re affected by mental illness, and want to do everything you can do to improve your own well being aim to drink 2 litres of water a day. This will result in you having more energy and your brain functioning more efficiently.

Visit Your GP

You’d go to the doctor if you were experiencing a physical illness, so whats stopping you from visiting them because of a mental illness? Feeling low every now and then is a normal part of life, but when its stopping you from getting on with your day to day life, you should go seek professional help. By doing this, it will help you to understand what’s going on in your own brain, and will help you to take the steps that you need to become healthy and happy again. A lot of people just tend to just ignore the feelings they’re facing until they get so bad that their only choice is to visit their GP. By tackling the issue early on it will help to stop your mental health worsening to a point where you feel helpless. Your doctor will be able to provide different solutions in which will help you from overcoming your illness. They will give you an official diagnosis, which will allow you to understand and educate yourself on what it is that you’re experiencing, as well as your GP giving you information and recommendations. They will offer you different types of help depending on the severity. These include prescribed medication such as anti-depressants, counselling or refer you to a specialist.

Taking the steps to accept that you’re mentally ill and make an appointment may seem hard, but it’s worth it in the log run. If you’re continuously feeling down and alone you need to put yourself first and take action towards it. It will benefit you and the people that care about you, and help you get back to your normal routine, feeling happier and healthier. There is always someone that is willing to listen.