You’re Not Invincible: How to Preserve Your Mental Health at Work

May 12, 2021
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Mental wellbeing is an epidemic in the workplace in 2021, and it isn’t all related to the pandemic. In fact, in 2019, 55% of U.S. workers reported being stressed during the day and 83% suffered from some work-related stress, which costed $190 billion in yearly healthcare costs. That stress drove 45% of workers to consider leaving their jobs.

In May of 2019, the WHO upgraded its classification of workplace burnout from a “state of exhaustion” to a “syndrome” resulting from “chronic workplace stress.” The organization said that burnout is classified by feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.

Mental and behavioral health ranked as the top clinical area of focus selected by 66% of employers at that time in 2019. The nation was already close to crisis mode, with employers redesigning their employee assistance programs to address emotional wellbeing, which was expected to jump from 33% to 74% in three years and building an organization-wide behavioral health action plan (from 25% to 68%).

Then, in 2020, all hell broke loose.

About 70% of American employees in 2020 (through the pandemic) said work is a significant source of stress in their lives, up from 64% in the 2019 survey. In 2020, 70% of respondents also said the economy is a significant source of stress.

33% of all adults in 2020 experienced high levels of psychological distress during the coronavirus outbreak.

62% of workers worldwide in 2020 considered mental health ‘a top challenge’.

By the end of 2020,  a majority of workers (55%) said a mental health issue has affected them more since the pandemic began.

What Doesn’t Kill You…

Mental issues tend to start with stress, and then lead to increasingly more alarming psychological and physical disorders and diseases, from chronic worry and depression to high blood pressure and heart disease. For individual workers, the lesson to learn here is that what doesn’t kill you also doesn’t make you stronger when it comes to mental health stressors. Proceed as if stress could make you weaker, unless you take the proper precautions and measures to protect your mental wellbeing. Here are six ways we recommend to do just that:

  1. Eat healthy – Know your own health risk factors and consult your doctor and, if necessary, a nutritionist about how to balance your nutrition and meal intake to bolster your overall  health, including your mental well-being. Eat healthier breakfasts and lunches, and bring healthy snacks, as well as avoiding foods high in sugar that can lead to jitters and an afternoon crash. Avoid preservatives and stick to whole foods and plant-based foods that are high in fiber and antioxidants, among other nutrients.
  • Get plenty of sleep –Adults between 18 and 64 need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Adults over 65 need 7-8 hours. A good night’s sleep empowers you to recover and and wake up feeling refreshed from prior stressors, according to the Sleep Foundation. “Insufficient sleep and poor quality sleep can be due to diverse factors including sleep disorders, medical conditions, and mental health.”
  • Move Around and Exercise – Too much time at your desk is a risk factor for worsening your mental and physical wellbeing. Don’t sit for too long; take a movement break every 30 minutes. At mid-day, take a walk or get some physical exercise in the gym. The less sedentary you are, the more resistant you can become to threats to your health.
  • Build better relationships – At work and in your personal life, strengthen your relationships so that you can share your thoughts more easily and avoid unhealthy repression. If possible, talk with your direct supervisor about sources of stress on the job and potential solutions. Have confidants in your personal life so that you can release stress and find potential solutions to ongoing sources of stress. Just knowing that you have a diversified collection of relationships with people in your life who care about your well-being has a significant impact.
  • Seek mental health resources – The stigma of seeking help is largely gone, due to PR campaigns and the vast resources employers/insurance companies have been spending on building out their mental health networks and other resources. Therapy is an excellent first line of defense and something you should seek anytime a source of stress isn’t short-lived.
  • Practice mindfulness – The opposite of repression, mindfulness brings awareness, which allows you to notice the negative emotions and self-talk as they arise. It also allows you to accept what arises, rather than struggle with internal conflict, so that you can find proactive, positive ways to cope or overcome a problem. While yoga and meditation are excellent methods to develop and practice mindfulness, steps as simple as slowing down your breathing, observing your body, thoughts, and feelings can help you to process your thoughts in more healthy ways to counter threats to your mental wellbeing.

The global costs of mental health conditions—including costs related to lost productivity at work—were about $2.5 trillion in 2010 and are estimated to grow to $6 trillion by 2030. Is this inevitable? No. We can start to pay closer attention to our individual circumstances and vulnerabilities and follow the best current guidelines for protecting our mental health at work. By protecting ourselves and sharing this advice with coworkers, friends, and family, we can begin to reverse this national and worldwide epidemic.