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Managing Your Mental Health in the Workplace

30 November 2018

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that nearly one in five adults are living with a mental illness. If you're one of the many individuals trying to manage your mental health in the workplace, know that you aren't alone. Better yet, understand that there are many ways to balance your health with your professional tasks and gain control of your stressors, instead of the other way around.

How Does Mental Illness Appear in the Workplace?

Everyone's experience with mental illness is varied, and what one person suffers from might fuel another. For example, employees who are avoiding their anger, depression and anxiety outside of the workplace might throw themselves into work to escape what's happening in their personal life. Another person might suffer from presenteeism, which is when someone shows up for work even though they're experiencing a mental or physical condition that would better suit them to stay home and recuperate.

When you're balancing mental health in the workplace and at home, you might vacillate between both worlds. One week you may show up as the most dedicated employee, whereas the next you're struggling to get even one thing crossed off your to-do list.

There are also other ways mental illness can rear its ugly head, such as interpersonal conflict with peers, inability to concentrate and mood swings.

Balancing Your Health with Your Professional Tasks

You know that mental issues can manifest into physical problems, such as anxiety's role in heart disease or how depression influences weight gain, and you want to take action to change your life. Yet, everything feels so overwhelming, and even the smallest professional tasks feel like a burden. There are many outside mental health resources you can tap into, such as individual or group counseling. You can also take small steps every day to make things easier on yourself.

Practicing mindfulness is a great first step to calming yourself so you can focus on work, as well as the other areas of your life. If meditation isn't for you, there are other ways to physically center yourself, such as yoga, running or deep breathing exercises.

Organization also helps clear the mind. When was the last time you cleaned and strategically prepped your work station? Take some time to sort through the clutter, and free up space — both literal and figurative — so you can make room for work. Similarly, try ending each day by making a quick to-do list for the next day. Keep it brief so you're able to cross off a few tasks right away and feel a sense of accomplishment every morning.

Finally, make an effort to reach out to your peers in the office. Many people who suffer from mental illness withdraw from social gatherings or separate themselves from the crowd. Your colleagues want the best for you, and positive social interaction in the workplace will help you make it through the day during moments when you're really struggling.

Pinpointing Mental Health Resources to Get You Back on Track

If your organization takes part in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), contact them right away. EAPs were created to help employees suffering from personal issues which may affect workplace performance. They are led by impartial counselors and offer confidential assessments, referrals and follow-up services to help you get the assistance you need.

Ask for accommodations from your superiors if you need them. This may be as simple as work-sharing for a few days to get caught up on your assignments or more formal, like a leave of absence. Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) explains that accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may include adapting break and work schedules to make time for therapy appointments, potential remote work, changes in shift assignments and even temporary leaves of absence. This doesn't necessarily mean you'd qualify for these job changes, but it's worth approaching human resources to begin the conversation.

With stressors both in and out of the workplace, it can be easy to let anxiety build up without taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. Your job is important to you, and your peers and supervisors want you to be as physically and mentally healthy as possible when you show up every day. Know that you aren't alone and take steps to manage your challenges so you can work to your highest potential.