Life Lessons for Managing Mental Health at Work
Regardless of whether you are working for the man or you are your own boss, you have to ensure that you are tending to your mental health and overall well-being. In our always-on-the-go society, it’s difficult to take breaks from our busy schedules. Given the fact that the majority of our time is spent working, it is imperative to be intentional in making the workplace as healthy as can be. Avoiding a toxic environment is absolutely key but there are several ways to make your work environment a place that promotes your mental health and prevents burnout.
The symptoms of burn out are very similar to those of depression which include sadness, dissatisfaction with life, hopelessness, restlessness, insomnia, fatigue, irritability, and low energy and motivation. Prepare yourself by taking the necessary steps to notice when work burnout is approaching and make the effort to make changes. Burnout is best addressed proactively rather than reactively because once it hits, it’s often too late to react. Here are a few ways to jumpstart your mental health at work.
Schedule time off.
You may collect vacation hours or you may have to schedule your own time off, but taking time away from work is extremely important. Taking sick leave for a mental health day may sound foreign, but setting a schedule (monthly or quarterly) to take a day off to just do nothing gives you a chance to reset and seriously break because the weekends are often not the down time we really need. And if you are an entrepreneur, your weekends might be work times too. Be intentional about taking days off not just to go on vacation, but just to breathe.
Schedule in cushion.
Do your best to get to work 15 minutes earlier than you have to be there just to take a moment to center yourself and get ready for the day. Anxiety and stress are at their highest when you rush in, running late and trying to get things done as soon as you walk in the door. On my best days, I get to work 15 minutes ahead of time so I can put my lunch away, fill up my water bottles, turn on my computer, and just have a moment to myself with God before the day actually starts. As much as you can, schedule breaks between meetings. Give yourself travel time and breathing time to transition your focus from one thing to the next. My hourly therapy sessions are actually 45-50 minutes so I can use the time between sessions to write notes, take a break, and prepare for the next session. Include down time between on time.
Learn to say no.
Black women take on way more than is necessary. Our work is often above excellent because we don’t believe in mediocrity. Our strong work ethic is rooted in the fact that we have to work twice as hard to get half the respect. When we are prepared, work hard, and people recognize it, we often take on more than the job description includes. Bosses and employees trust and rely on you but at some point, you have to say ‘no’ and delegate to others. Taking on everything is not your responsibility but protecting yourself and your energy is. Building up your resume and experiences can happen without becoming the office workhorse. As an entrepreneur, be selective of opportunities and clients. Not taking business can be scary but focusing only on quantity can impact your ability to do quality work.
Work for God, not man.
This has been a huge shift for me in terms of managing my frustrations with work. I constantly remind myself that the work I do is for a greater purpose, and that my boss is only the person in charge inside the office. My Father is in charge of my life overall. My faith keeps me mindful of the battles I choose and motivates me despite the times I don’t receive the recognition. Entrepreneurs who run into slow periods full of rejections may question whether they are on the right path. But remember the work isn’t for your critics; your work is for God and you do the greater good through him.
Leave work at work.
Set boundaries around work. If you can, avoid checking emails after you leave the office or, at the very minimum, turn off notifications and set a time to check email rather than allowing it to disturb you. Even if you work in a high-paced, high-contact job, take time to unplug and set limits around your availability, giving yourself permission to step away. If a potential client emails you at 11:00 p.m. and you don’t get the job because you respond at 8:00 a.m. the following morning, you weren’t meant to have it which is for the best because they would have expected more than you could provide.
Have a life outside of work.
Work cannot be your only thing. Even if it is your passion and you do what you love, there have to be other things that fill you up and restore you. Get a hobby, have a daily practice, or do something creative. It doesn’t have to be time consuming or cost a lot of money, but it should not involve how you bring income into your household. The only way you can take a break from work is if you have something to break to.
Positions can be replaced; people can’t.
Keep in mind that employers and customers can find someone else to do what you do. However, your family, friends, and loved ones cannot replace you. You only get one body (it might change over time but it’s still your only body), one mind, and one time to live. Don’t be so consumed by working and making money that you forget to live your best life.