We are constantly told how important our physical health is, with hashtags like #fitnessgoals and #gymlife continually trending on social media. However, mental health is just as important to maintain as our physical health, but unfortunately, it isn’t as visible in the media we consume.
One place where mental health is commonly pushed to the side is in the workplace. Our mental health and well-being need to be maintained in all situations, particularly in places where we can get stressed or overwhelmed—like work. We spend most of our days there, so it’s essential to focus on mental health in order to avoid serious burnout – which is becoming increasingly common. More than a third of Canadians reported burnout at work, with healthcare, transportation, and education professionals topping the list.
We need to take care of ourselves, and our mental health needs to become more of a priority. In this article, we’ll go over the importance of maintaining a work-life balance and give you some advice on how you can improve your mental health in the workplace while reducing your stress levels and managing areas of tension.
There’s an unfortunate connection between overwork and success. It’s a common myth that in order to grow and succeed in the workplace, we need to work long hours and push ourselves to the brink. However, this approach to working can harm our mental well-being, which can lead to poor mental health and burnout.
Burnout is a form of exhaustion that comes from constantly feeling overwhelmed. It’s a condition that can leave you feeling detached, anxious, fatigued, and unproductive. It’s true, working too hard makes it difficult to work well. We need to have a healthy balance between our work and our personal lives in order to avoid burnout and live more productively.
However, work-life balance can become difficult to maintain when we work from home. Working from home can blur the lines between personal life and work. That’s why a critical strategy for enhancing workplace mental health is to create clear boundaries.
Working from home has some great benefits. We can avoid long commutes and workplace formalities, but it becomes more difficult to create boundaries when our new commute is from the bed to the desk. In fact, the traditional work commute is an important distinction between work and home.
When we work at home, it’s easy to keep working past normal hours since we don’t have to catch a train or bus. That leads to overwork and burnout, so we need to find other ways to disconnect from work while staying at home.
Having a separate area for your work is great if you have the space. Setting up an office or area of your house that you can leave once work is over can help to create a better work-life balance. And even though taking meetings in your pyjamas is fun, a great mental health strategy is wearing work clothes during your working hours and then changing into sweatpants once you’re off the clock. Turning off computers and work phones after hours also helps create that important separation.
It’s also important to establish clear routines. A routine helps focus your mind and create patterns that can energize and excite you. Starting with warm-up activities like reading the paper or eating breakfast can get you in the headspace for work. You can also spend a few minutes creating a to-do list, planning breaks, and figuring out an activity to do after work to create separation. That could include taking a walk, going to the gym, or doing something with your friends or family.
Listen carefully: there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a break during the workday. It’s incredibly healthy to step away from your desk and take a break from your work, it can help your mental health and ultimately improve your stamina and productivity.
Breaks give us a chance to rest, reset, and recharge. We can refresh ourselves to avoid chronic stress and both mental and physical health problems like anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and headaches.
One built-in break you should take advantage of is lunch. Most of us have an unhealthy habit of eating lunch at our desks while doing other work. Instead of going through emails or checking on tasks during lunch, you can break away from your computer and recharge your productivity to be more effective in the afternoon.
Another time to try and take a break is after a Zoom meeting. Zoom fatigue is a feeling of exhaustion and stress that comes from being on video calls all day. Video calls are a big mental drain, being in everyone’s line of sight constantly causes our brains to work overtime to process information without body language clues and other indicators of mood and energy. We can feel like we are constantly being observed like we are on stage rather than in a meeting.
Take time to recuperate after Zoom calls to alleviate Zoom fatigue and improve your mental health. Many scheduling tools will allow you to add buffer time in between calls to avoid back-to-back (to-back) meetings and add in breaks throughout your day.
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of what you are experiencing at the moment. Sometimes we can get caught in repetitive actions without focusing on our feelings. Being mindful can help us focus, avoid feeling overwhelmed or stressed, and manage mental health issues. So starting your morning routine with mindfulness can be a big help.
If mindfulness is new to you, here are a few mindfulness exercises you can do in the morning (or any time of the day):
Body scan: While sitting or lying down comfortably move your attention slowly to different parts of the body. Try and identify parts of your body that are tense and let them relax.
Mindful movement: Play your favourite song and start moving. Instead of worrying about executing the “right” dance movements, bring your awareness to how your body feels and moves. This will release pent-up energy and loosen your body.
Focused breathing: When negative and stressful thoughts start to creep in, sit down, take deep breaths, and close your eyes. Focusing on your breathing even for a few minutes can make a difference.
If you’re looking for more guided exercises, you can download different apps like Headspace and Calm. These apps offer soothing music, guided mindfulness meditations, and other relaxation techniques that can help you get your days started on the right foot.
It’s easy to feel alone when you are working from home. That’s why it’s important to reconnect with your colleagues and spend time together outside of work. Sometimes coworkers can feel like just a face on a screen or message in a group chat.
Whether you are virtually holding happy hours and parties or meeting in person, meeting your coworkers in non-stressful and non-work-related situations boosts morale and encourages a return to teamwork. While your employer might plan some events for the company, you can also schedule your own meetups outside of work.
The above mental health workplace strategies can be very beneficial. But sometimes workplace fatigue and the mental strain of work requires professional help, and that’s okay. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with seeking help and resources if workplace strain is seriously affecting your mental health. Staying mentally healthy is important for your well-being, and there are many resources in Canada that you can take advantage of.
Here are some resources to use if you feel as though you want to work with professionals to improve your mental health.
Kids Help Phone: A mental health text and phone service for children, teens, and young adults
LGBT Youthline: A helpline for LGBTQ+ youth who need mental health support
Hope for Wellness Helpline: A phone line for Indigenous Peoples across Canada
Black Youth Helpline: A phone line for young black people who are struggling with their mental well-being
Protecting your psychological health is essential to your well-being. The workplace can add extra stress and exhaustion, so taking steps to ease stress, reduce burnout, and increase mental well-being is important. After all:
On average, 11 people die by suicide each day
One in 5 Canadians will experience a mental illness
70 percent of mental health problems arise during childhood or adolescence
After six months of the pandemic, 1 in 10 Canadians reported recent thoughts or feelings of suicide and 40 percent of Canadians reported a decline in their mental health
While there are organizations that are working to provide mental health support, they need your help to continue their important work.
The Support Mental Health Fund by Unite for Change supports programs that fight the stigma around mental illness and increase access to mental health support across the country. These Canadian charities are working tirelessly to de-stigmatize mental health and provide critical services. This includes advocacy efforts, crisis support, counselling, education, and other types of treatment and professional support services to people looking to improve their mental health. Become a mental health champion today and donate to the Support Mental Health Fund.