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5 Key Tips to Improve Your Mental Health Whilst at Work (A Helpful Reminder)

Updated: Jan 23

Deadlines, commuting and the never-ending ping of Microsoft Teams/Slack - ah the joys of the office!

Adjusting to hybrid working is, for many of us, a work in progress. The hustle and bustle of the office alongside relentless deadlines (and our own inner critic!) can make it difficult to prioritise our wellbeing and it might slip to the end of our never-ending to-do list. With the cost of living crisis now adding to our day-to-day stressors, many of us may find ourselves worrying about finances which can weigh heavily on our mental health. If you are concerned about your finances, there are a number of charities that offer free, confidential advice and we have added some links at the end of this article that you may find helpful if you are struggling.

Whilst looking after our mental health may not be enough to relieve financial stressors, we might be able to ease some of the burden by focusing on our wellbeing and the things we can change.

To help get us back on track, listed below are some ideas of how you can bring key basics into your routine whether in the office or working from home. Some of these you might be doing already, and others tend to slip by the busier and more overwhelmed we feel - but take a moment to think now about what small changes you could make to re-prioritise some of the ideas below.

The key to the success with any of these changes is to make them consistent and a part of your day-to-day routine (see them a bit like brushing your teeth!).

Start small, make the goals you set achievable/timely/measurable and build up from there (the small wins will encourage you to do more).

1 - Talk it out

We know this is a tricky one and some people feel more comfortable than others talking about their feelings but evidence overwhelmingly suggests that talking about difficult emotions can be useful. It can help us to feel less alone and better able to cope. Quite often even just saying our thoughts out-loud can help us to process them, and we can get different perspectives from other people who might be able to gently challenge or validate our thinking (Great article here explaining this to kids - works just as much for adults!).

We might want to try reaching out to a line manager or a colleague (doesn't have to be someone in your direct team) and asking for a quick 1:1, a coffee or a walk around the block. A simple question of asking each other how you are might be enough to ignite a reciprocal conversation about what is going on for you both and provide a more natural segway in to more sensitive topics. If you are a manager, then model talking about emotions/feelings/moods - normalise it by making it apart of the team agenda!

If talking directly with managers and colleagues feels too risky, then have a look at what well-being initiatives your organisation offers. There might be wellbeing champions available to talk to, peer-run support groups, Mental Health First Aiders or employee assistance programs. Some organisations may offer access to private medical insurance or even on-site counselling/psychology services. The latter in particular offer a safe, and confidential space in which to seek support.

When the psychologists at Amplify talk about the day-to-day strategies effective to maintain "good" mental health, we often use the analogy of "brushing teeth". Essentially, do the basics every day - even when things are busy! Once you are in a routine, you don't even have to think about it!

2 - Step away from the desk, get active and get outside!

Our physical and mental health are deeply interlinked, so why not improve both at the same time? Research consistently shows that regular outdoor exercise improves our mental health and reduces the effects of stress whilst more sedentary lifestyle choices have the opposite effect!

Whether we are at home working from the kitchen table or in the office we generally spend an awful lot of time sitting down. Try to build in a 5 minute walk, movement breaks throughout the day, use a standing desk (ironing boards work perfectly well for this), or for the most committed amongst us consider a lunch time gym session. If you are working from home - build in a 10 minute walk where you would have commuted.

You don’t need to start extreme challenges, marathons or take up a new sports! Research suggests that 30 minutes of exercise a day for five days a week is enough to reap many of the positive benefits. Trust us! Even though it can feel unproductive at first, your concentration and stress levels will thank us for it!

See more info here on the benefits of exercise!

3 - Eat well and cut back on the booze

Eating and drinking well is not just associated with good physical health but like exercise, it contributes to our mental health in a significant way. Most of us have probably experienced what bingeing on unhealthy food and alcohol for a few days does to our mood and well-being. Alcohol, in particular, can have a devastating impact on our sleep!

It can be hard to eat well in a work environment, often we choose convenience over quality and too many of us are eating at our desks. Bulk cooking or bringing leftovers to work for lunch is a convenient way to improve the quality of food we are enjoying in the office. Creating a routine around when and what we eat can be helpful in both the work and home environment to ensure we are eating enough healthy food throughout the day whilst keeping on top of stress eating. Think Mediterranean diet - high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and unsaturated fats such as olive oil!

See more tips on food and mental here and alcohol support here

4 - Take a break

When we are feeling overwhelmed and anxious with the amount of work it feels like we must do, a common response is that we work even more. Logically this makes sense, if we work more, we get more done, right? Perhaps this strategy works for a short while before it all comes crashing down and the dreaded burnout appears. If we notice that we are chronically working above our capacity, feeling stressed, struggling with focus and concentration then perhaps it’s time to take a break.

One helpful analogy to understand how our stress system works is “the stress bucket”. We all have different sized buckets with which to hold water (stress). If we don’t do anything about our bucket filling up, it over spills and it takes longer to bring it back to a more manageable level.

One of the most important things we can all do to bail out some of the water from our stress bucket is by taking regular breaks throughout the day. You have probably heard this numerous times but how often do we follow the advice? By incorporating breaks in a systematic way you will be more likely to stick to it in the long run. Consider breaks an investment into your success over the long term.

5. Hobbies (Do something other than work!)

One of the key findings from lock-down was just how much more people were working and unsurprisingly 'burnout' started to trend as one of the key search terms over 2021. Being passionate about our work is great but to really thrive and perform at work we also need to prioritise our lives outside of work. We need to be able to rest, recharge and come back with fresh thinking and perspectives.

In regards to what hobbies - that is up to you! Think about things that bring you a sense of mastery, excitement and that recharge your batteries (Great article here on this)! Research has indicated that supporting and helping others can be a helpful way of eliciting positive emotions. They key thing is not to eat into this time when things are busy. The mantra to hold to is: What you do outside of work is just as important as the time you spend in work!