For many of us, work is a large part of our lives. It is where we spend a lot of our time, dedicate a significant amount of energy, earn an income, and make friends.
That being said, our thoughts and feelings we experience at work play an important role in how we experience work on a day-to-day basis.
This may sometimes leave you feeling like you can’t work due to your mental health!
Those who are currently experiencing or have experienced struggles with mental health contribute around £225 billion to the economy per year, meaning you are not as alone as you may think (1).
With this in mind, knowing how to cope with your mental health at work and what you can do to improve it is essential. In this blog post, we’re going to be doing just that – we’re going to be diving into how you can talk about it, how you can support it and how to seek additional help.
When does your mental health affect work?
Mental health is defined as our emotional, social and psychological wellbeing, including how we act, think and feel (2). Mental health is essentially something we all have! It fluctuates throughout our life and is often (but not always) influenced by the circumstances we are faced with or the stages we move through. Having good mental health gives us a sense of purpose and confidence in our ability to tackle life challenges and provides us with the energy to do so. On the contrary, poor mental health does the opposite.
Here is an example of a person experiencing good mental health at work:
Samantha is a confident and motivated project manager at a design agency. She enjoys her job and feels satisfied by the work she does. She has a good work-life balance, participates in activities that she enjoys, and has supportive relationships with her family and friends. Due to the positive state of her mental health, Samantha can effectively manage work-related stress and meet her project deadlines while maintaining a good sense of wellbeing. Her ability to manage her mental health has allowed her to continue working and feeling fulfilled at work.
Feeling distressed can be due to several reasons – you may be experiencing troubles in your relationship or family, dealing with money problems or facing disruptive life changes. Factors such as childhood trauma, physical issues, poverty and discrimination can all play a significant role in your mental health state. A recent large-scale survey in the UK found that 1 in 6 people experience poor mental health symptoms every week, such as anxiety or a depressed mood (3). With this in mind, mental health struggles are prevalent and can affect anyone. When your mental health is impaired, whatever the reason, chances are work will be affected. The speed at which you face everyday tasks may feel slower, and your efficiency and productivity in doing work tasks can resent from poor mood, increased stress or anxiety.
This is why it’s essential to recognise your feelings of distress as soon as possible to get support and make the changes required to improve your mental health at work.
Here is another example of a person experiencing poor mental health at work:
John is a customer service representative at a call center. Recently, he has been feeling down and unmotivated. He has trouble sleeping and wakes up tired and low on energy. He has also been experiencing anxiety, which has led to him feeling overwhelmed and stressed. As a result of his poor mental health at work, John has been struggling to meet his targets and has been making mistakes in his work. This has caused additional stress, making it increasingly difficult for John to perform at his job. Due to his condition, John is considering taking time off from work to focus on his mental health and recover so that he can perform better at work.
Should I tell work about my struggles with mental health?
If you feel you can’t work due to your mental health, it is usually a good idea to be open about it and inform your work management and/or colleagues. However, each work environment is different, and it is equally important to consider your situation before making the decision.
When thinking about whether to tell your manager, colleagues, or HR about how you’re feeling, keep in mind that signs of mental health problems look different in everyone. They can vary in intensity, frequency and overall severity. Here are a few examples of symptoms you might be experiencing (1):
Signs that my Mental Health is Affecting my Work:
1- Unstable mood.
You may feel that you have no control over your moods – some days might be particularly tough, and others quite alright. For example, you may come into work in a good mood but leave feeling depressed and hopeless at the end of the day.
2- Inability to face daily challenges (in and outside of work)
You may feel incapable of taking on simple tasks or challenges you are faced with during your day. For example, you may be missing deadlines at work or missing payment notices for your apartment.
3- Making mistakes you wouldn’t usually make
If your thoughts at work are overcome by distress, you might likely make uncharacteristic mistakes. For example, you may forget to complete a task that your boss asked of you last minute.
4- A tendency to isolate yourself from others
When we’re not feeling at our best, it’s common to turn inward and avoid interacting with others. For example, you may sit alone in the breakroom during your lunch instead of sitting together and chatting with your colleagues outside.
Feeling overwhelmed can result in avoidance, as tasks and challenges may seem impossible to face or overcome. For example, you may be putting off replying to important emails or following up on certain projects.
6- Difficulty concentrating or lack of focus
If you find yourself easily distracted, struggling to focus or having difficulty completing tasks that require sustained attention, this may be a sign that your mental health is affecting your work.
7- Increased absenteeism or lateness
If you find yourself calling in sick or arriving late to work more frequently than usual, this could be a sign that you are struggling with your mental health, and it is impacting your ability to get to work on time and perform your job.
8- Conflict or strained relationships with colleagues or managers
When mental health struggles are left unaddressed, it can lead to increased conflict or tension in your work relationships. This can lead to strained working relationships, misunderstandings, or even a hostile work environment.
9- Decreased productivity or work quality
If you are feeling overwhelmed, it can be challenging to keep up with your workload and maintain your usual level of productivity. Your work quality may suffer, and you may find yourself struggling to meet deadlines or complete tasks promptly.
If you have decided to talk to your work about your experience, these are some symptoms of poor mental health that could be discussed. By opening up about your struggles and bringing the topic of mental health to the forefront, you’re likely to gather support and understanding from those around you. In addition to that, changes can be put in place at work to help you cope on a day-to-day basis. For example, you might be offered more breaks, time off or an overall increase in social support from your co-workers.
How to discuss my mental health at work?
Understand your comfort level
The first step in discussing your mental health at work is figuring out how much you are comfortable sharing, and how much you actually need to share in order to improve your situation. If you don’t feel exceptionally comfortable talking to your manager or colleagues, consider speaking with HR confidentially so that together you can take a closer look at what specific changes or resources would be helpful to you.
Plan out what you want to say
Before you have the conversation, take some time to plan out what you want to say. Jot down some notes or bullet points to help you stay focused and ensure you cover everything you want to discuss.
Consider getting support from a mental health professional or HR
If you don’t feel comfortable discussing your mental health struggles with your manager or colleagues, consider bringing in a mental health professional to help facilitate the conversation. This could be a therapist, counsellor, or another mental health expert who can provide guidance and support. Your HR point person (usually someone from your department) may also be of help here. You could ask them to be present at the conversation.
Know your rights
In the UK, employees have legal protections against discrimination and harassment based on mental health conditions. It’s important to know your rights and understand what accommodations and support you are entitled to under the law.
Be honest as possible
It’s essential to be as honest as possible (or as honest as you feel comfortable being) about your mental health struggles and how they affect your work. Try to be as open and transparent as you can. This can help to build trust and encourage a more supportive work environment.
Start the conversation
Once you’ve determined your comfort level and have decided you are ready to talk to someone, set up a time for that. Make sure to set aside more time than you usually would, just to ensure the conversation doesn’t get cut short. During the conversation, make sure to be clear about your mental health struggles and how they impact you at work (4). It is also important to provide reasonable suggestions on what can be improved or changed.
For example, you might say things like:
- “I sometimes feel overwhelmed when carrying out that task. It would be really helpful to know what useful resources are available if I ever need them.”
- “I’ve been struggling with my mental health lately, and I wanted to let you know that it’s been impacting my work.”
- “I feel like my anxiety is affecting my ability to focus at work, and I wanted to talk to you about it.”
- “I’ve been dealing with depression, and I think it’s important for me to be transparent with you about how it’s impacting my productivity.”
- “I’m struggling with a lot of stress lately, and I think it’s starting to impact my performance. I wanted to talk to you about what we can do to address this.”
- “I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately, and I think it would be helpful if we could discuss ways to better manage my workload.”
It’s crucial for you to be clear about your struggles while also remaining professional and respectful in your communication.
After the conversation, follow up with your manager or HR representative to ensure that any agreed-upon changes or accommodations are being implemented. It’s also important to continue to communicate about your mental health needs on an ongoing basis so that everyone knows how they can best support you.
How to support my mental health at work
Here are some evidence-based tips you can implement at work if you notice that you can’t work due to your mental health (5).
Do regular check-ins with yourself.
– How does your body feel? Have you been losing sleep and eating less? Perhaps you’re more tense than usual? These can all be telling signs of emotional distress.
Have conversations about mental health with your colleagues.
– More often than not, opening up about your own struggles or simply just the issue of mental health, in general, is likely to create a safe space for yourself and others to talk about your struggles. Building a support system with your co-workers is a great way to manage your mental health at work.
Take regular breaks.
– Whether you need an extra 30-minute break in the day or a whole day off during the week, be sure to communicate that with either HR or management. Burnout and overworking yourself can be detrimental to your mental health state.
– Regular exercise has been proven to increase your self-esteem and help with sleep and concentration (6). All of which are conducive to positive mental health outcomes.
– Besides regular exercise, it’s also important to incorporate movement into your workday. This can include taking short walks or standing up and stretching at regular intervals to help break up long periods of sitting.
Set realistic goals
- Unrealistic or overwhelming workloads can contribute to stress and burnout, so it’s essential to set manageable and achievable goals.
- Communicate with your manager or team members about expectations and priorities to help ensure that your workload is reasonable.
Address workplace stressors
- If specific aspects of your job contribute to your mental health struggles, such as a toxic work environment or a difficult co-worker, consider talking to HR or your manager about potential solutions.
Implement Mindfulness Exercises
- In this busy world we live in, it is vital to be able to calm your mind and just be present for a few minutes each day, strengthening your mind-body connection. Consider trying out mindful breathing, mindful observation or progressive muscle relaxation techniques to calm your mind and recenter amidst the daily stresses.
- When dealing with mental health struggles, being kind and patient with yourself is crucial. Recognise that it’s okay to make mistakes and that you are doing the best you can. Try to focus on your strengths and accomplishments rather than dwelling on perceived failures.
Eat well and drink water
- Our food and water intake affect how we feel daily and in the long run. It can be challenging to keep up a healthy eating pattern if you have a busy work day or work in an office. To combat this, consider bringing premade meals from home, keep a water bottle with you, make healthy food choices, and consider setting up lunches with your co-workers.
Ask for help
– When you’re struggling with your mental health, asking for help is essential. If you feel as though the state of your mental health is consistently declining, no matter what efforts you put in, it might be a good idea to seek out mental health therapy. Get in touch with us to work with a trained therapist to help you work your way through your struggles.
Should I get into mental health therapy
If you realise that you or a colleague is feeling depressed, anxious, burnt out, stressed at work, and thus cannot effectively work due to mental health issues, consider reaching out to a professional.
At Therapy Central, we use evidence-based interventions such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and other approaches to help individuals get through a difficult time and get their life back on track.
Get in touch with one of our qualified therapists today. You can contact us and request a free 15 min consultation to see whether our help will suit your needs.