9 Ways to Stay Sane and Improve Your Mental Health at Work

Employee meditating in the office

As the recent pandemic starts to decline, most of us will find ourselves heading back to work. Whether you’ve loved working from home or you’re dying to get back to the office, going back to a traditional workspace is going to need some adjustments.

Even if you feel more productive and sociable in the office, a traditional workplace is going to cause challenges at times. Most advice for traditional workspaces focuses on how to be more productive, ignoring a more serious concern – mental health.

The fact is that working in a traditional workplace is not good for our mental health, leading to the semi-serious statement: “This place is driving me insane!” So, let’s take a look at nine ways to stay sane and keep your mental health up to speed.

1. Stay active

If you work in an office, you’ll likely spend most of your working day at a desk. Unfortunately, long periods of sitting still are incredibly bad for our health. Back problems, repetitive strain, chronic pain, and much more can all be caused by long hours of poor posture and a bad desk chair.

To avoid this, try setting up your desk and chair with proper ergonomics. Ergonomic is more than just a word used to sell desk chairs. It means that a working setup (the desk, chair, computer monitor, keyboard, mouse, and more) is designed to help you work in the most comfortable and healthy position possible.

However, you’ll need more than just an ergonomic chair and desk. Try and stay physically active as best you can, taking regular breaks. Exercise can improve your mental and physical health, and leaves you feeling refreshed and happier.

2. Set boundaries

It’s easy to get into bad habits when we work from home. If you’re not able to set up a home office, you may have to do your daily work in your living space. This can lead to your work time seeping into your free time and home life.

Setting boundaries involves keeping your work life and home life separate. This can be tricky at times, especially if employers and coworkers expect you to be on call almost twenty-four hours a day.

For example, if you work from nine AM to five PM, be present and focused during your working day. Make it clear that after five PM, you won’t be available to answer emails or complete tasks. If overtime is necessary, your employer can speak to you about it and you can come to an agreement.

Understanding that there’s more to life than our work – even if we love our job – is a crucial part of good mental health. Family responsibilities, social engagements, chores, and much-needed downtime are all essential parts of our life. Allowing work to crowd out everything can leave you feeling miserable and empty, and full of regret at missed opportunities.

Once you’ve kindly but firmly set your boundaries in place, stick to them. If you answer one coworker’s email at eight PM, other coworkers will expect you to make an exception for them, too. It’s also important to respect the boundaries of your coworkers and employers.

3. Acknowledge and implement emotional intelligence

People often take an “either/or” attitude to emotional intelligence and rationality. It’s a common fallacy that if you’re emotional at all, you can’t possibly make rational decisions. Of course, this isn’t true. In fact, effective problem-solving often includes emotional decisions as well as solid reason.

Using emotion to present problems to a solution (by expressing yourself in a positive, compelling way) is more likely to get the results we want than using a dogmatic, matter-of-fact approach.

When it comes to problem-solving, balance is key. A purely rational approach may seem to solve the problem, but might in fact leave people feeling dissatisfied and unhappy. However, a completely emotional reaction can actually make the situation worse. Understand that it’s OK to use your emotional intelligence, then use your reason and logic to work with your emotions to create a workable solution.

4. Avoid drama

Offices can be hotbeds of scandal and drama. Unfortunately, gossip, harassment, and bullying can all get footholds in an average workplace. Overly competitive behavior can also cause serious issues.

Understandably, you won’t get on well with everyone all the time. However, a tense or toxic workplace will not only impact productivity but can seriously damage your mental health. Waking up with a sinking feeling of dread every morning before work is going to take a toll on you. Anxiety, depression, or even social anxiety can develop as a response to an unpleasant workplace.

It’s the responsibility of your employers to manage their employees and keep the workplace safe, friendly, and professional. However, you can also do your bit to keep yourself sane.

Try and avoid malicious gossip, or forming cliques. It’s a workplace, not a high school. Try and communicate any grievances as soon as possible, if you can’t just let it go. Try and stay neutral in other people’s interchanges.

5. Focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses

Constantly focusing on your weaknesses is not a positive way of approaching growth. All too often, expending energy and focus on our weaknesses (and those of other people!) only highlights what we can’t do.

Adopting a strength-based focus can help you hone yourself as a person, without zeroing in on your flaws. Developing your strengths will help you in your future endeavors, and gives you a more positive outlook now. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses helps with keeping your mental health balanced.

6. Balance self-acceptance and growth

The key to good mental health (and sanity!) is self-acceptance. Just about all of us could benefit from giving ourselves a little more self-love and support. However, this doesn’t mean we throw any prospect of growth and improvement out of the window. Focusing on our strengths and accepting ourselves doesn’t mean we ignore our flaws.

For example, you might notice that you have a tendency to be short-tempered with your coworkers. Work environments can be stressful, and this could quickly become a serious problem.

While you should still love and respect yourself, that doesn’t mean you can ignore this flaw. Working on yourself as a person and improving yourself is a good thing. In fact, we spend our whole lives growing and changing as people. Putting effort into improving yourself is good for your mental health. Positive change comes from a place of high self-esteem.

7. Respect your coworkers

A positive, professional work environment is an absolute necessity to staying sane. To an extent, a good work environment relies on the behavior of your coworkers. A good employer should take care of the work environment, but that’s not always the case. Unfortunately, we all bear responsibility for keeping our workspace professional.

Showing respect, courtesy, and kindness to your coworkers can go a long way to keeping your work environment comfortable. It’s easy to show respect when you’re being respected in return – but things get tricky if your coworkers are unfriendly. Our natural response might be to lash out, or try and get revenge.

That’s tempting, but a fatal decision. If you take an “eye for an eye” approach, the situation between you and your coworkers is only going to get worse. The atmosphere in your workplace will deteriorate, and so will your mental health. A stressful work situation can put a dent in even the healthiest mental outlook.

There’s no guarantee that acting respectfully will convince your coworkers to respect you in return. Even if your behavior seems to have no impact, it will make you feel better about yourself. You can go home every day, secure in the knowledge that you acted like the bigger person.

8. Take mental health days

Taking a day off from work to relieve stress and burnout can go a long way to helping your mental health. Weekends are often filled with chores, responsibilities, and socializing, and we can often find that we’re not taking any time at all to relax.

Taking a mental health day is likely something you might have to sort out with your employer. You could try scheduling a day off ahead of time or taking a sick day. Unfortunately, not every employer recognizes mental health days. If that’s the case, you may have to use weekends to destress.

A mental health day should be more than just a day off. Here’s what to get out of a mental health day:

  • Time off

Don’t waste your mental health day on chores. Of course, if certain responsibilities are weighing on your mind, that’s fine. However, you’ll get the most benefit from your mental health day if you take time to relax.

  • Destress

Now would be a good time to put away your work laptop and stop checking social media. Do something that relaxes you, like reading a book, watching your favorite TV show, or enjoying a meditation session. The goal is to end the day feeling more relaxed than you did at the beginning.

  • Evaluate your circumstances

Getting perspective on ourselves and our circumstances can be difficult, especially with the stresses of everyday life and work. If you take a mental health day, spend some time sorting emotions and thinking about where you are in life – and where you’d like to be.

  • Rest

Work can be stressful, and burnout has a serious impact on our mental health. Especially if you’re making the transition of working from home back to working at an office, the adjustment period may stress you out.

So, it can be a good idea to take a day off to rest and recover, at least until you get back into the swing of working in a traditional office space again.

9.  Learn to switch off

There’s no getting around it, work can be stressful. Regardless of what you do or how many hours you work, there’s always a danger of bringing your work home with you. Letting your work life bleed into your free time means that you essentially have the worst of both situations. You aren’t working, so you don’t make any headway on your problem (and neither do you get paid!), but you also won’t be able to rest and relax.

Learning to switch off after work is a skill, and doesn’t always come naturally. However, having defined “free time” and “work time” periods means that you can focus and work more productively when you are at work. More importantly, you’ll be able to rest and top up your mental health.

Dangers of Neglecting Mental Health at Work

The sad reality is that many workplaces still don’t prioritize mental health. Stress at the workplace leads to poor mental health. To improve mental health at work, work mental health must first be acknowledged and addressed. Be aware of yourself and how you feel, noting any emotional changes.

Letting your mental health deteriorate can result in high-stress levels, low productivity, as well as physical health concerns. Unchecked mental issues can lead to more serious problems, such as depression and anxiety.

Some employers try their best to keep their workers happy and healthy – both mentally, emotionally, and physically. Without a doubt, this makes for the best and healthiest workplace possible. However, it’s mostly up to you as an individual to do what’s necessary to keep yourself healthy.

For example, setting and maintaining work-life boundaries can help create a firm divide between your free time and your work time. Avoiding workplace gossip and drama makes for a smoother and more professional workspace. Staying physically healthy and active will have a direct impact on your mental health.

However you decide to address your mental health at work, it’s important that you do address it. Staying sane at work takes more than adding a few cute posters to your desk or cubicle. It takes real effort, along with calculated lifestyle changes. However, the results are worth it. You’ll be happier at work and at home, and your outlook will be much more positive.

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