7 Tips to Deal With Stress and Protect Mental Health at Work

Work-related stress and burnout are serious issues. Here are 6 tips to reduce stress and protect your mental health in the workplace.

Like death and taxes, workplace stress is pretty much unavoidable. And oftentimes, the more stress we’re under at the office, the more our mental health suffers. Research indicates, however, that some amount of stress can actually help our brains function optimally and even prepare us to perform better under pressure in the future.

So, if managing your stress level at work already feels like a full-time job, consider using the following tips to help focus on your own mental health and rebalance your equilibrium while still having enough time to get your work done.

1. Prioritize your physical health and comfort

Anyone who has spent time with small children knows that things go sideways quickly when meals or naps are missed. Yet for some reason, as we get older we often deprioritize our most basic physical needs for food and rest, thinking we can somehow function on caffeine and adrenaline to see us through the workday.

Getting adequate sleep, proper nutrition and hydration, and cutting down on alcohol consumption might seem like small potatoes when things are piling up at your desk and you feel like you can’t cope. But taking care of yourself when you’re out of the office is actually the single most important thing you can do to take care of yourself at work.

No matter how many tools for dealing with workplace stress you have at your disposal, you’ll never truly be successful at protecting your mental health if you don’t prioritize your physical wellbeing.

2. Keep your priorities straight

Whether you love your job or hate it, keeping a healthy perspective about how work fits into the bigger picture of your life can be a really powerful way to deal with stress.

Even if your organization tries to promote a healthy-work life balance, it can be difficult to maintain when things get busy (or when business slows down), if you’re understaffed, or when you’re dealing with difficult personalities.

Remembering what your overarching goals are and why you’re doing what you’re doing, both on a personal and professional level, can help guide your thinking and response to workplace stress and make sure that you’re not placing oversized emphasis on issues that are actually relatively insignificant in the great scheme of things.

Beyond keeping your priorities straight, recognizing the things and situations that are beyond your control — and learning to let go of them — are another important part of dealing with work-related stress. This can be as simple as picking your battles and deciding not to engage with difficult personalities when you don’t have to.

Instead, focus on the things you can control. Set goals that move you closer to where you want to be in life, and then dedicate as much time and mental and emotional energy as you can to meeting them. When we focus on the situations and variable that we can control, we stop perseverating on the things we can’t — which are often the very things causing us stress to begin with.

3. Stay away from gossip and office drama

While trading water cooler gossip might seem like a fun way to pass some time, discussing your colleagues can actually have a detrimental impact on your own mental health and well-being. Not only does passing on the latest rumor about your coworker waste valuable time, workplace gossip can lead to anxiety and depression and contribute to bullying. Plus, gossip and rumors have the power to erode workplace trust, creating toxic cultures that zap morale and make anxiety and stress skyrocket.

Encouraging positive communication and minimizing drama goes a long way toward creating a workplace culture that promotes both individual and collective health and well being. If coworkers try to draw you into a negative conversation about someone else on the team who isn’t present — or if you’re tempted to spread a rumor yourself — resist the urge. Instead, share a positive story from your own life or ask a question about the other person’s well being and then really listen to the answer and respond with empathy and interest.

4. Make time to move during the day

Without a doubt, finding ways to move your body and get your heart rate going throughout the day is critical to combating stress and promoting mental health and many experts believe that exercise is a powerful weapon against anxiety and mood disorders.

finding ways to move your body and get your heart rate going throughout the day is critical to combating stress and promoting mental health.

Making time to move on days when you have back-to-back meetings can be challenging, but the payoff is worth it. For starters, make sure that you’re taking advantage of any gym membership benefits your employer provides and look into wellness incentives offered by your health insurance company. If a gym membership isn’t feasible, find a colleague who wants to walk or jog with you during your lunch break or after work. If you go to the office every day, keeping a set of workout clothes and shoes at your desk makes it harder to come up with excuses and can help you get over the mental hurdle.

Also, consider looking into a standing desk and treadmill to help you get your steps in throughout the day — if your workspace can accommodate it. And it goes without saying: Take the stairs when possible and stand up to stretch and move around at least once every hour.

5. Take advantage of Employee Assistance Programs

A growing number of companies offer access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), but too often employees don’t actually take advantage of the services offered.

The programs are designed specifically to help individuals find support they need to deal with personal issues that interfere with their ability to perform at work. From legal or financial troubles, to substance abuse disorders, to mental health services, an EAP can connect you with professional help to address major stressors in your life.

Common areas for EAP support include:

  • Mental health counseling and support
  • Wellness plans
  • Caregiving and family services
  • Financial planning
  • Professional development
  • Work relationship management
  • Crisis intervention

Check with your HR representative to learn whether an EAP is part of your benefits package.

6. Turn on your Out-of-Office message

If you have a hard time not checking emails after hours and on the weekends because you’re worried what others will think if you don’t respond, consider turning on your Out-of-Office message.

While it may seem like a simple trick, just knowing that you’ve informed people that you’re not currently working and will respond to them when you return can actually relieve some of the mental weight and anxiety you experience about not reading emails. This in turn will allow your brain to turn off and rest instead of kicking into a heightened state of stress.

And if you have PTO that you’re not reserving for a big life event or vacation, use it. Taking a mental health day mid-week or logging off early once or twice a month to go to the movies or wander through a museum can help you relax, recharge and regain your perspective.

7. Speak up

Most importantly, if you find yourself spiraling and can’t keep up with your work or feel like you can’t cope, tell someone. If your boss is trustworthy, start by having an honest conversation about your concerns and struggles and see if your boss has any suggestions to address your concerns. If your boss is a big part of your stress, speak to an HR representative about the issues that you’re having and ask for help getting resolution.

And if workplace stress is causing anxiety or interfering with your ability to cope with daily life, don’t hesitate to seek help from a qualified mental health professional.

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