Beat the ‘January Blues’, and improve your mental health at work.
We all know about the January Blues. January objectively sucks: it’s cold, no one has any money, and all those hopefully-attained gym memberships start to go to waste.
Unfortunately, for some of us, the ‘January blues’ linger beyond January and leak into every other month of the year.
At least one in six workers experiences common mental health problems (anxiety and depression being the most common). If you’re currently experiencing a mental health problem, getting into work, and doing a good job, can seem very difficult, overwhelming, or even impossible. Thankfully, there are a number of things you can make to improve your mental well being at work. I’ve put together a list of small and realistic changes you can make.
Feeling valued and connected is essential to well being, and this is especially true if you’re dealing with a mental health problem, despite the urge to avoid people or shut people out. You don’t need to be a social butterfly to feel the benefits of a bit of basic human interaction. Here are some ideas:
- Speak to someone, rather than emailing, if you need something
- When someone asks how the weekend was, respond with a bit of detail, rather than the usual ‘fine thanks’, and respond in kind (and listen!)
- Share a part of your commute with a colleague, or give someone a lift
Most of us groan internally the moment someone mentions exercise in relation to mental health (“have you tried running a mile at dawn, it’s impossible to feel depressed when you get that runner’s high!”), but it’s a fact that you will feel better if you move more, even if it’s just small things, like;
- Taking the stairs, not the lift, or walking part of your commute
- Going for a short walk at lunchtime
- Walking to someone’s desk instead of calling or emailing
Continued learning enhances self-esteem and encourages social interaction, and anecdotal evidence suggests that engaging in educational activities can help lift people out of depression. Why not try:
- Learning something about one of your colleagues
- Reading a news story you hadn’t previously engaged with, and doing a bit of research on that topic
- Learning a new word (try to work it into a conversation for bonus points)
We can expect to spend roughly a third of our lives at work. It’s pretty normal to spend more time with our colleagues than our friends and family, and many of us find it hard to switch off. In one way or another, we bring work home with us – whether that means carrying the stress from the day all the way to bed, literally bringing home a stack of work, or ‘just checking the work emails for a second’. Constantly being ‘switched on’ is not a good thing, particularly if you struggle with anxiety or are feeling overwhelmed by other issues. There are a few simple ways to regain control and balance between your work and home life.
- If you must work at home, create clear boundaries between work & home life – have a designated area for work and stick to it
- Wind down on your commute – listen to music rather than work on the train, or get off a stop early and walk for a little while
- Write to-do lists the night before – if your thoughts are on paper, you’ll find it easier to not think about work, and you’ll be less likely to experience anxiety or racing thoughts about all the things you have to do
Studies have shown that being mindful of your environment and ‘savouring’ the moment can improve our mental well being and enhance self-understanding. You don’t need to meditate or go to a yoga class to practice this – you can do it at work:
- Get a plant for your work space and appreciate it – the colour, shape, smell, and rate of growth
- Clear the clutter from your desk. Do you really need 10 different highlighter pens, a calculator you never use, and a kinder egg toy?
- Spend two minutes focusing on your breathing –somewhere else you won’t be disturbed
- Take a more scenic route to work if you can
This may not always be possible depending on your workplace culture, so use your best judgement, but if you can, talk to someone at work about what you’re going though. Being up front about your mental health issues may make you feel much less isolated (which makes all of the above a lot easier); chances are, someone else at your office has also dealt with, or is currently dealing with, a mental health problem. Being honest about things may help with practical things such as arranging doctor’s appointments and flexible working.
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