Workplace stress can have long-term effects on your mental health. Here are 6 ways to manage it.

How to stay mentally healthy at work

Image: iStock.

Work can contribute to your happiness in huge ways: it offers routine, camaraderie and purpose. But when your job is making you feel overly stressed, what should you do?

The importance of seeking help for depression or anxiety is generally understood, but for some reason we choose to ‘soldier on’ when it comes to stress — even though we might actually need support. And often when we are stressed, we don’t have the foresight to figure out practical ways to manage it.

According to new research commissioned by Mental Health Australia, only 18 per cent of Australians regularly seek advice or support when they’re feeling stressed or down. Meanwhile, 49 per cent of people aged over 70 said they rarely or would never seek such help.

These findings are beyond disheartening. Taking action when you are feeling stressed is easily overlooked when in reality it’s so important.

We spoke to to beyondblue’s Head of Research and Development, Nick Arvanitis, about the main factors that can contribute to workplace stress, and ways we can all make sure we are staying mentally healthy at work.

Image via Beyondblue.

1. Go home on time.

Going home on time when you still have so much work to do can seem impossible, but it's an essential factor for managing your stress levels.

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“We know that working long hours over a long period of time can be a risk factor for developing depression and anxiety. Some people might be comfortable to work longer hours, but the issue is when people are working long hours and they don’t want to, but they feel pressure and expectation to stay back," Arvanitis explains.

Still haven't left work and it's 7pm? That's not a good habit.

 

One way of dealing with this practically is to ask yourself why you are staying back, and then have a conversation with your employer about it.

“Employers have obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety act that relate to mental health in the workplace, and a primary responsibility to eliminate risks in the workplace that can lead to mental health injuries, like depression and anxiety. Don’t suck it up and let the stress build, have a conversation with your manager about it,” Arvanitis says.

2. Take your lunch break.

If you have a lot on your plate at work, you might feel like you don't have time to take a lunch break. Yet it can do more harm than good if you're continuously skipping that 'time out' in the middle of the day.

"We know that heavy work demands can lead to reduced productivity. For example, you might be missing days of work because you're run down, or you might go to work but only be 50 per cent productive, and in the long term this is a risk factor for depression and anxiety," Arvanitis says.

"There is only so much an employee can give each day, and if they're not taking breaks, longer term, it will catch up, and impact on the heath, the productivity of the individual and the productivity of the business or organisation.” (Post continues after gallery.)

3. Set realistic deadlines.

If you say 'yes' to an unreasonable demand, you're setting up a negative culture for the future. The truth is, it isn't helpful to just say yes if you know you can't complete a task. Managing unrealistic deadlines effectively involves a negotiation process.

According to Arvanitis, 50 per cent of workers feel like their workplace is mentally healthy, which also means half of all workers don’t see it this way. When it comes developing a solution for setting realistic deadlines, he says it's a shared responsibility between you and your employer.

"When your workplace isn’t mentally healthy, it can make it hard to negotiate. Longer term, if an employee isn’t getting any joy out of their work, they need to think about if it is the right place for them to be working in. As a starting point, though, it is about initiating a conversation,” Arvanitis adds.

4. Take your holiday leave.

Thanks to the culture of hard work ingrained in us Aussies, there's a trend of people not taking their annual leave despite being entitled to it. However, if you don't take it you could be putting yourself at risk of burning out.

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Ensure you take your annual leave to have some time out. (Image via iStock.)

 

"People need to take the time to disconnect, unwind and relax and indulge in their hobbies. It is a really effective way to protect yourself against mental illness. It is all about being aware of our energy levels getting low, so that you don’t burn out and become less productive," Arvanitis says.

So take that leave. You not only deserve it, but it will help you to power on after you've taken the time to recharge.

5. Allocate time for the things you enjoy.

Whether it's reading a book, practising yoga or joining a night class to develop a new skill you've always wanted to learn, finding activities that you enjoy and that enable you to relax outside of work is incredibly important. It's all about scheduling in some 'me time', just as you would any other appointment or commitment.

"It may be helpful to communicate with your manager and say, for example, 'Every Thursday evening I have yoga at 6pm' so then you and your manager can make sure you leave work in time to make it to the class,” Arvanitis says.

Schedule in time for the things you love. (Image via iStock.)

6. Learn how to recognise stress.

Arvanitis explains it's important to recognise the stressors that affect you. For instance, it could be a major deadline — in that case, you need to be aware you may feel especially vulnerable around that time.

Often when you're immersed in a situation, you can lose sight of how stressed you might be. Arvanitis says that this is where a trusted friend can come in handy — they can also be on the lookout for the signs and symptoms and help you to recognise them within yourself. (Post continues after gallery.)

"People are reluctant to admit that they might feel stressed, because they feel like they should be coping. They may feel like they won’t be considered for promotions or that their contract won’t be renewed if they tell people they feel stressed. There is a deep stigma attached to it,"Arvanitis says.

Stress management techniques and finding time for relaxation outside of work are great, practical steps to take. However, if the heart of the issue is long hours or other job-related stressors, like not feeling valued or a relationship in the workplace, then you need to have a discussion with your manager and HR.

There are services and support outside of workplace that you can access if you don’t feel comfortable going to your superiors, including medical professionals and also call beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

How do you manage your workplace stress? Is there a technique that's been particularly helpful?

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