Do you feel disengaged, stressed, and irritable at work? Or has the shine of an exciting job worn off?
Working in a tough - or even toxic - professional environment can take its toll on our mental health, and when left unmanaged, can result in high-functioning anxiety, or elevated stress levels that quickly become ‘the norm’.
Unfortunately, physically removing ourselves from a workplace doesn’t always help, as the pressures associated with our work lives can often weigh heavily on our mental health and affect our personal lives too.
If all this sounds familiar to you, why not try actioning the following ten simple ways to improve your day-to-day working routine? They may help you achieve positive mental wellbeing in your workplace.
1. Take Back Control
The University of Lancaster’s occupational health expert, Cary Cooper, says that, ‘In life, there is always a solution to a problem. If you remain passive and think, “I can’t do anything about my problem”, your stress will get worse. That feeling of losing control is one of the main causes of stress.’
So what can you do? Taking control of what you can do will feel empowering.
That might be managing your time better, it might be saying no to new projects, or it might be speaking to a manager to tell them that you need help or are unhappy.
It can be difficult to have conversations with more senior colleagues, so use this simple formula to keep the conversation productive: try saying ‘When [insert event] happens, it makes me feel [insert feeling]. What I need from you/my team/my workplace, is [insert your need].’
This way, you can make your wishes heard in a clear, concise, and effective way.
2. Set Your Own Goals
Having a goal is an important way to stay motivated at work, because without a goal you have nothing to aim for and will find yourself running around with no real purpose. Setting a mix of small day-to-day goals, and larger, long-term goals can promote a sense of achievement. Write them down and put them somewhere you will see them.
If you find your job boring, you can also look at challenging yourself outside of work – try learning a language, how to dance, how to draw, how to cook healthy food, or anything else you’ve always wanted to do. It can also get you out of slumps or routines where you come home from work and just watch TV every night.
3. Look For Meaning
We’ve all had jobs that we felt weren’t helping anyone in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes, one way we can feel better and manage stress is to feel like we’re doing something to help others.
If you want to feel like you’re helping people, why not look at volunteering? And if you don’t have time to do frequent volunteering, try to help others with random acts of kindness, like for example, carrying someone’s bags of shopping to the car, if you see them struggling.
Anything you can do will help you feel better. As Cary Cooper says, ‘Helping people who are often in situations worse than yours will help you put your problems into perspective. The more you give, the more resilient and happy you feel.’
4. Take Time To Connect
Sometimes, the last thing we want to do after a busy day is go out to meet someone or spend time around other people. But seeing friends and socialising with people we care about can be great for stress relief, especially if we have a good laugh while doing it.
5. Accept What You Can’t Control
This can be a hard one, but sometimes accepting that you don’t have control over certain things at work - such as company redundancies, or difficult situations - can help to lessen the load.
6. Prioritise When Busy
Your inbox might be permanently full, and your task list may be never-ending, but if you focus on the big things, you'll feel better when you've achieved them.
However, if your stress levels are rising because you're spreading yourself too thin, speak to your manager, or prioritise where you can. Be realistic as to what you can achieve; no-one is perfect, and be sure to remember that.
7. Take Time Away From Your Desk
Make sure you regularly get up and move around; if you can be active during your lunch break, that’s even better. Go outside if you can, especially when the days are short and you don’t get much chance to see the natural light.
Also, if things feel like they're getting too much, take a mental health day, or use your holiday allowance to schedule time off. Having a long weekend break to look forward to can make all the difference.
8. Practise Mindfulness
When it comes to stress, mindfulness can help you have less intense responses.
Additionally, it can help to strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure, and increase brain function.
9. Listen To Music
Several studies have measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and the results indicate that it can effectively reduce anxiety, relieve stress, and even boost creativity.
Not only that, but background sounds, including music, can also help those of us who struggle with concentration. For example, a study conducted in 2011 focused on boys diagnosed with ADHD and found that their productivity significantly improved when they listened to music while studying. It's fascinating to see how music can enhance focus and keep us alert.
Moreover, white noise has also been found to have a significant impact. Two separate studies conducted in 2007 and 2016 both concluded that listening to white noise improved the performance of individuals diagnosed with ADHD. This suggests that incorporating white noise into our environment can have beneficial effects on our cognitive abilities.
So, why not try wearing your headphones and playing some soothing meditation music the next time you're working?
10. Encourage Your Employer To Prioritise Workplace Wellbeing
Developing and maintaining a harmonious workplace will benefit the whole organisation and lead to increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, improved company culture, and higher staff retention rates.
But how can a business or organisation do this? Here are a few ideas:
• Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) – An EAP provides a framework for improving mental health and wellbeing across the whole organisation. Staff will feel better supported by their employers, while also gaining the feeling that they matter.
Depending on the programme, EAPs will provide access to regular wellbeing checks, counselling, mental health workshops, and wellbeing days.
• Wellbeing Champions – Wellbeing champions are nominated employees within an organisation who help manage the day-to-day delivery of a company's wellbeing strategy.
They will be fully trained to be the first point of contact between employers and employees; in this role, they can provide confidential mental health and wellbeing advice, alongside guidance for the team.
• Team-Building Away Days - Reuniting remote workers, improving team dynamics, and getting away from the work environment you usually encounter, are all important factors in resetting stress levels.
This could involve a pre-planned activity day, a group outing, or even a wellbeing adventure at sea. Ask your manager to consider organising a team-building away day, or even better, approach them with a short list of your own ideas.
If your mental health is deteriorating and you need support, always ask for help. Consider approaching a therapist or a charity that offers mental health services, contact a mental health support helpline, or book an appointment with your doctor.