May is Mental Health Awareness Month and whether you’re one of the millions of Americans living with a mental illness or not, it’s important to keep your mind healthy, especially at work. Not only does the average American spend more than 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime, the office can often be a stressful and sometimes overwhelming environment that impacts us emotionally, physically and mentally. When stress is left unchecked it can lead to strained relationships, lower productivity and lack of concentration as well as bigger issues such as anxiety and depression.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults every year. Depression, although considered less common, affects about 7% of the population every year, but nearly half of the people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety and depression are treatable diseases yet many of those suffering do not receive treatment. Although self-care is something that women and men usually do during their free time, it’s important to practice self-care in the workplace as the line between work and personal life continues to blur. The office is where the majority of our days are spent and it’s important to make sure that your mental and physical health are your main priorities. Below we’ve some compiled a few simple practices that you can add into your routine to take care of yourself at the office. It’s important that this month especially, we take the time to check in with ourselves, listen to our bodies and begin to take steps toward improving our mental health with actions that we can continue all year long.
Meditate. Meditation has been proven to reduce stress, control anxiety, lengthen your attention span and promote emotional health. Because it’s a habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts, it allows you to ignore things that are out of your control and concentrate on things that you can control, like your breathing and your senses. Meditating doesn’t have to be something that you’re doing to reach a level of enlightenment and it doesn’t have to be an hour of your day. It can be as quick as 3-5 minutes and there are plenty of free guided meditation apps that you can download that walk you through exactly what you need to do. And the best part about meditation is that you can do it anywhere: at your desk, in a conference room, on the subway, even in the bathroom! Meditation is one of the best ways to increase your mental strength and stay in touch with your body.
Exercise. Although most offices don’t come with a gym, more companies are recognizing the importance of physically and mentally healthy employees and are adding gym memberships and discounts for workout classes to their benefits package. If you’re not sure if this is something your company offers, inquire with HR, and if they don’t offer it, start the conversation as to why that is and how that can be changed. Not only does regular exercise allow your body to release endorphins, which improves your mood and reduces anxiety, it also boosts energy and brainpower, which helps you think more clearly. If exercising is something that you need as part of your daily routine, speak to your boss about moving around your hours to attend a class in the morning or extending your lunch break to go during the day. Or organize a weekly group workout (yoga, running, hiking) right at the end of the day so that you can exercise as a team. You’d be surprised how receptive most offices are to incorporating exercise as long as your work is still getting done.
Brighten up your space. A small but easy way to create a positive environment at work is to make your space your own by surrounding yourself with things that bring you joy. Decorate with pictures of friends and family or signs with quotes that you love or inspirational phrases that you want to live by. Plug in an essential oil diffuser or light a candle if fragrances keep you calm or buy a plant to add some beauty to your desk and improve your air quality. Whatever it is that you need to personalize your cubicle or office, go ahead and do it. The more comfortable you are at work, the more relaxed and receptive you’ll be to handle anything that comes your way.
Take some time to yourself. It’s difficult to step away from your desk when your work isn’t finished and tasks are continuing to pile up. But it’s actually more beneficial for you and your productivity to take some time to yourself away from your work space. Schedule a 30 minute lunch break for the same time each day so that you know that time is dedicated to you. Or if your schedule is constantly changing, make time to take breaks throughout the day. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, get up and go for a walk or grab a cup of coffee and sit by yourself while you drink it. Even if you’re only getting away from your desk for 5-10 minutes, doing something for yourself that allows you to take a deep breath and re-focus will give your mind a much needed rest. And allowing yourself to take these breaks will keep you feeling in control during chaotic days.
Talk to someone. If you’re constantly feeling anxious, tired, overwhelmed or depressed, don’t be embarrassed to voice your concerns to someone you trust (a friend, an HR professional or a mentor) and ask for help. Not only will it help to talk about how you’re feeling, they can assist you in finding a mental health professional that can provide you with tools to cope with your feelings or prescribe the appropriate medication, if needed.