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We asked the experts for advice on how to look after your mental health at work

Image: Unsplash We spend the majority at our time at work. In fact, the average person will spend 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime, so it's pretty important that it's a positive experience. To boost your  wellness and  mental health  at work, we've asked the experts for their advice and top tips.

How can I boost my wellness at work?

“Everything comes back to boundaries and respect, both for ourselves and our colleagues. Taking a break every 45 minutes or so of concentrated work, by resting our eyes and practising conscious breathing for 2 minutes, or going for a 5-10 minute walk (ideally outdoors, but up and down stairs or indoors also works) or getting up and doing a series of simple stretches, all serve to lower cortisol levels, and provide us with the re-boot we need to return to our task with fresh eyes and energy,” says Annabel Wilson, founder of Living Ashram.

“When sending emails, be mindful of who and what time we are sending to. Is everyone on the cc list completely necessary? If sending email after office hours, time delay to send at 7 or 8am the next morning. Similarly, don't open work emails after a personal cutoff time at night. There are very few things that really can't wait until the next morning.”

MadWorld Summit, Europe’s largest conference and exhibition dedicated to putting mental health and wellbeing at the heart of the business agenda - offers simple guidance that can help people make lifestyle choices that will boost both their mental and physical wellbeing.

“It’s a checklist called the Five Ways To Wellbeing,” explains Claire Farrow, Head of Content. “Essentially, if you can make sure that these five fundamental key areas are being addressed in your life, you will be creating the foundations for wellbeing. The five key areas are: connect (not only on social media); be active; take notice; learn and give. Once you look at your lifestyle within this framework it becomes easier to make choices that will boost your wellbeing. So, instead of having lunch at your desk, plan for lunchtimes to be a time for connecting. Make time to have lunch with a colleague or friend. It feels like you are getting more done if you sit constantly at your desk but in fact, people are more productive if they have a break.”

What do I do if there’s a toxic atmosphere in the office?

“A psychologically-safe workplace is one where we feel we can speak up and not be humiliated, where we trust our line manager has our best interests at heart and where we won’t be the victim of office back biting or bitchiness,” says Claire.

According to Claire, the best way to tackle a toxic atmosphere is to try and understand the situation; “If you find yourself in a working environment that has a toxic atmosphere, the key is to step back and assess what is going on and what are the root causes of the toxicity. This can help you to understand your reactions and it can also help you to decide whether you can do anything to turn the situation around, or whether you would be better off looking for another job.”

How can I support my colleagues’ mental health?

A problem shared is a problem halved, and connecting with your co-workers can really help establish a support system. “Reach out and show your support, and that you care,” says Annabel. “Social support is a crucial factor in enabling us to overcome stress and mental health issues. Stop by their desk, ask how they are and really listen - without interrupting. Take them out for coffee, lunch or a drink. Send an email or text message periodically to show them you are thinking of them and that you care. If they are being bullied by others, stand with and up for them, and be vocal. Use your voice for good.”

What do I do if I’m struggling?

The advice is unanimous among the experts - you should never suffer in silence. “The most important thing to do if you feel that you are struggling with your mental health is to talk to someone that you trust about it. Don’t be afraid to open-up,” says Claire. “ Your employer may already have services in place to support employees who are experiencing mental ill-health. So, it’s worth looking into what’s available.” Annabel agrees wholeheartedly; “Do not ever be afraid or ashamed of being vulnerable or appearing weak. Allowing ourselves to acknowledge when we are feeling vulnerable and need help, is one of the kindest and most courageous things we can do. We are never, never alone, and there is always someone who cares. Speak to a trusted, non-judgemental family member, partner, friend, colleague, wellbeing officer at work, HR manager, or any of the many charity mental and emotional freephone helplines. 

Are there any easy coping techniques to help deal with stressful situations?

There are also a variety of methods that aim to combat stress in real time, many of which can be implemented anywhere. “Just one minute of conscious breathing lowers cortisol levels, increases immune response, and allows our bodies to come out of fight/flight/freeze mode and engages the pre-frontal cortex in our brains, which governs our ability to focus, problem solve and think creatively,” says Annabel. To try conscious breathing, breathe in through your nose, sending the air all the way to your tummy, hold it in for 3 seconds, then gently exhale through your mouth for 5 seconds. Repeat the cycle for a minimum of 1 minute, and for as long as required.” “There are also a variety of temporary bio-hacks that are effective in stopping in spiral into depression, anxiety, negativity and hopelessness; power poses, changing speech patterns, positive memory and gratitude harnessing, visualisation and state of focus,” says Annabel.


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