Work can get stressful, right? There are deadlines, overload, difficult people, boredom and frustration. Sometimes there's job insecurity, long hours and conflict with other people. Even if you love what you do, work can be stressful because life doesn't always afford you the time to do it as, when and how you'd like. Other people and their needs and priorities get in the way.
Whatever work you do, whether it's for you or for someone else, you've got to manage your stress levels or bad stuff starts to happen. Stuff like;
- Extreme fatigue
- Muscle tension
- Stomach upsets and gastrointestinal problems
- Poor sleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Low tolerance and impatience
- Feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope
Theses are just some of the signs and symptoms of work stress.
I spent a lot of time talking about this stuff in workplaces. These are my top three tips for staying mentally healthy at work.
1. Get good sleep. We don't have a good understanding of the relationship between sleep and mental health but we do know that when you get good, regular sleep you are more resilient and better able to cope with work challenges (well, all challenges). When you're well rested you're less likely to dwell on problems or negative feedback. You probably won't become overly anxious about looming deadlines or difficult conversations. You bounce back when tough stuff comes up, priorities change or people say things that are not particularly helpful.
To improve your sleep:
- Establish a regular sleep/wake routine. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day (even non-work days).
- Aim for seven to eight hours sleep per night.
- Get fresh air and exercise during the day to sleep better at night.
- If you have a long history of poor sleep and you've tried all of the above, see your GP.
2. Take a break. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. That proverb has been around for over 300 years yet we still don't do it. Without regular breaks from work both during your working day and longer holiday breaks you increase your chance of becoming bored and boring, not to mention stressed and heading into a negative spiral of long hours, poor sleep, crankiness, difficulty concentrating and feeling the need to work longer hours to keep on top of things. Nothing good can come of this.
Make sure you:
- Take meal breaks. Get away from your desk or workstation, go outside, go for a walk, see the world and all of its goings on. There is amazing power in seeing other people who could not care less about your particular work challenge going about their daily business. It can remind us that our work situation is just one tiny piece of the much bigger puzzle that is humanity. Perspective can be a wonderful thing for mental health.
- Eat something healthy. I'm not advocating salad every day but neither are daily deep fried dim sims and muffins a good idea.
- See some nature. Find a park and sit for two minutes. If there are no parks, gaze at a tree. Even a weed. Our exposure to nature and our well being are closely linked.
3. Do something you love. Hobby is kind of an old fashioned word these days but it's defined as an activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure and it's a great way to stay mentally healthy. When we're stressed at work, busy with 1000 tasks, working to deadlines, working to expectations, it's easy to let our hobbies fall by the wayside. Doing something for pleasure just doesn't rank in the long list of things we need to do. But if you knew that your hobby, whether it's crochet, cycling or baking, contributed to your mental health and ability to deal with work stress, do you think it might rise up the priority list a little?
- Identify your hobbies. Some of us have cast our hobbies aside so long ago that we no longer remember what we love to do in our leisure time. Do you like to exercise? Garden? Play video games? Visit exhibitions? Hike? Make mosaics? It doesn't matter at all what it is but it should be something that you find fun, relaxing and engaging.
- Make time! If you need to, put time aside in your diary and commit to it. Start small. Set yourself a goal. It need only be a plan to crochet for five minutes at night (but I bet once you start you'll find it hard to stop). If you love gardening like I do, commit to a certain task. 'On Saturday I will re-pot the lemon tree.' Then get out there and do it! (Note to self.)
How do you cope with work stress?