Protect Your Mental Health Even Under Stressful Work Conditions

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StressSome days you think you just might crack from all of your job pressures. But it is vital to protect your mental health, even under extreme and stressful work conditions. This may be a struggle, but it is a necessity.

“Most people spend a considerable portion of time at work and engaged in job-related activities when not physically at work.  It should not be surprising, then, that a 2012 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that job strain was a primary source of stress for respondents. Our jobs are strongly associated with many dimensions of our well-being and overall health,” explains Clinical Health Psychologist Lekeisha Sumner.

First, you must look for signs that your mental health is being affected by the job. There are ways to tell. “You may find yourself easily ‘reactive’ to situations. Maybe making poor choices. You may find you are taking things personally at work when they are not really personal at all. You find your self esteem and overall happiness becomes tied completely to your work performance and you have trouble finding bright spots,” says Sumner.

If you have to drag yourself out of bed to work every morning, this is not a good sign. “You wake up every morning and have to fight a war with yourself just to make coffee or get dressed to go to work. You dread Mondays so much you start dreading going in Sunday night. You check the clock so often you can’t pay attention long enough to complete complex tasks. You complain so often about work that your co-workers have taken to joking about your ‘case of the Mondays’ has now turned into a ‘case of the all days’,” says private practice therapist Ruth Spalding.

How are you acting at home? “Some indications that your well-being is being negatively affected by your job include changes in sleep, fatigue despite increased work-related absences, frequent physical symptoms or colds, anxiety, burnout, and becoming overly consumed with work-related projects and job security during leisure time. Also, people may notice that their engagement in self-care activities have decreased while there has been an increase in unhealthy behaviors (e.g. unhealthy diet, tobacco use),” Sumner points out. “People who have high demand jobs but little to no social support on the job, limited job control and latitude in making job decisions are particularly at risk for not only emotional distress but other serious mental (e.g. depression) and physical health conditions (e.g. coronary heart disease).”

Take a few steps to maintain a grip even if you find yourself overstressed. “Identify your social support system– even if non-job related supports–and reach out to them. In addition to providing emotional comfort, these individuals can provide you with a broader perspective on your experience and explore ways of coping and problem-solving,” advises Sumner. 

Find the stress triggers. “Identify the particular people or projects that are most likely to evoke high stress responses and develop a plan to better manage high stress situations.  Also, decide how you will not respond to these situations. If possible, try to negotiate better boundaries at work and learn to say no to optional projects. For some people, this may require help with assertive communication while for others in hostile climates it could further isolate them,” suggests Sumner.

Organize your work day. This could lessen stress in more ways than you think. Set your goals for each day or week, make sure to be realistic with yourself and identify what you need to accomplish and how you are going to do it. Set up a road map or plan. Be realistic and budget for unexpected things to come up and provide that buffer for yourself to handle fire drills that may arise,” says therapist and coach Cara Maksimow of Maximize Wellness Counseling & Coaching LLC.

Self-care is very important. “Take care of yourself. Remember to eat healthy foods and try to sleep and exercise. Sometimes, stress levels are so high that people need to schedule these activities in their day,” says Sumner. Adds Maksimow, “Set up some “me time” into every day, whether a walk outside or leave the desk to grab lunch. Perhaps a five-minute meditation or breathing exercise. Make ‘you’ a priority. Remember the job is important but does not define ‘you.’ Do what makes you happy and don’t wait for weekends or vacations to take care of yourself. It will make you more productive in your day to day.”

Give yourself some praise. “Take a few minutes at the end of each work day to recognize for yourself what went well and what you accomplished. Spend time ‘patting yourself on the back’ for what went well. We spend so much of our energy focused on problems and and challenges and we do not recognize and appreciate accomplishments and have a harder time recognizing solutions. Take some time to ask yourself: what went well today? What am I proud of? What did I accomplish? Savor the positive moments. Write them down if you can,” says Maksimow.

Your mental health will definitely affect your career. So it is important to pay attention and take care of handling on-the-job stress. Concludes Spalding, “It’s important to take care of your mental health so that you don’t burn out and become an ineffective employee. If you’re ineffective, you are at risk of losing your job and potentially tarnishing your reputation. And work takes up the majority of your waking hours during the week, so letting work stress get to you is a recipe for feeling terrible the rest of the waking hours, too.”