Looking After Your Mental Health At Work

Managing depression or anxiety at work can be exhausting but we have some ideas to help you cope.

Mental Health at work

We've all felt like this at work at some point...

The annoying thing about jobs is, we really need them – rent, food, the clothes on our backs – they don’t buy themselves. That’s why, when we’re depressed or anxious, it can often feel like there’s no way out. If you downright hate your job it might be worth looking for something else, but if you like your work but depression or anxiety are making it unbearable, we’ve got some suggestions to help you cope.

Just the thought of work makes me feel anxious

Most people dread Monday mornings but if you’re struggling with your mental health, you can end up spending the whole weekend worrying about Monday. This is a tough place to be, but there are a few things to try:

  • Know that you are not alone. Depression and anxiety at work is really common. This does not make you weird or different. Everyone feels low at some point, so give yourself the space to be like this and don’t beat yourself up.
  • Try to face those fears. If your depression or anxiety is fueled by things like presentations or speaking up in meetings, try not to avoid those things. Research shows that by facing the things we fear, the fear eventually reduces. And when you do face those fears, don’t forget to congratulate yourself!
  • Try being honest about your anxiety. If you’re about to give a presentation, try telling your audience that you’re feeling a bit nervy – most people will be receptive to this. A couple of smiling, friendly faces in the audience can really help.
  • Try to interact with your colleagues. Even if they’re not going to be your best friends outside of work, try chatting over the water cooler or sitting with someone at lunch. Having a couple of work buddies can make things a lot more bearable.

Set some boundaries

If your work is the kind of place where someone shouts “half day is it?!” across the room when you leave at 6pm, know that’s not okay. When your colleagues are working endless hours, there’s a massive pressure to do the same. But it’s so important to prioritise your mental health, and no one is going to feel good after a sixteen hour day. Try not to let the pressure get to you and set some boundaries:

  • Have the confidence to leave when it’s time to leave. Sure you might have the odd day when you need to stay later than usual but in general leave on time. Your work will be far more productive and your brain will be far happier when you’re properly rested.
  • Don’t read your emails outside of work. Once you’ve left work, that’s your time to do whatever the hell you want.
  • Although it’s important not to isolate yourself from your colleagues, it’s also important to get some space once work is over. It’s nice to have an after work beer with colleagues but remember to see your friends and do the things you enjoy outside of work.
  • Take a proper lunch break. Eating your meal deal at your desk is a no no. Get outside, take a walk, treat yourself to lunch in a cafe every once in a while.
  • Learn to say no. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work you have, try to reduce the number of jobs on your plate. Learn to say no when someone asks you to take on something you can’t handle. A simple “sorry I don’t have time at the moment” should do it.

It’s exhausting hiding how I feel

Many people struggling with their mental health worry their employer won’t understand or worry that feeling depressed or anxious isn’t a ‘real’ enough excuse for falling behind in their work. If crying in the toilets and pretending you have the flu to get off work sounds all too familiar, try some of the following:

  • Try talking to your boss. This might sound like a horrible idea, but if you get on with your boss, it can be helpful to explain how you’re feeling. Not hiding the way you feel should be a weight off your shoulders and they might have some ideas to make work a bit easier.  
  • If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to your boss, try opening up to another colleague you feel comfortable with. Having someone at work who you can turn to can be a massive support.
  • Talk to a counsellor or your GP about how you feel. A counsellor can help you overcome your anxiety and depression. Feeling better outside of work could transfer to a happier time within work.
  • Don’t feel ashamed for needing time off work. Although it’s best to face those fears, like we spoke about earlier, sometimes what we need is a break. You are entitled to take sick leave for mental health reasons and there is no shame in this. Talk to your boss or your HR manager if this is what you need.

Next Steps

  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • YoungMinds are the voice for young people's mental health and wellbeing.
  • Looking for a mentor to help boost your knowledge and skills? Find a youth zone close to you.
  • Reveal your skills with Define Me and find the right words to tell employers.
  • Download Motimator - an app that helps you get the career you want - by giving you a gentle kick up the ass each day when motivation is running low.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Olivia Capadose

Updated on 30-Oct-2018