Looking after your mental health at work

Coping with anxiety can be exhausting at the best of times; depression might make you not want to go to work at all, even if you used to enjoy what you do. After all the disruption that the pandemic has caused in our lives, it’s vital to look after your mental health at work. The Mix is here with some ideas on how to do just that.

Two young women are chatting. They are talking about looking after your mental health at work. This is a wide-angle image.

The annoying thing about jobs is, we kinda have to do them. Rent, food, the clothes on our backs – they don’t buy themselves. That’s why, when we’re struggling with our mental health, it can feel like we have no choice but to trudge on and accept life for what it is. Even if depression and not going to work go hand in hand.

But that’s not the case. Straight off the bat we should say that if you downright hate your job it might be worth looking for something else. On the other hand, if you like your work but  suffer depression or anxiety which are making it unbearable, we’ve got some suggestions to help you cope.

If the thought of work makes you feel anxious

Most people dread Monday mornings, that’s normal. But if you’re struggling to maintain good mental health it becomes more than just a nuisance. The thought of going back to work might end up consuming your entire weekend and prevent you from actually resting. We totally get that. However, having depression and not going to work can lead to a downward spiral that’ll end up making things worse

In those moments, we want you to remember that you are not alone. Depression and anxiety at work is really common. Struggling with symptoms of depression, or any mental illness, doesn’t make you ‘weird’ or ‘different’, it just makes you human. Everyone feels low at some point. So give yourself the space to feel whatever it is you’re feeling and try not to beat yourself up about it. Here are some tips to help with this process: 

  • Face those fears. If your depression or anxiety is fuelled by things like presentations or speaking up in meetings, then try doing just that. Research shows that by facing the things we fear, the fear itself  gradually becomes smaller. And when you do face those fears, don’t forget to congratulate yourself!
  • Be honest about your anxiety. If you’re about to give a presentation, let your audience know that you’re feeling a bit nervous – most people will understand and maybe even encourage you. A couple of smiling, friendly faces in the audience can make a world of difference.
  • Interact with your colleagues regularly. Even if they’re not going to be your best friends outside of work, it’s still worth a shot. Having someone to sit with at lunch is a good way to get more comfortable in the work environment. 

Set some work/life boundaries

If your office is the kind of place where someone shouts “half day is it?!” when you leave at 6pm, know that that’s not okay. Likewise, if you’re working from home and your work is starting to blend into your personal life, you might need to take a minute to reflect.

We know that when your colleagues are working endless hours, there’s a massive pressure to do the same. But you should always remember that you’re doing what’s best for you. Looking after your mental health is just as important, if not more, than work. And no one ever managed to have a self-care day working 24/7.

So try not to let the pressure get to you and set some boundaries:

  • Have the confidence to leave or log off when it’s time to leave. Sure you might have the odd day when you need to work later than usual, but in general try to 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 finished work, that’s your time to do whatever the hell you want. How are you going to maintain your physical health and eat a balanced diet if all you do is worry about work? 
  • Although it’s important not to isolate yourself from your colleagues, it’s also important to have a separation between work and personal life. It’s nice to have an after work beer with colleagues but remember to see your non-work friends. You should also make time to do the things you enjoy as hobbies. Maybe even learn new skills
  • Take a proper lunch break. Eating your meal deal at your computer is a huge no go. Instead, we recommend that you get outside, take a walk, and treat yourself to a nice lunch every once in a while.

You don’t need to hide your mental health struggles

A lot of people struggling with their mental health worry about telling the boss. The fear is that their employer won’t understand. Some even think that saying they suffer from depression or anxiety isn’t a ‘real’ enough excuse for falling behind in their work. 

If crying in the toilets and calling in sick sounds all too familiar, try some of the following:

  • Have an open and honest conversation with your boss. This might sound terrifying, but if you have a good relationship with your boss it can be helpful to explain how you’re feeling. It’ll help you get things off your chest and they might even have some suggestions to make your life easier.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to your boss, try opening up to another colleague about what’s going on. Having someone at work who you can turn to can be a massive support.
  • Talk to a counsellor or your GP about your thoughts and feelings. A counsellor can help you overcome your anxiety and depression. The Mix offers a free counselling service which you can check out here.
  • Don’t feel ashamed for needing time off work. Although it’s best to conquer things head on, like we spoke about earlier, sometimes we just need a break. You’re actually entitled to take sick leave for looking after your mental health. So try to make use of that. Talk to your boss or your HR manager to get the ball rolling.

Where to go for help if you’re feeling down

Aside from the friends and family members you trust, you can also use these resources for extra support: 

  • Take a look at The Mix’s mental health resources here.
  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health conditions. 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.
  • Get in touch with your mates, or if you’re new to an area try something like MeetUp.
  • Don’t keep your feelings to yourself. Reach out to the community on our discussion boards to share how you feel.

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.
  • 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 05-Feb-2022