In my early twenties, like many others, I felt as though I had to continuously prove myself in order to get ahead and was determined to be successful. It was this ambition that led me to a very stressful and demanding job. I told myself that was all part of being a young person in the workplace; you must prove yourself and if you’re not extremely busy and stressed then you’re not doing your twenties right. It was this attitude that prevented me from being open about being stressed, burnt out and suffering from severe anxiety as a result. I remember sitting at my old desk, stomach in knots, my mind and thoughts going around in circles and being convinced everyone in the office was looking at me and thinking, “Well she can’t cope”, “why hasn’t she spoken today”. Anxiety can make you think all sorts of horrible things but in a workplace environment it also makes you feel incredibly exposed and unable to function.
I remember thinking I couldn’t possibly speak to my manager about my work load because that would mean admitting I wasn’t capable. The reality was I more than capable of doing my job, had my mind been well but there wasn’t that level of understanding or openness to be able to communicate that. It got to a point where I told family and friends I’d rather fall and break my leg than go to work, mainly because that was something physical that would be wrong and much easier to communicate rather than admit something was wrong with my mind.
Thankfully now after putting measures in place I am feeling much better with my mental health and I now work for an organisation where we talk openly about how we are feeling and use the word ‘anxious’ regularly in response to ‘How are you feeling?’ which to me feels revolutionary!
I’ve also been able to learn from those dark times and I try to be mindful about the unhealthy behaviours that previously contributed to my stress and anxiety levels at work. I now try to follow this list of five things in order to look after my mental health in work.
I now try to follow this list of five things in order to look after my mental health in work:
1. TALK OPENLY ABOUT ANXIETY
This is so important for me. Being able to state that I’m having an ‘anxious day’ after years of masking it in order to try and feel ‘normal’ is so refreshing. When you bring it up with co-workers in casual conversation yes it can catch people off guard however from my experience, if they’re a nice person they are usually quick to respond back to you with their own stories and past difficulties, after all 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem in our lifetime. Not every conversation I’ve had has been smooth or how I imagined it but there is something satisfying about being able to bring that conversation into a work environment and break down those barriers.
2. ASK FOR HELP
I have realised that build-up of stress and anxiety isn’t going to help me or my employer. I struggle to produce my best work when I feel like my workload is unmanageable. If your mind is racing and you’re agitated you’re certainly not going to be at full capacity and for me that previously led to performance anxiety, it was a vicious cycle. I’ve learnt now that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but it can be a necessity.
3. EAT ‘A PROPER’ LUNCH
This might sound silly but during those times of being incredibly anxious at work food was a second thought for me and would usually be something quick on the go so it wouldn’t waste too much time. I didn’t really pay that much attention to what I was putting into my body. Nutrition is massively linked to good mental health and, it’s so important to fuel your body for a long working day. I’ve thankfully realised that now and take time and care into what I’m having for lunch. I also use it as a time to check in with myself and my own self-worth during the working day. Yes, I am at work, but I also need to take care of my body.
4. TRY AND LEAVE THE SCREEN FOR A BIT
As with most jobs I spend most of my day sat at a computer with emails popping up and endless notifications. it is easy to feel overwhelmed with all that noise and an endless to do list. Allowing myself time to get away from the screen for short periods or asking my line manager if I can pop outside for some fresh air can be a huge help and allows for a moment of mindfulness.
5. LEAVE WORK AT WORK
In my previous job I would take work home with me, monitoring social media for work purposes, answering emails and as a result I never really switched off. Checking emails became a natural impulse that my subconscious brain did without even thinking, which is a scary thought. My conversations outside of work with friends and family also always came back to work. I love my job and want to tell people about it but when you can’t distance your mind you deny yourself recovery time to unwind and re-energise. I no longer have access to work emails on my phone which is unusual in modern times, but it was a conscious move I made to improve my anxiety levels and was a positive change for me.
These things aren’t sure-fire ways to ease anxiety and stress at work, but they have helped me tremendously. Putting my mental health first, recognising behaviours to start again and bringing those practices and mindfulness into a new role has allowed me to enjoy work. I’m no longer afraid on those days when anxiety can rear its ugly head, as I feel I’ve now got the tools to ride it out.