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5 more ways to support your mental health at work

Since 2020, a potent blend of pandemic-related stress, societal changes, marketplace uncertainty and shifting norms has taken a toll on the way we feel about our work and our lives. As a result, Americans are increasingly stressed and anxious when it comes to their 9-to-5s.

That’s a lot of doom and gloom. The rainbow, however, is that there are ways to counteract workplace stress. Here are five of them.

1. Take advantage of mental health resources

A surge in cases of depression and suicide since 2020 has led to increased attention from healthcare agencies around the world, including the World Health Organization and the National Institute of Mental Health.

With a 2021 study showing that 84% of respondents reported work-related stress as the cause of at least one mental health problem, workplace stressors are now recognized as a major cause of mental health issues for adults. The effects of mental distress at work have downstream impacts not only on people’s personal lives (including their families), but also on job performance in the forms of absenteeism, decreased productivity and increased conflicts with co-workers.

Because mental health in the workplace has such far-reaching effects, business leaders are increasingly paying attention to mental and emotional wellness as a business priority. Many companies now include mental healthcare options in their benefits packages, largely in compliance with the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.

So far, employee uptake of these benefits has been low. This could be due to lingering social stigma surrounding mental health or concerns that using these benefits might signal a mental illness to employers. Or it could just be that employees don’t think the resources would help.

In a 2022 study on patterns of mental health benefits usage, generational attitudes appeared to play a major role in people in choosing to use their employer-provided mental health benefits. Less than half of baby boomers reported using them, while more than three quarters of younger millennial workers took advantage of the services.

As we’ve covered in previous articles, there are several good habits you can implement to manage your stress levels during the workday. These are:

  • Engage in regular physical activity
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Get adequate rest
  • Embrace a grateful attitude
  • Build a healthy social life

In addition, it’s important to be aware of and try to manage the specific stressors you encounter in your work life. According to an article from the American Psychological Association, stress is ultimately a personal experience.

The article states: “What may cause one employee stress in the workplace may not even cause a ripple of concern to another. The key to dealing with stress is knowing the specific stresses [in] the work environment that you are particularly sensitive to and the warning signs in your own body and mind that signal stress overload. Once you have identified your vulnerability, you can create ongoing stress management strategies to cope with the issues.”

 

2. Manage your manager

Dealing with a difficult boss is the top cause of workplace stress, according to the Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The solution? “Having a sincere conversation may make a difference,” the article suggests.

The American Psychological Association suggests three steps to improving manager relationships:

  • Try to understand the reasons for your boss's difficult behavior. Assuming your boss is reasonable, understanding his or her motivations can help you to frame the problem effectively.
  • Manage your own reactions so you don’t contribute to the problem.
  • With your own emotional reactions in check, voice your concerns with your boss in a solutions-focused way. Of course, if your manager is not behaving reasonably, you may have to consult an HR professional.

3. Foster psychological safety for yourself and others

Workplace relationships play a major role in the overall mental and emotional wellness of workers. While it can be difficult to alter overall company culture, the way you engage with colleagues can make a big difference in your own experience at work, as well as that of the people you interact with.

An atmosphere of psychological safety promotes mental health by allowing people to express themselves openly without fear of judgment or backlash for their ideas and opinions. This atmosphere isn’t just the employer’s responsibility; it depends on individuals. By communicating with openness and kindness, and ensuring the psychological safety of those you work with when they interact with you, you contribute to an overall positive working environment. 

4.  Use your time off

Mental health experts agree that adequate rest is essential to your well-being, and that includes vacation time. Even as U.S. workers have the least amount of paid time off of any developed nation, 46% of Americans don’t even use up the vacation time available to them. Worse yet, 48% do at least some work while on vacation, diminishing the benefits of time off.

Just as you need to get adequate sleep at night, you need time off from work to prevent burnout and maintain work–life balance. That means setting boundaries and actually shutting down work at the end of a normal business day, and fully disconnecting from work while on vacation.

Time away from work gives you opportunities to put life and work in perspective and to reinforce a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. While the restful benefits of vacation typically vanish within days of returning to the office, the moments of self-discovery that come from time away from work can have lasting benefits, because having a sense of purpose is essential to psychological well-being.

5. Advocate for mental health support at work

Leslie Hammer, PhD, Oregon Healthy Workforce Center Director

Leslie Hammer, PhD
Oregon Healthy Workforce Center Director

Employers have increased attention to mental health in recent years, at least in part due to the research that demonstrates a link between employee mental health and business productivity. As with anything else, the degree of awareness and support varies from one company to another. 

“Some organizations are less embracing of the need to support mental health of employees and thus, are not sending the messages that it is OK and acceptable to make use of these benefits,” says the director of the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center Leslie Hammer, PhD, in an emailed interview.

The U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offer resources to help educate employers on both their legal obligations and the business benefits of supporting employee mental health on their websites. If your workplace culture seems resistant to the idea of supporting employee mental and emotional well-being, you might consider sharing these resources with an HR representative.

Student and alumni resources at University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix supports its students and alumni in their educational and career goals. In addition to life coaching and counseling available to current students, and the Counseling Skills Center (which offers free counseling by counseling graduate students), the University offers the following career resources to students and alumni:

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Portrait of Robert Strohmeyer

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert Strohmeyer is a serial entrepreneur and executive with more than 30 years of experience starting and running companies. He has served in leadership roles at three successful software startups over the past decade, and his writing on business and technology has appeared in such publications as Wired, PCWorld, Forbes, Executive Travel, Smart Business, Businessweek and many others. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Headshot of Christina Neider

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Christina Neider is the dean of the University of Phoenix College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Neider’s career spans more than 30 years in academia, healthcare and the U.S. Air Force. She has held several academic leadership roles at University of Phoenix, and she is the Vice President of membership for the Arizona Chapter of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

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This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
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