Work smarter, faster, produce better results and do more with less.
Do any of these words and phrases sound familiar? And how do they make you feel? I can tell you that they make about 3 million Australian workers, or to put it another way about 1 in 5 Australian workers feel depressed and anxious.
So, when do you know if your work is affecting your mental health and what can you do about it?
For a start let’s look at what the most common mental health conditions that can result from stresses in your workplace. The two most common mental health conditions associated with work are Depression and Anxiety, with PTSD also being a high contributor for our emergency service workers.
In my previous article Is your employees Mental Health affecting your business? I focused on what employers can do to assist their employees with their mental health and what signs they can look out for to see if their employees are stressed.
In this article, I will focus on you, the employee. I will provide you with some warning signs to look out for and some different avenues to consider for assistance. But I would like to make it clear, I am not a medical professional and the information I am providing is simply from my own personal experiences as a previous emergency service worker for 13 years which resulted in being personally diagnosed with PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety.
No matter what industry you work in there is a fair chance that you may be exposed to situations that can be quite stressful. A little bit of stress is actual good for us as ³according to experts, stress is a burst of energy that basically advises you on what to do.
³In small doses, stress has many advantages. For instance, stress can help you meet daily challenges and motivates you to reach your goals. In fact, stress can help you accomplish tasks more efficiently. It can even boost memory.
³In addition, there are various health benefits with a little bit of stress. Researchers believe that some stress can help to fortify the immune system. For instance, stress can improve how your heart works and protect your body from infection. In one study, individuals who experienced moderate levels of stress before surgery were able to recover faster than individuals who had low or high levels.
So, let’s look at some situations in your workplace that may cause you to become stressed:
- Substantial increase in workload
- Unrealistic time frames for completion of work
- Staff not being replaced
- Higher outputs with less staff or resources
- Bullying, harassment, or discrimination
- Doing tasks or activities you are not specifically trained for
- Managing people
- Workplace conflict
- Job insecurity
- Organisation restructures
- Budgetary constraints and pressures
For our emergency service workers, it can also be situations such as:
- Exposure to traumatic events (car accidents, deaths, murders, assaults)
- Personal threats and assaults
- Attending domestic violence incidents
- Incidents involving children
- Reliving incidents during the court process
- The continual exposure to negative events and situations
All of the above situations can occur any and every day and won’t affect some workers at all, but for others it can be extremely damaging and result in being diagnosed with a debilitating mental health condition.
Because of work stresses the symptoms of a mental health condition can manifest and display themselves differently in everyone, but below are some common warning signs to look out for¹:
- Chest pain or a pounding heart
- Fatigue or reduced energy and drive
- Reduced interest in sex
- Nausea or diarrhea, particularly before attending work or whilst at work
- Loss or change of appetite
- Sleeping problems
- Feeling overwhelmed or frustrated
- Feeling guilty or unhappy
- Being irritable for no reason
- Losing confidence and being indecisive
- Thinking negatively
- Significant weight loss in a short period
- An overall feeling of doom or worthlessness
- Excessive worrying, even over some of the smallest things
What can you do about it?
At a higher level, you can look to implement strategies such as²:
- Identify your triggers
- Establish routines
- Spend time with people who care
- Look after your health
- Practice relaxation
- See a medical professional
- Speak with a specific service providers such as Beyond Blue, Black Dog Institute, or Blue Hope for Police officers
In your working environment, you could consider implementing some more specific strategies such as¹:
- Take your annual leave each year and make sure you have a proper break from work.
- Get out of the workplace during lunch – even if it’s just for a 10-minute walk. You’ll feel refreshed and more productive in the afternoon.
- Try scheduling meetings during core work hours, not your personal time.
- Restrict your overtime hours and speak to your manager if demands are unreasonable.
- If you frequently work late, try leaving on time at least a couple of times a week.
- Avoid checking your emails or answering work calls out of hours.
So what does it all mean?
ªMental illness is more prevalent than many people realise. Around 45% of Australians aged between 16 and 85 will experience a mental illness at some point in their life, while one in five Australian adults will experience a mental illness in any given year.
A worker may develop mental illness prior to employment or during employment. Most workers successfully manage their illness without it impacting on their work. Some may require workplace support for a short period of time, while a minority will require ongoing workplace strategies.
It is often presumed that a worker’s mental illness develops outside of the workplace. However, an ‘unhealthy’ work environment or a workplace incident can cause considerable stress and exacerbate, or contribute to, the development of mental illness.
Take it from someone that has been through it personally. Dealing with a work related mental health condition is extremely challenging, soul destroying, financially draining and definitely life changing.
But I can assure you; you will get through it even though it may take some time, life does get better and the changes? Well, they aren’t all bad!
So if the information in this article resonates with what your are experiencing please take that first small, but hardest step of asking for or seeking help.
Because you are worth it!
Stuart Rawlins | Healthy Mind Healthy Future
Strategies to improve your Mental Health
¹Beyond Blue, ² Australian Psychological Society, ³ULifeline, ªAustralian Human Rights Commission