How to Protect Your Mental Health at Work

UPDATED: February 2, 2023
PUBLISHED: February 2, 2023
woman stressed at work

One thing we’d all like to leave behind this year is the prevalence of stress. According to a recent American Psychiatric Association (APA) poll, 31% of Americans anticipated being more stressed in the 2022 holiday season than they were the year before. 

And it’s not just the holidays that cause this heightened state of anxiety. In an October 2022 poll, “Stress in America 2022: Concerned for the future, beset by inflation,” the APA found that 34% of adults report “stress is completely overwhelming most days,” alongside 27% of respondents who report that “most days they are so stressed they can’t function.” Experiencing a degree of stress can keep you motivated and alert. However, chronic stress can potentially lead to a host of health issues, from anxiety and depression to physical ailments.

Unfortunately, with recession concerns, lingering pandemic effects and ongoing political tension, the external factors that cause stress are still very real. The main option available to both employees and employers to mitigate stress is learning how to manage it better. Here are a few tips to build good mental health in the workplace.

Protecting mental health at work for employees

1. Ease into your day

You open your eyes, silence your phone alarm, press your mail app and start thumbing through your emails. Sound like a familiar scene? How you begin your day sets the tone. When you immediately launch into work before brushing your teeth, you’re immediately launching yourself into a stressful frame of mind. 

Instead, consider practicing a few minutes of mindfulness upon waking. Use this time to set your intentions for the day or begin your morning routine (workout, shower, rouse the children) without reviewing your work tasks. This will help further delineate the line between personal and professional. The groundwork for a smooth morning can often be established the night prior. Self-care doesn’t always equate to spa days. It could simply be taking the time the night before to select your outfit, pack lunches and check your calendar, ensuring the morning hours are much calmer.

2. Establish boundaries

Establishing boundaries was difficult before the pandemic. Your cellphone was always in reach, which theoretically meant you were always reachable and potentially available to address any work issues. Now that so many of us work from home, turning off work mode is an even more challenging feat. But it can be done, and in order to lessen stress, improve mental health at work and enjoy an adequate work-life balance, it must.

Set boundaries (not answering emails on the weekends, for example), communicate them with your team and then stick to them. You might question what harm drafting one little email on Saturday afternoon could do as you hit send. By replying then instead of Monday morning, you’re showing people that not only is your boundary shaky, but you’re willing to be inconvenienced again.

3. Familiarize yourself with EAP benefits

EAP benefits allow you the opportunity to speak with a trained counselor to help you handle stresses such as financial issues, burnout and family problems. It’s also confidential and free. Look into these mental health benefits available via your work’s employee assistance program to find out how to access them. That way, when you need to have a productive conversation with someone who can serve as an unbiased sounding board, you know where to go.

Protecting mental health at work for employers

1. Cultivate a culture of gratitude

Think of gratitude as your silver bullet: what else could create better work relationships, less stress, and higher job satisfaction? Whether it’s emailing a colleague a congratulatory note after an engaging presentation or beginning each work meeting with team members sharing what they’re grateful for, leadership leads the charge for encouraging this type of thankfulness in the workplace.

2. Be supportive

The phrase ‘taking a mental health day’ has become more in vogue the last few years. Don’t let it be something you give lip service to, then abandon when it’s crunch time or deadlines are looming. Treat employee mental health like you would their physical health. If you wouldn’t think twice about an employee ducking out for an optometrist appointment, don’t punish them for taking time off to go to a therapy session.

To that end, check with your employees about using their vacation days. With increasing workloads, some employees might feel they can’t or shouldn’t take time away. Address those concerns proactively, and have a plan for vacation coverage. Taking a break is necessary to recharge, shows employers believe in work-life balance and reduces stress and potential burnout.

3. Offer mental health resources at work during the day

Could a meeting over coffee instead be a walk (weather permitting) at a local park? Is there a lunch-and-learn or a webinar on stress management that you can ask your team to attend? What about discounting or subsidizing nutritious food services or gym classes? Building a culture rich in wellness opportunities will help develop that good mental health muscle to keep your employees feeling less stressed.

Photo by Amnaj Khetsamtip/Shutterstock

Jill McDonnell is a Chicago-based content writer and communications professional. She has a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller novel.