Monday, October 1, 2012

Mental Health In The Workplace

It's Mental Illness Awareness Week, and while it's a rainy Monday morning in Ottawa, and we're all back to work, it's fitting to talk about Mental Health in the workplace.

Scenario:  Your alarm clock goes off at 6:30am, and as you roll over to shut if off, you groan, thinking about your day & week ahead of you.  You struggle through your morning getting everyone out the door, and on their way for the day, only to sit in traffic for 30 minutes.  By the time you get to work, you're already feeling like you've ran a marathon, and you open your email to see that you have piles of work to do.  As you work away, your co-workers start gossiping about others in the office.   You try to block these individuals out, but the constant hum of their voices irritate you.  After lunch, you come back to your desk to see more piles of work, with urgent deadlines on them.  You start to feel anxious, flustered and panicky.  Everything seems to swallow you whole.  Your phone rings, and it's your daughter's school, telling you she is sick with the flu, and you need to come pick her up.  Your brain is almost at capacity - and then you spill your coffee on your pile of papers marked URGENT.  You break down, and wonder why you even bother anymore. 

Seems like a bad day right?  Sometimes, this anxiety, stress, depression is not just a bad day, but a sign of mental illness.  Did you know that 1 in 5 Canadians experience diagnosable mental illness?  And that almost 4000 Canadians commit suicide every year?

There are many ways to maintain a healthy work environment for yourself.  Some suggest getting up on the hour every hour, just to stretch and get the blood flowing, and oxygen to your brain.  Getting outdoors on your lunch hour to alleviate the ho-hum of the office can boost energy levels for the rest of your work day.  Of course, it's not always easy to get out and about during the Canadian winters, but having access to a gym close by can help you get some mid-day exercise to release endorphins that will be a mood enhancer.

Having a healthy lunch, and healthy snacks during the day is a great way to keep your mind feeling great.  The better you eat, the healthier you are.  Fast food creates feelings of sluggish-ness and can make you feel even worse.  Comfort food is always a go-to in the colder months, so instead of picking up a burger & fries, why not make a homemade soup at home and bring it in for your lunch?  It's easy and packs the same "comfort-food-punch".

Work with your boss and colleagues to have an open door policy.  Being able to effectively talk about issues, without feeling like you have to hold them in will better everyone.  Having a problem with a co-worker that you just can't deal with?  That open door policy will help with that. 

Breathe.   We breathe to live, but have you ever turned out the lights, turned off all electronics, just for a few minutes to hear what your breathing sounds like?  Try it.  Shallow, quick breaths suggest anxiety and stress.  Deep, balanced breaths suggest a healthy being overall.  Take time to close your eyes if you're feeling overwhelmed, and just breathe, in and out, slowly, feeling your lungs expand and deflat.  Do this for a couple of minutes until you start to feel better.

Finally, work at a job that you like and that you're good at.  Having a career is an amazing thing, but if your heart isn't in it, neither is  your mind.  Consider making a switch, even if your background isn't in that field.  Many of us aren't working in the field we went to school for.  (Me - Radio Broadcasting, now working for the Distress Centre of Ottawa & Region)  You may just surprise yourself, finding something you are passionate about!

Be healthy, mentally, in your workplace.  Make a pledge to yourself to try some of the above.  The Distress Centre of Ottawa & Region also provides a Speaker's Bureau in which one of our speaker's can come into your workplace to talk about mental health.  Simply call us at 613-238-1089 and ask for Leslie.

If you're experiencing depression or have a workplace problem you need to talk about, we're here, 24/7.  613-238-3311.

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