At work, the to-do list is long. So long that sometimes it sabotages your ability to check in with your mental health and attend to the emotions that you experience throughout the workday. (Heck, some days are so busy we can barely remember to refill our water bottle.) Still, burnout is real and we’re simultaneously feeling all the things as some of us return to office environments in a pandemic while others continue to Zoom with bosses from their bedrooms. (Those work/life boundaries are getting weird, no?) That’s why we checked in with Carson Tate, founder of Working Simply and author of Own It. Love It. Make It Work: How to Make Any Job Your Dream Job about a few simple actions we can take to tend to (vs. tamp down) our emotional health at work.
3 Things You Can Do to Improve Your Mental Health at Work
1. Don’t Underestimate the Art of the 5-Minute Work Break
Whether it’s a daily “hi” to a friend or family member or taking five minutes to cue up a good song, close your eyes and shut the world (and Slack notifications) out, taking a short break—and one where you aren’t multi-tasking—can have big rewards for your mental health. Per Tate, just a five-minute text exchange with another human being—even your work wife—is like food and water for the brain. “It can provide an immediate boost in mood and over time strengthens relationships,” Tate explains. (It also allows you to come up for air for a minute.) Another option: A music break. Not only does cueing up some Britney Spears or Beyoncé help reduce depression and anxiety, it gives your daily self-esteem a bump, too, especially if you choose an upbeat tune, according to The Journal of Positive Psychology.
2. For Acute Stress at the Office, Get Moving
It’s true: Some of the more complex mental health challenges to troubleshoot are the ones that crop up unexpectedly. An unpleasant email from your boss, a surprise meeting added to your calendar, or simply a fire you didn’t expect you’d need to spend the time putting out. The best defense? A quick walk, jumping jacks, even a solo dance party can help, Tate explains. “Movement is one of the most powerful ways to move negative emotions through your body and reset,” she says. Think of it as meditation in motion—it mitigates your fight or flight response, but also brings clarity to daily tensions and irritations so that you can let things go a bit more easily.
3. Ask Yourself Questions That Help You Look at the Bigger Picture
When it comes to mental health at work, it’s the little things that can take a toll. Maybe you’re getting mired up in petty office politics or you just need a break from a tiny, but annoying task on your to-do list that continually gets you down. Tate says this is where asking yourself a series of questions can give your outlook (and mood) about work a boost: “The value and importance of your work is defined by you, which means you can find meaning in any job because you define it,” she explains. “Ask yourself, ‘What is the benefit your customers receive from using your product or service?’ ‘How does your work positively affect people?’ ‘What would be the impact on your team, company and customers if you did not do your job?’” Per Tate, once you’ve zeroed in on the answers to these questions, you can write a meaning statement for your work and why you do it. “Post it where you can see it, so when you have a bad day, which we all do, you will have a visual reminder of why you and your work matters to you.”