Most people have taken a mental health day — a day off from work to tend to your psychological well-being. But for some people, including me, a 24-hour break just doesn’t cut it. According to recent findings published in Harvard Business Review, half of millennials and 75 percent of Gen Zers have quit a job in part because of mental health reasons. To be honest, I wasn’t all that surprised by these statistics — because I quit my job when I was going through my most difficult times with mental illness.
Now that I’m back at work and doing much better, I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self that she had options. Although quitting seemed like the only option at the time (and make no mistake — for some people, it is the best choice), the truth is I could’ve made a different decision. But I didn’t know what strategies would help me manage work and my mental health at the same time.
Fortunately, I do now. And these insights from experts may help you, too, better manage your mental health (and even a diagnosed mental illness) while working so you don’t have to quit your job.
Learn to say “no”
Setting boundaries is essential in the workplace — but it’s especially important if you’re dealing with mental health related problems. “Letting responsibilities pile can leave you feeling depleted and exacerbate anxiety and other symptoms,” Kara Lissy, L.C.S.W., a New York City-based psychotherapist, tells Thrive. “This can cause you to go into a negative feedback loop feeling down about yourself for not being able to finish your work.” Although our instinct in the workplace may simply be to say yes to every new task that comes our way, protecting our mental health requires being discerning about what we accept. Lissy recommends asking yourself: “How much time will this take day to day? Does it conflict with other things already on my plate? Will I need help? If so, is help available?” Answering these questions will help you have an open conversation with your manager about your bandwidth.
Leave work at work
If you regularly leave the office only to get back onto Slack or email in the evening — and see your tension climb again as a result — it’s time to practice detaching. “Don’t look at emails or ruminate about office politics, and really use your time away from work to focus on the good things in your life,” says David Strah, a relationship coach and licensed therapist. “Make sure you are taking vacations, and at least doing fun things on your weekends.”
Consider telling someone
Depending on your relationship with your boss, you may find relief from opening up about your mental health in the workplace. If you’ve identified certain modifications that you think will lead to a more productive and healthier work situation for you, schedule a time to chat with your manager about these solutions.
Treat your body well
When we’re going through a hard time, it’s easy to forget that all the seemingly “small” lifestyle choices we make throughout the day can have a huge impact on our mental well-being. What’s more, “you’ll be more emotionally resilient if you look after your health,” says psychotherapist Hannah Martin. “This means eating a balanced diet (plus eating regularly), getting enough good-quality sleep, and ensuring you make time for regular exercise.”
Take regular breaks
Even if you’re making good use of your vacation time and getting away regularly, how you take care of your well-being on the job is critical. Strah advises taking a five minute break a few times a day, and perhaps a longer mid-day break to meditate or nap. “Even a short meditation can lower our cortisol levels, helping us destress and relax,” he explains. If you can’t close the door to your office, or you work in an open-space plan, “find a conference room or use your car.” Better yet: Go outside. Sometimes the best way to put yourself in a different headspace is to “physically put yourself in a different environment,” says Lissy. Translation: Just because your office provides tea or coffee doesn’t mean you should give up your afternoon treat of leaving the office to get it.
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