Five million people in the UK are being signed off work every year due to anxiety and depression and it is estimated that one in three sick notes from GP surgeries are for issues relating to mental health. Is this surprising? Sadly, I don’t think so.
More of us than ever now feel that our work life is affecting our mental health. A not-so-cheering fact is that the UK currently ranks low on the table for job satisfaction in the western world, with nearly a quarter of us reporting feeling deeply unhappy at work.
About a third of your life will be spent at work, which is a very large and significant proportion. You should consider that it is not only actual hours at the work place, but travelling to and fro, as well as the mental space that it takes up as you mull over your day, fret about a colleague, get involved in ‘office politics’ as well as planning your personal life around your work commitments. And then there is the constant stream of emails that you never seem to be able to escape, wherever you are in the world. The emotional energy that your work and career takes up can be stimulating or, sadly for some, detrimental to health and wellbeing.
Suffice it to say that your work, and the environment in which you spend all this time, needs to be positive and conducive to you. It should enable you to flourish and feel valued, giving you confidence and a feeling of worth to boost your self esteem. If this is not the case, then you should ask yourself if your mental health and wellbeing is being affected. If the answer to this is ‘yes’ then perhaps you should think through your options to ensure that it doesn’t have negative long-term consequences.
Your whole life can be affected by your work; if you are unhappy at work it is very difficult to park your emotions at the office door, and so they often filter into your home and personal life with potentially damaging results.
In today’s world, changing jobs and careers is more the norm, whereas in our grandparents’ time you were in a job and a career for life. However, you should consider the job market and climate very carefully before taking the leap into the unknown.
You should also ask yourself precisely why you are miserable, and think about what changes you can make for the better.
If you can think of changes that would ensure your job becomes rewarding and a happy place to be, then give some thought as to how to start making those improvements. It might mean a difficult conversation with a colleague, or plucking up the courage to speak to your boss about tweaking your role within the organisation; whatever it is, work out how best to do this and act on it. Staying in a job that you know can bring the rewards of advancement that you want, rather than starting at the bottom of the ladder again, might be less stressful in the long run.
Too much stress and anxiety can be damaging and should be taken very seriously as it can lead to depression. The sooner you seek help the better. There are lots of organisations that offer support and you should also arrange to talk to your GP.
These feelings can be all-consuming, affecting your motivation, and therefore the longer you take to sort out the issues the harder it will be to find the energy to make the necessary changes, whether that is within your existing work place or finding alternative employment. The feelings of hopelessness and helplessness can be overwhelming and the knock-on effects can be very damaging to you and your loved ones.
Here are a few ideas from The Mental Health Foundation UK to help you tweak the situation you are in to make it a happier place for you.
- Work smart, not long. Try to prioritise and give yourself fixed times to complete tasks.
- Take short breaks during the day. Our brains are not able to concentrate for long lengths of time, so getting some exercise and fresh air helps to boost productivity.
- Try to leave your work behind when you head home and ensure you get some work-free time every day.
- Make sure you spend time with friends, pursuing hobbies and getting essential mood-boosting exercise.
- Get enough sleep; too little and your problems may seem doubly bad. The Sleep Council recommends a range of 7-9 hours for the 18-65 age group.
You may also benefit from some mindfulness exercises. A 2008 study for the Academy of Management found that people who practised mindfulness experienced many positive knock-on benefits at work; they felt:
- Better able to get on with colleagues.
- More flexible and adaptable.
- Less stressed.
- More level headed when under stress.
- More empathetic and less self-centred.
You may enjoy using an app such as Headspace, which will guide you through 10 minutes of mindfulness each day.
Whatever it is you need to do, act now before the problem gets too deep. As for mindfulness, whether you are stressed or not, it can be beneficial for everyone – go on, give it a try, what have you got to lose?
Author: Debbie Spens
Debbie has extensive experience working in independent boarding schools with a particular interest in pastoral care. She is a teacher of Special Educational Needs, a sports coach and has spent many years delivering PSHE lessons including delivering the Mindfulness in Schools Programme which she has been qualified to do since 2010. She currently works as a schools’ consultant, a Careers Guidance Counsellor, a trainer in Mental Health First Aid and delivers mental health awareness talks for the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust (www.cwmt.org.uk).