Recently the federal government recommended guidelines to protect and enhance the psychological well-being of workers at their jobs. We are becoming more and more aware of the personal, social and financial cost of workplace stress and other factors that wear us down mentally and emotionally. The government and workplaces are starting to take this more seriously and make changes for the better. However, it’s still up to us to look after ourselves both at work and on our own time. So whether you are a shift worker, business owner or a stay-at-home parent here are a few things you can do to guard and even improve your psychological health.
HOW BIG OF A PROBLEM IS THIS?
Over 50% of the lost time from work is for psychological reasons. It’s close to that for the number of insurance (disability) claims as well. This cost billions of dollars to the economy every year. A bigger cost however is to the worker, his or her coworkers and their respective families. This puts huge stress on relationships and family finances. It’s a “perfect storm of stress” with more and more stress building with each incident (work, lost time, relationship stress, financial stress, guilt, shame at letting the team down, and misunderstanding from others because they can’t “see” the injury).
WHAT DOES WORK STRESS LOOK LIKE (symptoms)?
It can show up as depression, anxiety, lack of energy, sleeping too much or difficult sleeping, irritability, low sex drive; or even physical problems like high blood pressure, nagging aches and pains, frequent headaches, and frequent colds (especially when you finally get some down time). Right now around half of the visits to family Physicians are for depression and related issues.
WHAT CAN THE AVERAGE PERSON DO?
1. Recognize healthy vs. unhealthy work environments.
Some features of a healthy place to work are: reasonable, clear and consistent expectations; some control over your work (autonomy); the right predictability-variety balance for you; context and meaning to what you do; a feeling of being part of the team (if you work with others); and the right solitude-interaction balance for you. There are also physical factors like a pleasant and organized workspace, good ventilation, sound insulation and natural light. If you don’t have the ideal work situation then start looking around if that’s an option for you.
2. Build missing factors into your life.
Get natural light exercise by going for a walk in the fresh air and sunshine during your breaks. Understand how your work fits into the larger context of the company, society or your personal or family mission. If your work is mostly solitary then build in more social interactions in your non-work time. (This is especially important for stay-at-home parents and care-givers.)
3. Take real breaks.
Lots of people eat their lunch at their deals while they keep working. Others take work home or on vacation. It is important to establish “work-free” times and places so your body and brain can get a real break. This is a little known secret to hugely reduce your stress and make you 2-3 times more productive than if you just keep your “nose to the grindstone”. By not having some of your brain always be at work you fee up your creativity and have better focus when you actually do choose to work. Your immune system will also thank you because it gets a chance to let down and regenerate. (Again, important for business owners, stay-at-home parents and care-givers, those working from home, and those of you on-call.) This can be as simple as stopping what you are doing a few times a day, closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths – or turning off your work phone when you are not on the clock.
4. Look after your physical health.
Get enough sleep. Eat right. Exercise. Drink enough water. When your body is well rested and nourished you feel less stressed.
5. Build a relationship with a good Psychologist.
This is both prevention and cure (and even enhancement). The Psychologist can help you engage in an on-going personal growth program. This gives you some significant advantages: there is someone that can catch you early when things start to drift but before they become a major problem; you will have a sense of moving forward in your life (which is a great protector from stress and depression); and you will probably advance faster and farther in your career because “your output is only as good as you are”. If something major does come up you already have a working relationship and comfort with someone that is trained in helping you get back to your best.
Not all of us are blessed with a great work situation but everyone can use these tips to help guard your psychological health and feel your best.
Tags: Anxiety, Depression, Emotional injury, Healthy workplace, Mental health, Psychological health, Psychological Health and Safety Management System (PHSMS), Psychologically healthy workplaces, Stress, Workplace stress
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