What To Do When Work Affects Your Mental Health

4 minute read

The pandemic has brought mental health in the workplace to the forefront of our attention. With people working from home in isolation, working longer hours than ever and some facing furlough and even redundancy, it’s been harder to cope.

There’s been lots of advice out there. We’ve heard about the importance of routines, connecting with people and self-care, eating right, exercising and getting enough sleep. But there are also more specific things you can do to help with particular challenges that may arise. Here we look at some common situations and what to do when work affects your mental health.

 1. If you’re needing to work lots of overtime…

Depending on your circumstances, most people don’t mind working a few extra hours here and there when things are busy or to meet a deadline. But at this time, when demand for many charities’ services has grown, but the financial struggles of the pandemic (combined with the candidate shortage) may have left them understaffed, workloads are becoming more unmanageable. If you’re consistently needing to work longer hours throughout the week, or your to-do list feels permanently out of control, then it’s time to take action.

What you can do:

If this sounds like you, the first thing to do is to speak to your line manager. They can help you clear your diary for the most important priorities and tell you what you can postpone or drop. It can also help to block out time in your day for your most important tasks, delegate more if you can and drop any extra commitments. If the situation doesn’t improve in a few weeks, or your line manager doesn’t help, then it may be time to speak to HR.

2. If you feel stressed or anxious in work situations…

Almost everyone has experienced this to some degree in the last eighteen months due to changeable work conditions and uncertainty about the future. And this is especially true if you work at a charity. Some stress and anxiety is normal, especially at work, and it pushes us to get stuff done. But if it starts to have the opposite effect on you—pressure and worry are stopping you from achieving your goals, or you experience physical symptoms just thinking about work, then it’s too much.

What you can do:

The good news is that there’s plenty of resources out there that can help. Mind has some good suggestions for how you can help yourself to cope with anxiety and useful contacts for if you need more support. You could also try something to calm your mind such as yoga or meditation. Headspace has some specific meditations for work.

Try meditating to deal with anxiety

3. If you struggle to switch off when you’re not working…

This can be a common problem for those in the third sector as you can be so invested in your work that it’s hard to leave it at work at the end of the day (even more so if you’re working from home!).

What you can do:

Try spending the last 15 minutes of your working day writing your to-do list and planning your time for tomorrow. This can help to get work tasks out of your head and down on to paper. You could also try creating a wind-down routine for yourself at the end of the day, whether that’s walking a little further to the next bus stop or listening to some music, it can all help to signal to your brain that work has ended and your personal time has begun. Additionally, it’s important to have hobbies and interests outside of your career—anything that immerses your mind in something else and stops you from just focusing on work.

 

4. If your workplace environment is unhealthy…

It might be your work environment itself that’s having an effect on your wellbeing. That could be through bullying (either of yourself or others), a toxic work culture, or an organisation that is no longer in harmony with your values.

What you can do:

If there are people at work that you get on well with and can trust, talk to them about what’s going on and how you’re feeling. Chances are they are feeling the same way and it can really help to have allies to support you through difficult work situations. If you’re being bullied then check if your charity has an anti-bullying policy to follow and/or report it to someone more senior who you trust. Ultimately, if your work environment is showing no signs of improvement then it might be time to look for a new role elsewhere.

5. If you’re too emotionally invested…

This is another challenge that can be common in the charity sector. Feeling over-responsible for the wellbeing and outcomes of others can be very draining emotionally. Combined with some of the other issues mentioned above, such as working too many hours and not being able to switch off, it becomes a one-way ticket to burnout.

What you can do:

This is all about rest and recovery when you’re not working (and making sure you have enough time in your week that you’re actually not working to do this). If you’re showing signs of burnout then make sure you build lots of ‘me’ time into your week. The Mental Health at Work website has a great resource for energy recovery that’s worth checking out.

Have some time to yourself to improve mental health

6. If it all gets too much and you can’t cope…

Ever had a small thing go wrong at work and completely overreacted? Sometimes just one little thing can tip you over the edge—‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ as the saying goes. Perhaps you’re also under pressure outside of work, or maybe you have an existing mental health condition that flares up while at work, and then there’s a meeting or an email that is just that last straw. And suddenly you feel completely overwhelmed and unable to function.

What you can do:

If you’re in distress, it’s important to take some time out—whether that’s a quick break from the office or a few days off work—and to talk to someone. Many charities have employee assistance programmes that offer both counselling and practical advice to help support employees with issues life throws their way. Some organisations also have mental health first aiders who are trained to help colleagues in distress. Find out about the wellbeing support your charity offers so you know what’s available to you if you need it. Or you can contact organisations such as Shout, where you can text a trained volunteer for support.

While working for a charity is infinitely rewarding, most people will face a mental health challenge at work at some point, so don’t suffer in silence. There are plenty of resources—and people—out there to help.

 

 

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