World Health Organization defines health as „A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Companies are gradually getting better at paying attention to creating healthy work environment for their employees. However, to this day main focus has been on physical fitness. While extremely positive and absolutely necessary, there are still more that can be done.
Mental health at workplace, the part we often forget
Mental health, though crucial for a healthy work and life balance, often gets overlooked. Often even until the symptoms become serious enough to be considered an illness. Johnston et al. 2009 made a study to quantify the direct and indirect costs of employee depression, anxiety, and emotional disorders. They concluded that cost burden on mental health problems is among the greatest of any disease conditions in the workforce. Therefore, promoting the mental health in the workplace is something companies can benefit from tremendously.
In a high pressure, fast-phase corporate environment it has become more important than ever to learn how to recognize the signs and deal with the bad stress, rather than to wait and treat the serious mental problem later. Many of the measures aiming for a physical wellness also help support mental fitness as well.
It’s easy to see how the two can be connected. For example, you may have overlooked recommendations to take breaks from your sitting work and now have a discomfort or a even chronic pains in your back. These physical symptoms would distract you, make it harder to focus and even make you cross with colleagues around you, not a picture of the healthy work environment. A physical discomfort adds to the stress and supports a habit of negative thoughts that contribute on creating much more serious mental problems.
On the other hand, taking care of your body by keeping a balanced diet and getting enough exercise goes a long way also on supporting mental health. Healthy lifestyle can give you a feeling of a control, an achievement and “clear your mind”. From a scientific point of view, the physical exercise triggers a brain chemistry that makes you feel better.
All these are an excellent steps to the right directions, supporting your goal of a good work and life balance. Unfortunately, taking care of only physical factors may not always be enough enough.
Evaluate the condition of your mental health
Following questions can give you an idea how to estimate your mental health. Is your mind in a good shape for now and for the future in 10-15 years perspective.
- How well do you sleep? Do you fall asleep easily (within 15-30 minutes), sleep through the night and wake up rested?
- How good are your attention and concentration skills? Do you find yourself often distracted and sidetracked by thoughts and emotions. Specially negative thoughts that amplify as you “bounce” them in your head? Do you have skills needed to overcome such factors?
- How well can you hold your attention on the task in hand? Does your mind keep wondering and you find yourself unable to focus?
- When was the last time you consciously learned something about your own mental well-being?
A restless sleep, persistent negative thoughts and an inability to concentrate are often brushed off and ignored. It’s easy to start thinking of them as a common and unavoidable part of our lives. However, when ignored such seemingly trivial and innocent issues can fixate and become a habit and will end up disrupting our work and everyday life. Lack of control over our thoughts are considered an important contributing factor for developing mental illnesses.
Cognitive behavior therapy is a practical method focusing on overcoming a negative thought patterns. It’s often used for as an important part of treatment to such extremely serious conditions as a depression and an anxiety. These same techniques could, however, be applied before the minor issues become a serious illness. There are multiple resources for self-learning as well as instructed courses. Read more about CBT and how to combat the negative thought spiral. Ability to observe, analyze and control the direction of your own thoughts and emotions gives you a chance to realize your potential and become more successful in your work and personal life.
Some ways how management and human resources can help prevent work related stress and mental health problems in workplace:
- Integrating good health and safety management into all business decisions, policies and procedures.
- Demonstrating a visible, active commitment to mental health in the workplace.
- Promote workplace health and safety due to informing managers and employees about mental health, including training and support options.
Johnston, Kenton & Westerfield, William & Momin, Soyal & Phillippi, Raymond & Naidoo, Allen. (2009). The Direct and Indirect Costs of Employee Depression, Anxiety, and Emotional Disorders—An Employer Case Study. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine / American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 51. 564-77. 10.1097/JOM.0b013e3181a1f5c8.