Wellbeing and Careers Hub > Wellbeing

Looking After Mental Health in the Workplace

Looking After Mental Health in the Workplace

To mark World Mental Health Day on 10th October, we've put together a five-point action plan to improve mental health at work.

1. Don’t skip lunch

Try making healthy choices for lunch into a new habit to ensure that you have enough time away from the screen to avoid fatigue. For many of us, our home is now our office so adopting a healthy lifestyle is key to improving balance and being organised. Planning healthy lunches and staying hydrated can help with mental energy and avoid slumps by eating energising food. Soups and salads are always good choices, as is varying your diet as much as possible.

According to Dr Megan Rossi, it's essential to look after gut health and the key to this is the diversity of the food you eat. The higher the number of different plant-based foods you eat, typically, the more diverse your gut bacteria. Her recommendation is to aim for 30 different types of plant-based food. Also known as The Gut Health Doctor, Dr Rossi says that research shows that this is linked to overall health, including heart, skin and brain health.

2. Improve your business ‘diet’

Dr Nicola Millard, Principal Innovation Partner at BT, has raised the idea of a business 'diet' which can help workers cut down on technostress and help managers communicate better. Many workers are putting in extra hours and suffering Zoom fatigue and significant stress at the moment. Like healthy eating, a balanced diet is optimal and the same balanced approach can be applied to technology. Being always connected can leave us feeling overwhelmed. Dr Millard recommends:

  • Make sure your set-up when using technology is comfortable and free from distractions; it can take as long as 15 minutes to return to a complex task if you have been distracted.

  • Make rules for yourself and stick to them. Don't respond to your smartphone’s new email or message notifications. Resist the temptation to always respond immediately and set boundaries related to work communications. 

  • Be aware of your usage of technology and try to stick to your priorities. Check which communication channels are using up too much time and least productive and leave these until you've finished your workday.

3. Breathe

Email apnea is described as the temporary cessation of breath when we're in front of a screen, especially when texting or emailing. This chronic breath-holding puts us in a state of fight or flight, affecting emotions, physiology and attention. Many of us are unaware that this is happening and the way to counteract this is straightforward – to breathe mindfully. Even if you can only manage a few minutes at lunch, you'll be surprised what a difference concentrated breathing can make to your mindset. There are many different techniques and online breathe classes. To learn more, check out a new book, Breathe: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor. For online breathing classes, check out The Shala breathing school.  

4. Step outside

Nature deprivation is understood to mean a lack of time spent in the natural world and hours spent in front of screens is associated with low moods. There has been a lot of research into the benefits of being in a natural environment. Even spending just a few minutes of looking outside a window provides us with the opportunity to rest and restore our equilibrium. Many psychological studies have shown how natural environments can restore and rejuvenate us and help boost our attention span. If it is difficult to find the time or incentive to get outside, especially as the season changes, it's worth remembering that your work environment can have a significant effect on your mood. Ideas for improving your workspace include:

  • Protect your eyes by adjusting your screen to be as glare-free as possible. Position the monitor to avoid reflection from other light sources such as sunlight or overhead lighting. Consider using dark mode or night shift to reduce the blue light from your screen.

  • Do some neck exercises to avoid holding tension in this area. Your neck absorbs more stress than you might think. There are a number of simple stretches that can make all the difference in reducing neck strain caused by long periods at your desk.

  • Consider a 'sun' or 'SAD' light and place it on your desk to mimic natural light.

  • Make sure to take regular breaks from your desk. Just a few moments away to stretch our legs and stretch our backs is beneficial. There are helpful apps, such as Stand Up or Awareness, to help remind you to take a break and recharge.

  • Make an effort to de-clutter your workspace and create a calm working environment.

  • Burn lavender-scented incense sticks and let the feeling of Zen-like calm waft over you.

  • A small jug of flowers or leaves you picked on a walk will almost certainly make you smile when you sit down to work.

5. Stay in touch

An important factor in improving wellbeing is maintaining good relationships with your colleagues. Even if you feel like hiding away and not contacting anyone some days, being proactive with the people you work with can improve your mood dramatically. It takes effort, of course, but the benefits are not only better mental health but better relationships too. Psychological studies into altruism have found that the pleasure centres of the brain become active when engaging in the act of kindness. Doing good or altruism is when we put other people's needs before our own. This could be by offering your seat on a bus to someone who might need it more than you or making a cup of tea for someone at work.

Evidence shows that helping others can have a positive effect on your mental health and wellbeing. For example, it can reduce stress as well as improve mood, self-esteem and happiness. There are many ways that you can help others as part of your everyday life and keep in touch with your colleagues. Stacie Swift has a range of cheerful kindness cards, which can be left on a desk or sent to a colleague. Sending a card or making a phone call to workmates who are struggling while working from home can make a difference and brighten someone's day.

If you have any thoughts, experiences, news or advice on workplace wellbeing that you would like to share, please see our submission page for more information.