October 7 marks the beginning of mental health week. It’s an occasion that many schools, workplaces, sports clubs, community centres and other organisations observe by holding events that range from mindfulness workshops to social events to group fitness.
The big day of the week arguably is World Mental Health Day. It’s on October 10 — and it’s a timely reminder of how important it is to look after your mental health and wellbeing.
Work stress and finding a work-life balance
When it comes to our mental health, an area that many of us might not pay enough attention to is, ironically, the one place where we tend to spend most of our time.
The workplace is where most adult Australians spend between 36 and 40 hours every week — with many of us spending considerably longer there.
It’s a fact of life that our employment can sometimes become difficult or stressful. Quite often this is simply ‘part of the job’. Long hours, a stressful environment or concerns about job security can stem from tight deadlines, a new product roll-out or increased market competition.
Stress is never pleasant. However, if the situation is temporary, it hopefully passes and things ‘return to normal’.
Prolonged exposure to stressful situations, however, can have more long-lasting effects. Given how much time many of us spend at work, long-term work stress can affect your mental wellbeing and ultimately result in lost productivity for the organisation (a University of Melbourne study estimated depression resulting from work stress cost the economy $730 million per year).
What causes workplace stress?
Workplace stress comes from multiple sources. Common reasons for work stress include:
- The demands of the role exceeding the time available to perform it.
- Resources are inadequate for you to succeed.
- The environment exposes you to potentially toxic or traumatic situations.
- Management or colleagues are failing to provide support.
- Morale, job security, and role requirements are affected by organisational changes.
- Reward and recognition is missing.
- You don’t feel physically safe in the environment.
How we feel about work stress very often relates back to how we feel about our financial security.
An estimated third of all households in the Hume and Brimbank local government areas are experiencing rental stress while almost one in five are thought to be under mortgage stress. In Hume, almost half of all people also report less than seven hours’ sleep on a typical workday.
As you can imagine, the worry of affording the groceries or paying the rent can feel amplified if getting through it all depends on enduring a stressful work environment.
So what can you do to help make your work day less stressful?
You may not be able to control the market, make your boss see the error of their ways, or fix defects in your suppliers’ products. What you can change, though, is how you respond to these situations. Things that you can’t control will happen. Rather than responding by stressing out, here are some handy steps to help you deal better with stressful situations in the workplace.
Take regular breaks
Change your physical position at least once every hour. Grab a tea or cold water (much better for you than repeated coffees). Or go for a little walk and throw something out in the lunch room instead of your desk waste paper basket. Even small amounts of movement will help throughout the day.
Go for a walk at lunchtime
Do this even if it’s just around the building (the effect of a mental ‘reset’ can be highly beneficial). If you have a health app on your phone, keep an eye on it to track your steps and try to get in a few more each day.
Plan your time
Can you fit in a walk before work? Can you prepare your lunch the night before so you’re eating healthy and not rushing in the morning? Can you consider flexible working hours to manage both work and personal commitments more effectively?
Does your work provide an employee assistance program (EAP)? If you need to, get in touch with them. Being proactive will help keep you in good mental shape.
Try to get home on time
According to the ABS, over 60% of Australians work over 40 hours per week and 20% work over 50 hours per week. Spending more time with your family and loved ones is a sure way to improve your mental health.
Leave work at work
Do you need your work emails on your phone? Is it a job requirement that you be contacted at all hours? Consider ways to disconnect with work after hours. You may be surprised by how little it is actually necessary to be connected and by how much better you feel as a result of letting go.
If something is outside of your realm of responsibility, or perhaps you’re swamped and can’t prioritise new requests, now may be the time to speak up and clearly outline why you have to say no.
Talk to your colleagues
You may find that you are not the only person in your workplace that is feeling the effects of workplaces tress. Consider talking to your colleagues about ways to be more productive and more efficient.
Feeling stressed about work? Talk to a professional counsellor on 1300 096 269. It’s free to people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The CAREinMIND blog is delivered by On the Line. The views in each post do not necessarily reflect those of North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.