Making sure people are safe at work is the core of the EHS professional’s responsibilities, but do you place your own health under the same importance? As workplace mental health becomes more visible, let’s look at how you can promote your own mental well-being at work, as part of our Workplace Mental Health blog series.
You spend your working life considering other people’s health and safety – but do you think about your own? The responsibility of EHS managers can be heavy, and if you’re not receiving managerial support, potentially stressful.
There is lots of information out there on work-related stress and mental health; however, very few surveys focus on that of EHS professionals.
One of the few surveys was ran by Safety+Health magazine in 2010. They found that almost half of respondents are working increased hours and 60% had additional job stress. Longer working hours and higher stress levels often go hand in hand; in fact, when safety reps identified the main workplace hazard of concern to workers, stress soared to the top with 69% of respondents citing it.
As we know, EHS professionals of any level are not immune to stress or poor mental health – so what preventative measures you can take? Read on to find out.
What causes poor mental health at work?
One in four people will experience mental health problems in their lifetime, with anxiety and depression as the most common.
Stress is not a psychiatric diagnosis, but it is closely linked to mental illness. Mental health problems can cause stress, and stress can cause mental health problems or make diagnosed mental illnesses worse.
In some situations, stress can be beneficial. If you have a looming deadline, stress can give you the extra push to get your work completed. However, prolonged stress can cause issues.
Workplace stress can occur for a myriad of reasons, including job uncertainty, working over-time, having an overwhelming workload, poor relationships with colleagues and management or a long commute.
Symptoms of stress include:
• Feeling unable to enjoy yourself/depressed
• Having a sense of dread
• Feeling neglected or lonely
• Finding it hard to concentrate
• Eating too much or too little
• Experiencing sleep problems
• Smoking or drinking alcohol more than usual
• Having panic attacks
• Experiencing headaches
© Mind. This information is published in full at mind.org.uk.
Stress can silently sneak up, so if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to act.
How to look after your mental health at work
By introducing the following techniques into your routine, you can help press pause on stress and boost your mental health at work.
It’s well known by now that keeping fit and eating well is good for your mental health, yet office jobs can be a detractor for both.
Try and incorporate exercise into your working day: take the stairs, have a short walk once an hour or take a lunchtime stroll.
Heading outside for a 15 minute walk can clear your head and encourage relaxation. It can even boost your energy levels for longer than your afternoon coffee.
Exercising moderately for half an hour five days a week is recommended to ease depression and reducing harmful stress-induced brain changes. It also lowers the risk of physical illnesses like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Enjoy a healthy diet
A decent diet is beneficial for both your psychical and mental health. Keep an eye on your caffeine intake - it’s a stimulant with a crash that can increase your feelings of anxiety and depression.
In terms of food, the usual advice applies: limit sugar, fat, simple carbs and processed foods. One 2014 study found those with a higher intake of fruit and vegetables had an increased sense of wellbeing.
Leave work on time
Don’t take work to your commute. When you leave the office, leave it completely. Don’t reply to emails on the train, and definitely not in bed. Nothing is as important, or as urgent, as your mental health.
In early 2017, French employee law granted workers the “right to disconnect” from out-of-hours work on personal smartphones and computers – a response to the ever-increasing unpaid overtime taken on by staff. Extra hours working were blamed for burnout, disrupted sleep and relationship problems.
One study found that staff working for more than 11 hours a day were at higher risk of a major depressive episode compared to those working seven to eight hours each day. Another found that working for longer than 48 hours each week can result in “risky” alcohol consumption.
Communicate with colleagues
Struggling mentally can feel isolating. There’s still stigma surrounding mental illness and stress, and many people are uncomfortable broaching the topic at work.
A light conversation with a colleague on your lunch or tea break – without even touching on mental illness – can be beneficial. Just like exercise, laughter can release endorphins.
If you trust a colleague, opening up can lift the weight off your shoulders - chances are they are experiencing the same or have experienced similar in the past. This communication will make you feel lonely, and could even start a conversation on mental health at work.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment, and taking note of your mood, thoughts and feelings - a valuable tool in looking after your mental health at work.
By increasing awareness of yourself, it becomes easier to spot feeling of mental unwellness. It can also help you to react differently to negative thoughts. The National Institute for Care and Excellence recommends mindfulness in preventing depression.
In the workplace, mindfulness can be used to get in the “zone” or “flow” of a task – increasing your work efficiency and reducing your response to stress.
Keeping your workload organised can reduce stress and increase productivity. EHS software can help you stay on top of things; our HSEQ Innovate comes with a core Action Manager which automates notifications, tracks all assigned actions and integrates with SharePoint. Find out more here.
Taking care of yourself means you can look after others even better. You know how devastating workplace stress and mental illness can be, so it’s worth doing what you can to stay healthy.
Want to boost organisation and productivity?
HSEQ Innovate Suite is a flexible, enterprise class EHS solutions suite on SharePoint and Office 365 with a history of providing global brands productivity, process and management benefits.