Ask An Expert

How do I balance mental health and work?

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When work makes it difficult to maintain low stress and low anxiety, here are some things to try to prioritize a good mental health balance.

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Question:

What do you recommend as the best way to keep your mental health in check when work circumstances require doing things that make it difficult to maintain low stress and low anxiety (such as having to work extreme overtime or filling in for extra positions due to a lack of help)?

Dear T,

When work circumstances are making it difficult to maintain low stress and low anxiety, here are some things to try to prioritize a good mental health balance:

Learn to say no.

As an overachiever, I like to say yes to everything and everyone. Often, this has amounted in me burning myself out really quickly. I find myself plunging into stress and anxiety as I try to balance an impossible and overly full schedule. Learning to say no was one of the best lessons I learned during my university years.

Saying no is not a sign of weakness.

work-mental-healthIt is not a declaration that you could not have accomplished the activity or assignment you were asked to do. Saying no is showing you care about your mental health and you prioritize balance.


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A simple way to figure out what to say no to is to make a list of everything in your life you are committed to doing: work, school, extracurricular activities, friend and family time, personal time. Look at your list and put a star beside the three things you could not live without. Next, go through the list and circle all the things you would be willing to live without. It doesn’t have to be forever, but just for this season of life, when work is busier.

Look at your list and put a star beside the three things you could not live without.

Next, go through the list and circle all the things you would be willing to live without. It doesn’t have to be forever, but just for this season of life, when work is busier.

Next practice saying no to the things you have circled. For example, if you realize your commitment to babysit your nieces and nephews is something you need to step back from, communicate the reason why clearly to your sibling. Let them know it is just for this season, but you need them to not ask until you approach them saying you have time to commit again. This approach takes off any pressure of them not giving you enough time to balance this season, and you re-committing before you’re ready.

For example, if you realize your commitment to babysit your nieces and nephews is something you need to step back from, communicate the reason why clearly to your sibling. Let them know it is just for this season, but you need them to not ask until you approach them saying you have time to commit again. This approach takes off any pressure of them not giving you enough time to balance this season, and you re-committing before you’re ready.

This approach takes off any pressure of them not giving you enough time to balance this season, and you re-committing before you’re ready.

Do the best you can at one or two things, as opposed to stretching yourself thin and doing only a mediocre job at lots of things at the expense of your mental health.

Saying no isn’t always easy. Take it one day at a time, and give yourself grace if you can’t say no to everything you circled as wanting to.

What if you are faced with a situation where you can’t say no?

Sometimes in life work is busy and so is everything else. There is seemingly nothing we can say no to, and we have to push through a busy and full season.

Just because there is nothing to say no to, and no way to cut back on a full schedule, doesn’t mean there aren’t things to do to decrease stress and anxiety:

1. Make time for yourself.

Don’t get so caught up in your to-do list you forget to love yourself. Always take your breaks at work, go for a walk, pack yourself nutritious food to enjoy during your long work hours, drink lots of water; write yourself notes of encouragement, on the days you do get off from work pick activities that will give you energy and don’t have anything to do with your work.

If you’re an introvert working in a social setting take your days off to spend time by yourself refueling and reflecting if you need it. If you’re an extrovert working in a cubicle, take your days off to connect with friends and family and to share about what’s going on in your life.

2. Ask for help.

If a project is too big, or the expectations on you are unrealistic, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Let your manager or supervisor know how you are feeling and see if they have any suggestions. See if there is another employee who would be willing to lend a hand for a few hours. Be sure to extend the favor back when your schedule is more manageable and they are going through a busy time. This helps promote a positive work environment.

Be sure to extend the favor back when your schedule is more manageable and they are going through a busy time. This helps promote a positive work environment.

3. Talk to someone.

If you work in a naturally stressful job and you are experiencing a season of high anxiety, talking to someone about the situation can help to restore good mental health balance. Talking about your situation with friends and family can draw your attention to potential stress and anxiety triggers in this season. It also allows family and friends to suggest ways they think may help you, or to realize they can help you with your goal of good mental health balance.

Talking about your situation with friends and family can draw your attention to potential stress and anxiety triggers in this season. It also allows family and friends to suggest ways they think may help you, or to realize they can help you with your goal of good mental health balance.

Sometimes connecting with a counselor and talking about the stressful situation or the anxiety can also help. Choose someone who is separate from your work, if possible, as to receive an unbiased perspective.

Don’t let stress and anxiety go unresolved for long periods of time.

The negative effects of stress and anxiety range from emotional to physical–even in busy seasons at work always prioritize good mental health balance.

Sincerely,

Victoria Wilkinson, BScN, RN
Disclaimer: This column is meant to serve as a safe place to ask questions and get opinions from educated professionals; but please always consult your own team before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process. Although our Experts are certified professionals in their area, their advice may not be suitable for your situation, and thus is not to be taken in place of that given by your recovery team and/or family doctor or personal therapist. Please use your own good judgment, and consult a licensed mental health practitioner for specific treatment. In the case of a crisis, please do not rely on this column, as answers may take several weeks to be published, and not all questions will be addressed. Please contact one of the Helplines listed in our Resources section if you feel you are a harm to yourself or in need of emergency support.
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