Annika Sharma

10 Ways to Prioritize Mental Health at Work

Grow your business
Oct 11th 2022

It's #worldmentalhealthday. As the Criya team comes off a packed week at an empowering conference full of hustling entrepreneurs, the productivity required for success has never been more apparent...and neither has the importance of holding mental health steady to do so.

According to the World Health Organization, twelve billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety alone. Depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion (US) each year predominantly from reduced productivity. And further research, cited by Psychology Today, found that full-time employees in the U.S. are putting in nearly one full extra day of work each week, on average, and forfeiting vacation days for fear of falling behind or losing their jobs.

The emphasis on mental health and work-life balance has never been more pronounced. Whether you work in corporate, own a small business, or freelance, here are ten tips to find your 'me time' and prioritize mental health.

1. Take your breaks.

Lunch breaks and coffee breaks provide bodies and minds the chance to refresh and gain perspective. Though it isn't the easiest to step away when work is piling up and many feel guilt when pausing to relax, a study found that employees who were most productive actually took more breaks (17 minutes of a break to every 52 minutes of work) and didn't work any longer hours than others.

2. Commutes can be beneficial.

While longer commutes may impact mental health, utilizing commutes as opportunities to refresh may be beneficial. Take time to listen to a podcast of your choosing, read a book, peruse social media, listen to a Masterclass or Youtube video, catch up on phone calls with loved ones, or meditate.

3. Establish non-negotiables.

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. The most successful leaders have non-negotiables involved with their day. Whether it's eating dinner together as a family, a morning run, driving the kids to school, an hour's lunch break, or work blocks on a calendar that are meeting-free, ensure that your non-negotiables are exactly that: immovable and yours to determine.

4. Make working time efficient.

Can your tasks be delegated? Are you doom scrolling every ten minutes to avoid a task? Are you receiving alerts on your phone? Take a hard look at work habits and take advantage of distraction-free tactics so that work time is efficient, giving you more you time. Set your "Do Not Disturb," feature on your phone or work mode so that only important people or emails cause your phone to ding and break your focus. Apps like Forest plant trees for every block of time you set your focus to, and turn off your notifications. Methods like the Pomodoro method call for 20 minutes of work and a 5-minute break - set your timer and get to it!

5. Recognize when your mind is the sharpest and when it slows down.

Much like sleep, attention can flow in cycles. Are you an early bird? A night owl? A perennially tired pigeon? Knowing your rhythm can allow you to work during your mind's sharpest hours, set meetings for your slower ones, and draw boundaries around your precious time so that you're at your best when needed and you have the time to focus on yourself.

6. Prioritize your health.

Overwhelming to think about a million more habits you have to make time for? Choose the three you can stick with each day. Maybe that's waking up earlier, a 10-minute meditation, or a morning walk. Perhaps it's as simple as not checking your phone the second your alarm goes off and taking the first hour of your day to do what you love. Pick the three most essential elements of your health to work on, and ensure that you take small steps to optimize them. Making them priorities--equally as important as responding to emails or meeting with a client--ensures that each day has time for you to decompress.

7. Build the habits slowly.

Figuring out a work-life balance can be stressful--the opposite of what the balance is supposed to be doing for you! Guilt is real. Start with one habit a week. Once you've established a routine with it, tack on another. This allows a settling-in period for each habit, and a gradual build-up of you-time so that laying off the gas at work doesn't feel like a drastic slowdown.

8. Set an example.

Colleagues and friends often learn about work-life balance from each other. From salaries to work culture, the behavior of others in your workplace set the expectation for what is needed from you and at what cost. Don't hesitate to say, "I'm going to grab a coffee," or "I'm going to take five minutes," and set a positive example. By advocating for yourself, you may be advocating for others to own their own health.

9. Learn to say, "It's good enough."

There are two harsh truths involved with pursuing perfection--firstly, no one can have it all. Secondly, not everything requires 100% effort (some things do!). A 95% is still an A. While perfection is often confused with mastery, it can also slow down work productivity, increase stress, and remove the opportunity for a person to relax. Analyze work time and determine whether there is a "good enough," point where all deliverables are met, the quality is excellent, and all parties are content. Allowing yourself to recognize when something is good enough frees up time and effort to then focus on you.

10. Take your inventory...regularly.

Are you feeling satisfied at your job? Is it challenging? Do you feel accomplished at the end of the day or are you hitting the sack completely depleted? Take inventory once a week, at least, to see what elements of your day you may need to adjust. Perhaps you have to budget an extra hour of sleep or choose relaxing music on your commute rather than client calls--evaluate and reevaluate on a regular basis what patterns are working for you both at home and at work to ensure you're the best you.