Since starting work at 16 (now 31) I am one of the lucky few who haven’t really had any significant problems with my mental health in work. This has made me reflect on the reasons why this may be as the previous roles that I have undertaken have all been in environments where highly stressful situations can arise (working as a chef, teacher and supporting people with learning difficulties and highly challenging behaviours).
I’ve found that I have always had a good support network in the places I have worked and believe that it has been paramount to maintaining my good mental health. I’m not just talking about having good line management and processes in place that can support you (although I do believe that this is one of the most important things and have noticed the negative effects of not having this) but feel people often don’t recognise the enormous benefits of having a colleague (or colleagues) that you ‘click’ with. I’ve found that by having that person (or persons) that you can talk to and relax with is key to managing the stress and expectation that you feel in any role; whether that takes the form of talking through ideas, debriefing after a stressful situation or just chatting to switch off from work for a moment. In the last 15 years I am still friends with many of the people that have worked with me in my various roles and think that I am a much happier and stress free person as a result of it.
I also feel that a large contributor has been maintaining a good work – life balance. For me this is something that is different for everyone and has to be worked out for yourself. For example, some people find it best when they can switch off from work at the end of the shift; I am not the type of person and I know that if something is on my mind I will be anxious about it until I am able to get back to it. Instead I find that having a more fluid balance works best for me. I prefer to pick up work emails at home or complete a piece of outstanding work as it will make me feel better in the long run and then allow me to relax more later. I am lucky that I work in an environment where this is possible and I am able to take that time back as time off in lieu. This is very important to me as it makes my time my own, free of any work worries allowing me to decompress and recharge.
For me these are the primary ways that I have maintained my good mental health in the workplace and without these mechanisms I believe the workplace would be a far unhappier and more stressful place for me.