Discussing mental health in any setting can be difficult, but it is even harder in the workplace. However, when nearly 1 in 5 adults (44.7 million) 18 years or older struggle with some type of mental illness, discussing mental health in the workplace becomes more necessary than ever. It can be scary to approach mental health issues at your place of business, but it can be even scarier to cope with mental illness when your coworkers don’t know what’s really going on. So, what is the best way to approach mental health at work? From disclosing mental health to an employer to daily coping mechanisms, we’re here to help you navigate and approach mental health in the workplace.
Where to Start Handling Your Mental Health in the Workplace
Unsurprisingly, stress is extremely common in any job and can be a trigger for a number of mental health issues. Managing stress is extremely helpful in handling your mental health at work. Since stress in the workplace can lead to mental and physical health problems, it’s important to recognize where this is coming from and how you can begin to control it. There are a number of healthy ways to cope with stress in the workplace. These include:
- Keeping a journal to track what creates the most stress and how you respond to it.
- Developing healthy responses, such as exercise, meditation, yoga, or any other physical activity.
- Establishing a balance of work and home life by creating boundaries for yourself. This means not checking email after work hours or answering the phone during dinner or family time.
- Disconnecting from the workplace. Take time to focus on yourself such as if you have vacation time or personal days, use them to take a break and recharge.
- Finding support. Family and loved ones can act as a source of support through difficult times. Find out if your employer offers an employee assisted program (EAP) and seek counseling.
According to the American Psychological Association, excessive stress can lead to depression, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. In addition, people who experience overwhelming levels of stress often deal with it in unhealthy ways such as overeating, smoking cigarettes, or abusing drugs and alcohol, sometimes to the point of needing inpatient drug and alcohol treatment. So, one of the best places to st
art is identifying and managing your stress through any of the ways listed above. However, if you find your anxiety and stress levels advancing, the next step is finding active ways to prevent these from affecting your workday.
Preventing a Panic Attack at Work
A panic attack is a common symptom of anxiety and can manifest in a variety of ways. One of the most common ways is your anxiety causing you to think that you are having a heart attack. You may have had an anxiety attack during work after receiving your work performance review or an approaching deadline that you are not ready for. It is important to face your panic attack head-on at work and to not be afraid to open up to your boss if necessary. There are a few things you can do if you begin to experience a panic attack a work:
- Breathe – If you feel like your breathing becomes rapid and shallow during a panic attack, this is the time to focus on breathing in a relaxed manner to help your panic attack go away. By being in a state where you feel like your oxygen has been lowered, this will cause you to experience even more fear and panic. Taking slow, deep breaths will deliver oxygen back to the brain and regain control of your feelings. Learn to breathe in from your diaphragm by inhaling for four seconds, holding your breath for seven seconds, and then exhaling for eight seconds. You can practice these exercises when you are in the bathroom or a private office whenever you feel a panic attack coming.
- Jot Down Your Thoughts – When we feel panicked, we feel like we can no longer think. It may help you to write down your negative thoughts so that you can see if they make sense. Challenge your thoughts and write down a more realistic version of what you are thinking. For example, you may be thinking that you are a failure if you do not make the deadline. Instead, change your thought process by telling yourself you are a winner by dedicating your energy to your work. Once your panic attack is over, you may read these thoughts and think differently about your experiences.
- Consider Speaking to Your Boss – It may be scary to consider the possibility of speaking to your boss or human resources, thinking it will only show a sign of weakness and a possible job loss. Luckily, we have a few ways to make speaking to your boss easier and how to handle this situation.
Disclosing Mental Health to an Employer
Many people are afraid to tell their boss about their mental health in fear this could lead to job termination. It is important to not be intimidated by your boss aboutspeaking of your mental health as this should always be considered a priority. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate if you have a mental illness. There are a few ways to approach this so you no longer fear disclosing mental health to an employer.
Come Up With Questions to Ask Your Boss
You may have questions of your own as to what your coworkers will think if or when they find out, such as if you will be judged by everyone, or how this will affect your career. You should first look at your company handbook to see what their policies are on employees with mental health issues. Speak to your supervisor first before speaking to the head of the company. Ask your supervisor how you should handle recurring doctor’s appointments. You may be able to get flexibility in your schedule without telling your supervisor what the doctor’s visits are for. Then, try to schedule a time to speak to your boss in private about your specific situation.
Prepare What You’re Going to Say
Instead of just unloading your diagnosis on your boss and waiting to see what solutions they may have, make a plan with your therapist about what to do first. Present a solution to your boss instead of speaking solely about your problem. Let your superior know how your mental illness is affecting your work and what kind of changes you need to make to ensure you deliver the best work. For example, if you find it hard to concentrate in a loud office, you would prefer to work in a room free of noise.
Be Open to Suggestions and Accommodations
It is important to be open to what your supervisor suggests. As long as you both come up with a solution that will work for everyone involved, everything will be fine. If it is small accommodations, like taking a longer lunch break once a week to visit your therapist, your boss may be able to help you. If it is a bigger accommodation, involve human resources as well. Being open to your boss can relieve your anxiety and make working for your boss much easier.
Discussing Mental Health in the Workplace Shouldn’t be Intimidating
With these helpful tips, approaching mental health shouldn’t be as intimidating as it seems. However, this is just the beginning of what you can do for yourself. It’s important to do what’s best for you, and that may include inpatient treatment for anxiety and depression or inpatient treatment for any other issues you may be facing. With the tools we’ve outlined, you can feel more comfortable approaching your boss for the time off work you really need to overcome your issues. If you need assistance and feel inpatient treatment is the right option for you, contact us today at Corner Canyon Recovery. We are here to help.
Cheryl has a 24-year history of founding and managing treatment programs for adolescents, in addition to providing therapy for them and is now excited to work with adults at Corner Canyon Recovery. Her own treatment experiences informed the development and implementation of the foundational components of Corner Canyon, and she looks forward to directing a program that meets all the expectations she had while in treatment and includes all the therapeutic practices that she has found to be effective throughout her career.
In 1998 Cheryl co-founded Second Nature Wilderness Program, which grew to be the largest private wilderness therapeutic program in the United States and included 5 separate locations. Cheryl also helped found Gateway Academy, a pre-eminent residential treatment program for adolescent boys, and looks forward to working with the Gateway Academy owners at Corner Canyon.
In 2003, Cheryl was elected by her colleagues throughout the United States to serve as a board member for the National Association for Therapeutic Schools and Programs. Cheryl works clinically with addiction, mood disorders, anxiety, trauma, family systems problems, and other co-occurring issues. She loves working with clients the most out of all the different roles she has played. Cheryl completed her education at Brigham Young University where she received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Sociology in 1991 and her Master’s Degree in Social Work in 1993. Her clinical training included CBT, DBT, Motivational Interviewing, Assertive Communication, and providing individual, family, group therapy and marriage counseling.
Cheryl is the oldest of ten children and has two adult children, a daughter and a son. Her interests include water sports, photography, interior design, household projects, and spending time with her family and friends. She loves house boating on Lake Powell, but her favorite pastime is spending time with her 5 wonderful grandchildren.