Mental Wellbeing at Work – How To Stay Sane When Times Are Hard

10 min read

If there’s one thing we can say about life on this planet, then it’s definitely that it’s unpredictable. And while it’s perfectly normal to experience ups and downs, it’s also important to take good care of yourself when you’re experiencing the latter.

In this piece, I share the 9 tips that have helped me cope during various hardships and retain as much focus and work productivity as possible.

How to take care of yourself in difficult times – 9 ways

Whether you’re going through a rough patch in your private life or finding it hard to cope with a sad reality, here’s what you can do to take care of your mental wellbeing. I’ve divided the tips into a few groups to help you address the type of mental overload you are currently going through.

Difficulty focusing at work

1. Take a personal day off if you need to

If you’re anything like me, then you might tend to pile up on vacation days to take a two- or three-week-long holiday. But what if you struggle to get out of bed or think clearly, and your dream holiday is weeks if not months away? A (rather alarming) study revealed that nearly half of today’s U.S. employees experience mental health issues. And yet, they don’t see it as a reason valid enough to take a break. They worry that taking ‘personal days’ will make them look unmotivated, lazy, or even decrease their chances for a raise.

I say, don’t go down this road. Give in and take a day off to reset. Depending on what you’re going through, you’ll find relief in different things. From anything as simple as spending a day watching your favorite movies, to taking a day trip to the forest or going for a massage. 

The bottom line is, you don’t want to grit your teeth and internalize your negative feelings if a short break could help. This leads me to the next point.

2. Tell your closest work colleagues what you’re going through

Some people decide to hide their emotions or what they’re going through from people at work. Some worry that admitting to personal struggles could be seen as overstepping or a sign of weakness. For others, pretending everything is fine just seems to be the easier thing to do. After all, you don’t have to share any vulnerabilities, explain the situation, or (even worse) answer questions. The thing is, this will only work as a short-term strategy, as high chances are, your work colleagues will notice that something is off about your behavior.

Based on my experiences, both as an employee and currently a business owner, let me tell you that it might be harder to actually try and hide what you’re experiencing than to just tell it all. I’m not saying you have to go into detail if that’s outside of your comfort zone. 

Depending on your relationship with the other person, you could go with a simple “I’m going through a rough time now and need a few days to recoup”. Or, you could tell them all about what you’re experiencing. Getting it off your shoulders, instead of trying to hide what you’re experiencing will make you feel better. 

I’ve been on the ‘employer’ side of the story just a few months back.

One of the writers I cooperate with at my business submitted a project which lacked the spark and usual insightfulness. I reached out and found out that their country was going through the biggest riots in history and that they were feeling super distracted. Luckily, the crisis dissipated quickly, and everything went back to normal. Still, I appreciated the honesty as I knew that they still cared about our business relationship.

3. Make sure you get enough rest

I might ask something obvious, but I’ll do it anyway – how is your sleep? 

Chances are high that only half of your current state and inability to work effectively is caused directly by the situation itself. You might be experiencing everything with a double or triple magnitude due to sleep deprivation. Or even something as trivial as poor nutrition and vitamin deficiency. 

Research shows that we need at least 7 hours of sleep daily to maintain good health. Naturally, it goes without saying that if you can’t get enough shut-eye for more than a few days, you should talk to a professional. Make sure you’re eating healthy and giving your stressed body and mind the nutrients it needs. Hopefully, once you can rest properly, your mental state and productivity will get back on track!

Information overwhelm

4. Be wise about how you consume information

During times of turmoil like conflicts or health crises, it’s normal to be glued to your TV or phone. After all, our survival instinct kicks in and we want to make sure we and our loved ones are safe. But if this state of alertness lasts longer than a couple of days, it will take a huge toll on your mental state. Not to mention, you won’t get much work done!

Instead of refreshing your Twitter newsfeed to get live, and, let’s be honest, often questionable news, schedule a few slots for updates from verifiable sources throughout the day. 

If what you’re going through isn’t a personal thing but a regional or global concern, then I recommend ditching news sites in favor of 2-3 legit sources. For example, subscribe to daily updates from topic experts who’ll get you up to speed and debunk any fake news. This will prevent your anxiety from going through the roof or spreading panic among friends and family.

The perks of limiting your exposure to media will be two-fold. First, you’ll filter out the fake news. Second, you’ll get a summary of the most important events, rather than a couple of hundreds of threads.

5. Feed your brain with positive content 

At times of hardship, when we are surrounded by negative news, it’s important to also expose ourselves to some positive content. Especially considering that our brains are more prone to reacting to negative sentiment (just one of the perks of the all-inclusive survival package). Yes, it’s actually scientifically proven! 

Psychology Professor John Cacioppo ran a study where he showed a series of images to a group of people to see how their brains would respond. He noticed that people reacted much more strongly to images, which evoked negative emotions such as stress or fear as opposed to positive ones.

What lesson can you draw from this experiment? 

You’re responsible for what you feed your brain with. If you only watch or listen to negative information, then it’s hardly surprising that you feel down. Watch something funny from time to time – a good laugh can take us a long way! Plus, smiling itself can actually trick your brain into happiness! 

You can also consider subscribing to positive news channels (yes, it’s a thing). I follow a channel called Tanks Good News on Instagram as a lift-me-up, which shares news on acts of kindness. Think of headlines like “Anonymous shopper buys boy an iconic guitar after seeing him play it” or “Pets in Spain become legal members of the family”. Seeing these posts helps restore my faith in humanity when times are rough.

Source: Tanks Good News 

Remembering about self-care

6. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t have the mental space to deal with something

Humans are emotional creatures, some of us more than others. When we experience challenging and upsetting situations, they drain us emotionally – especially if we are hyper-empathetic. We are not a bottomless pit, which can accumulate an endless amount of negative emotions. 

Eventually, we all run out of mental capacity and energy to handle negative events and enter the so-called emotional exhaustion. And trust me, you don’t want to be there! 

It’s perfectly fine to shut down for a little while to recover and to regain balance. If a friend or a colleague comes to you to discuss their problems, don’t be afraid to tell them it’s not the best time. Explain that you’re going through some personal issues and don’t have the space to take on more negative emotions. I am sure they’ll understand. 

Trouble coping with stress

7. Sweat my friend, sweat!

Whenever I experience stress or sadness, I turn to sports! It helps me get rid of any work- and non-work-related negative emotions that I have accumulated. When you exercise your brain releases endorphins, which reduce pain and stress. Studies show that doing 20 to 30 minutes of exercise daily will make you feel calmer. 

I personally like to go for more demanding or physically draining activities like running or bouldering. You’ll be so focused on the sport itself and so tired from it that you will quickly forget about what’s bothering you (at least for a while). 

When you reduce the tension you’ll be able to approach the problem with a fresh mind, and maybe what initially seemed like a disaster will turn out to be an insignificant issue. 

8. If you’re feeling helpless, help others

Feeling helpless is, in my opinion, one of the worst feelings in the world. And, sometimes, an extended period of feeling powerless might lead to sadness and take a serious toll on your mental wellbeing. 

If you feel distraught with a situation around you AND have the strength and capacity to do something, act. This could be anything from volunteering in an organization to financially supporting a cause that’s close to your heart. 

Helping others feels good and can positively impact your productivity in other areas of life – work included.

9. It’s ok to admit that you’re not ok and need professional help

According to the Counselling Directory, 615 million people worldwide suffer from anxiety or depression. The same source estimates that 1 in 4 people will experience mental issues in the future. It’s absolutely critical to take your mental health seriously. 

It’s not taboo nor shameful to consult your struggles with a specialist. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. Both I and my business partner have gone to therapy in the past and it was one of the best investments in our lives. 

Plus, some companies either already run mental wellbeing programs or are likely to in the near future. Especially, given the number of global crises that have fallen on the world since the early 2020s. Perhaps, there’s a specialist whom your business can refer you to as part of your benefits package? Or maybe they offer a stipend you can spend on health services of your choice? 

Put your mental well-being first

We are so busy living our lives that sometimes we forget to pause and check the state of our emotions. Some of us cannot even name the emotion and just feel an overall negative “buzz”, as we never think about how we feel. No wonder a growing number of people are suffering from a mental health condition or will suffer from one in the future. 

Taking care of our mental wellbeing is as important as looking after our physical health. It’s perfectly OK to shut down for a while, take an extra day off from work, or seek professional help if you cannot cope on your own. In the end, the better you feel mentally, the better overall quality of life you’ll have. 

About the Author

Kasia and Anna have been working together as a content duo for years. They have joined Match Community with a mission to share their experiences and help others in navigating their freelancing careers.