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Celebrate World Mental Health Day

Celebrate World Mental Health Day with Eight Self-Care Hacks

Though many in the U.S. are currently enjoying time off for Indigenous People’s Day, October 10th is also important internationally, being recognized as World Mental Health Day. First celebrated in 1992, the World Health Organization explains:

The overall objective of World Mental Health Day is to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health.

The Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.

All too often, advocacy on this topic gets glossed over or dismissed as too complicated to tackle especially in the workplace. It’s a misstep we can ill afford.

Why World Mental Health Day Matters So Much

Awareness on this front is critical. Even if you do not personally face mental health challenges, odds are someone you care about will. As the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports, nearly 1 in 5 adults will experience some sort of mental illness in their lives, but the average time before the onset of symptoms and initial treatment is 11 years.  Awareness and advocacy are critical to bridging the gap created by social stigma and limited access to mental health resources.

The significance of such efforts is more pronounced since the pandemic started. Extended periods of isolation compounded by profound losses and anxieties created a perfect storm. According to KFF/CNN:

During the pandemic, about 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, a share that has been largely consistent, up from one in ten adults who reported these symptoms from January to June 2019 (Figure 1). A KFF Health Tracking Poll from July 2020 also found that many adults are reporting specific negative impacts on their mental health and well—being, such as difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%), due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.

Mental health demands our attention, compassion, and action. There are a number of steps employers can take to support their employees, but it’s also important that we take care of ourselves while respecting our colleagues. The question becomes, how exactly do we do that?

#1 — Set and Respect Boundaries

In a world that tells us to “rise and grind” and “hustle hard”, the pressure to be “always on” often feels overwhelming. When someone tells you to jump, though, the answer need not be, “How high?”

There is a difference between going above and beyond and allowing your work ethic to be exploited. When you are consistently expected to do more and more without notice or discussion, it’s time to have a conversation about your responsibilities and whether you are fairly compensated for your time. In some cases, that might be a discussion about whether or not you are even interested in that extra work, regardless of compensation.

#2 — Unplug from Technology

During the pandemic, our understanding of work shifted dramatically. On the upside, it became entirely possible to conduct business from the comfort of your own home (if not your sweatpants). On the downside, the fact that “the office” was now 10 feet away generated a somewhat toxic expectation that we always be “on” Many managers assumed that remote work all but guaranteed slacking.

Fighting that dynamic can be as simple as shutting down the computer and putting down your phone. There is no reason you need to answer an email at 3 A.M. or deal with a customer problem on your day off. You’re not being paid to be on-call 24/7, and you are entirely within your rights to say so. Any employer who can’t respect that does not deserve you.

#3 — Take Breaks

When you are on the clock, you may feel like any moment of the day spent on something other than work is tantamount to falling down on the job. But according to the American Psychological Association, study after study demonstrates that intentional breaks of 5-60 minutes boosts focus, productivity, performance, and overall mood. 

Maybe that break is taking your dog for a walk or eating your lunch away from your workspace. It could be as simple as clicking onto TikTok to find a cute puppy video. Tools like a Pomodoro timer can help you build that sort of time predictably into your day.

#4 — Make Self-Care a Priority

Ah, the weekend. Regardless of whether you’re working a traditional 9-5 job or have a couple days off in a row during the workweek, that stretch of not working can help you recharge and recalibrate in a meaningful way.

You actually do have to take the time to recharge, though. If you go straight from a to-do list at work to a to-do list around the house, you’re still just running yourself ragged. Even if there is work to be done during your weekend, make sure you carve out a little “me” time. Read a book, go for a hike, or settle in for a Netflix binge. Time to yourself helps you disengage from the pressures of constant productivity.

#5 — Stay Connected to People You Care About

COVID made one thing abundantly clear: isolation sucks. It was a necessary public health measure that underscored what happens when we try to be an island unto ourselves. Even introverts felt the pain.

As research from Tulane University points out, isolation limits opportunities for emotional expression and connection, which may foster detachment from our own feelings. The problem compounds over time, making sharp negative feelings hit us harder when they arise.

So take time to stay connected with your friends. Even if spending time together in person, phone calls, emails, texts, and yes even Zoom calls can hedge against the pitfalls of isolation.

#6 — Practice Intentional Breathing

Ok, ok we get it. When you’re feeling anxious or frustrated, being told to breathe can be irritating. Odds are you’re breathing anyway. The pace and depth of those breaths, however, could be making things worse.

As an article from University of Washington Medicine explains, taking deliberate, deep breaths on a beat can help assuage anxiety. It “turns down the volume” on your sympathetic nervous system, which is what controls your fight or flight response. Distract yourself. Count as you breathe in and out. This can help your mind focus on something outside of what is bothering you.h  Your brain has a chance to clearly parse the situation while your body calms down.

#7 — Go for a Walk

While Reese Witherspoon’s iconic lines in Legally Blonde about how exercise impacts emotions might not quite pass muster in court, she had a point. Regular exercise substantially affects our mental health. According to the U.S. Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, exercise diminishes symptoms of depression in adults over time and may decrease the likelihood of depression developing. 

You don’t even need to break a sweat. A 2021 article from Sports Medicine argues that even short bursts of energy expenditure can jolt you out of anxious or depressive feelings and relieve muscle and mental fatigue. 

#8 — Ask for Help

One of the biggest challenges for someone grappling with mental health struggles can be admitting you need support. Concerns about how they will be perceived, what a diagnosis could mean, and what treatment will look like sometimes get in the way. 

They shouldn’t.

Struggling with your mental health should never be seen as a sign of weakness. Seeking support is courageous. There are people (yes, even employers) who will not only be there for you but respect and admire your willingness to be vulnerable. 

More than that, a neurodiverse brain is not a broken one. It’s a brain that operates differently from others. Sometimes that causes pain, but it can also mean that you see the world differently, bringing unique perspectives and a heightened sense of empathy to the table. That’s’s not necessarily all bad all the time.

So on this World Mental Health Day, take a deep breath. Respect yourself, respect those around you, and remember one important thing:

You are loved, important, and more than enough.

[Editors’ Note: To learn more about this and related topics, you may want to attend the following on-demand webinars (which you can listen to at your leisure and each includes a comprehensive customer PowerPoint about the topic):

Related reading:

This is an updated version of an article originally published on March 2, 2017, and previously updated on February 11, 2020. It was recently edited by Courtney Smith]

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