Mental health affects how you think, feel, and act in all aspects of your life. And for many of us work is an essential part of our lives – it’s where we spend most of our time, the way we pay the bills, and how we shape our futures. And while it’s easy to sideline mental health at work due to its negative stigma, it’s especially important for professionals to optimize their mental health within their work environment.
More than any other workers, it’s crucial for first generation professionals to prioritize mental wellness at work. The first generation identity is characterized by a person’s ability to continually navigate and overcome barriers that other coworkers may never encounter. And while it’s easy to think of the resilience that this type of experience builds in a romantic way, the challenges that first generation professionals encounter come hand-in-hand with high levels of stress and anxiety, and a heavy toll on their mental health. This anxiety is only heightened during a time when first gens have to navigate conversations addressing identity in the workplace for the very first time.
So how can first generation professionals become proactive about promoting their mental health in their workplace? And what tools can first gens leverage to navigate mental health at work?
Cultivate a culture of emotional awareness
While it may sound simple, the first step to improve your mental health at work is to openly talk about it. Start by developing a sense of awareness about how you are feeling. Are you anxious? Is something outside of work on your mind? Begin your day by checking in with yourself so that you can openly communicate your mood, mindset, and challenges to the people that you work with. Identify your support system at work and practice sharing how you feel with these people, and slowly build your network of trust. And if you aren’t quite ready to practice transparency with your coworkers, practice opening up about how you feel with your friends and family.
To cultivate a culture of emotional awareness at work, it’s also important that you pay attention to the people around you. If you notice that one of your coworkers is having a bad day or is behaving differently, check in with them. Ask them if everything is alright or if there is anything you could do to help. Demonstrate your supportiveness by buying them lunch or asking if they’d like to take a walk with you. When you treat your coworkers like dynamic human beings that deserve care and attention, it’s more likely that they project the same attitude back towards you.
Be honest about taking mental health days
Your mind is connected to your body, and both require rest and self-care to function properly. If you feel burned out or feel that you aren’t in the right headspace to work, take a day off of work to recharge and give yourself what you need to return to a better state of mind. Use this time off to demonstrate attentiveness and compassion to your whole self. Not only does this benefit your personal wellbeing, but mental health days also increase your productivity at work in the future.
It’s also important that you are honest with your boss about taking a mental health day, rather than guising it as a sick day. Even if you are unsure about the unspoken rules of mental health days at your workplace, being honest will inspire authentic relationships at work and mitigate potential feelings of guilt and shame.
Build a workspace that promotes a healthy mood
Whether you work from your desk from home or work at the office, build your workplace intentionally so that it lifts your mood and eases your day. Make sure that you are equipped with everything you need to stay organized and productive, whether that’s a planner, extra lighting, or an app on your phone. Learn what works for you and what doesn’t, and make sure that the tools that you need are easy to access. The space that you work in should motivate you and ease the process of doing work. Personalize and take ownership of your space spruce by adding anything that brings you joy such as plants or photos of loved ones.
Take advantage of mental health resources offered through work
Ask the human resources team at your workplace what resources are available to employees to navigate issues regarding mental health. Your job may offer an employee assistance program that offers free assessments and services to employees to manage personal challenges. They might even offer an incentive-based program that promotes physical activity during work, as this is proven to boost productivity and mental health. Make sure that you’re informed about the different resources and programs extended by your workplace so that you can use these tools to your advantage. And if your workplace doesn’t offer many tools to promote mental wellness, talk to your support system at work and build a proposal on introducing these programs in the future.
Foster a healthy work-life balance.
Think of your mental wellness as a plant that lives within you. This plant remains with you when you are inside or outside of work – it’s health ebbs and flows based on your care for it and the state of the outside world. If you disregard the plant outside of work, it will wither. Take steps to improve your mental health outside of work to maximize your wellness inside the workplace. When you aren’t at work, do activities that re-energize and ground you. Find out what makes you happy, whether that’s going on a hike, attending therapy, or listening to music.
Make sure that you set clear boundaries with your peers about your availability to ensure that your time off is spent without stress and distractions. Clarify that you will only be checking your e-mail during certain hours or on certain days so that you reduce anxiety during the time that you are using to take care of yourself.
While society is chipping away at the negative stigma of mental health, it will take time for mental health issues to be treated with the same gravity as physical health issues. Until then, you have the power to take charge of your mental wellness and inspire those around you to do the same.