Job Stress & Your Mental Health

In the timeline of my own personal social media, I’m starting to see an influx of job-stress and burnout related posts. 

Before any of my friends or family frantically take down their posts in an attempt to not let me psychoanalyze you, don’t worry! I’ve been there, too! If you’re fortunate to have made it into adulthood at any level and have maintained steady employment, you’re bound to be tired…

But, when tired becomes fatigued and annoyed becomes cynical, you might need to take a step back and dive into some self-care.

But… but… but I’m too busy! I’m a parent and I work and I…

Excuses, excuses… I’m a working wife and mother, too… but as a mental health professional (which happens to be a very high burn-out career), I used to be the queen of those “I’m too busy” excuses. But what I learned very quickly is that I cannot do well at any of those things that are “so important” if I am not taking care of myself. Don’t “yeah, but” yourself into a chronic state of anxiety and depression that might otherwise be totally preventable.  

In this fast-paced world, it is no wonder that such a strong majority of my clientele comes to me with depression and anxiety symptoms that are stemming from job related stress.  While mental health diagnoses related to this can be avoided, once the symptoms set it, it is imperative that you take action.

Great news: the relief can happen relatively quickly and can be very low-cost…

I think some of my clients are surprised when I say to them “I bet you are anxious… you have a lot going on and you haven’t talked about any leisure activities.”  Lots of the responses to that statement (which I find myself to be saying a lot lately) are people downplaying the level of stress they actually have at work followed by reasons they can’t employ self-care.

I’m going to give you some “rules” to follow to try to help you get out of your work-stress funk and back into a work-home balance.

1.) If you feel drained, you are drained.  Get some sleep.  Your brain and body cannot catch up without it.  If you are in the “people” or “children” field (I’m looking at you, fellow therapists, teachers, nurses, parents, and retailers), you need even more sleep in order to recuperate than if you are crunching numbers in a cubicle.  Listen to your body and REST.

2.) If you insist on staying up late, do not allow yourself to do so for the purposes of work.  Stay up later to take some “you time” by reading, listening to music, meditating, praying, etc… and then go to sleep. “But I have a project due! I have lesson plans! Yeah but yeah but yeah but….” Stop. Try it.  Try not getting it all done at night.  It’ll get done.  What you will find is the better rested you are and the more leisure and relaxing time you take, the more productive you’ll find yourself to be during your normal working hours and the couple hours afterward. And… you’ll feel less annoyed in the process.

3.) Refrain from using substances like alcohol. No… for real… try. Stop laughing at me. Okay, stop crying. Really, it’s okay!! You’ll find that the skills listed above will help curb your craving for the “I had a horrible day (again for the 371st day in a row) I need a beer” beer.  I’m not saying you have to stop drinking forever and go to 12-step meetings and make amends and such (although, if that’s something you think you need to do, I know a thing or two about helping you to get there)… I’m simply suggesting that if it’s a drink to “help you wind down”, then it’s likely not going to give you as effective of results as leisure and self-care.  It’s actually going to make you feel more drained in the process.  Cut back and see how it goes.

4.) Incorporate some light exercise into your routine (or, if you’re a workout buff, don’t skip your scheduled routine.  It is so important to get your dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and other levels boosted when you’re feeling a little “crispy” about your job.

5.) Tell your boss.  If possible, take a couple mental health days.  Ask your colleagues for help if needed and use your company’s Employee Assistance Program benefits if you have them (if you aren’t sure, contact HR to find out).

6.) Go to a counselor if you are stuck.  Someone like me can validate your emotions but also encourage you and keep you motivated to get out of that rut.

7.) Don’t take it out on your customers/students/patients or your coworkers (this is tied into #5).  If you do this, your work relationships suffer, the pressure gets piled higher, and your burnout symptoms get way bigger.

8.) Try to refrain from the “complaining” life.  When your gratitude list is longer than your grievance list, the stress tends to actually dissipate.  Also, if you complain or vent to the wrong person, it might come back to haunt you professionally (and, you certainly don’t have time for that…).

Here’s the good news… in life, you always have choices.  You get to reevaluate whether you are wanting to add that level of stress to your life or whether a specific job or career is worth continuing if it becomes that toxic for you.  See what happens when you weigh things out.  Talk to someone you trust about it and let them help you weigh the pros and cons.

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