World Mental Health Day was on the 10th of October and in Australia mental illness is a common problem. According to Black Dog Institute, one in five (20%) Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year. Mental health issues are the leading cause of sickness absence and long-term work incapacity in Australia, costing Australian business up to $10.9 billion per year. The problem is driving people to suicide at an unprecedented rate – eight Australians die by their own hand each day.
Crucially, a massive 20 per cent of suicides are linked to work due to factors such as; job strain – a high-pressure environment involving high stress or long hours; a lack of respect or values – including situations where employees are facing bullying or harassment; and occupational uncertainty particularly if finances are an issue. As a result, one in five Australians (21%) have taken time off work in the past 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy.
So, it’s clear the workplace can play a huge role in our mental health, so what can we do to look after ourselves and improve our own wellbeing in the workplace? To cope with the stresses of work and overcome life’s daily challenges, it is important we stay as mentally well as possible. This can help us better overcome challenges, build healthy relationships and work more productively.
When you work without breaks you’re busy, but not necessarily productive. It’s important to have opportunities to rest and recharge. It’s a mistake to think that more hours worked equals more productivity. When you sleep is when everything in your body repairs itself and allows your body to recover from exertion. You need to allow your thought process to do the same by providing mentaldowntime.
According to Xero’s Travel Habits Report, Aussies have more than 111 million days of unused annual leave each year. So with the summer weather fast approaching, now is a great time to book a day off and take a ‘personal day’ – if you’re lucky, your employer may even offer paid time off just for this purpose.
Plan your day purposefully – ensure you take it during a quieter period so you won’t be bothered by colleagues needing your help and you won’t feel guilty for ‘abandoning’ them. Then book in something you won’t want to sacrifice so you won’t be tempted to cancel your day off at the last minute. Book a massage or make plans with a friend. Make sure your colleagues have everything you need while you’re gone and tell them to call you if it’s an emergency, that way you won’t need to check your emails. Then trust them to do their jobs.
Once you’ve booked the day off, how do you spend it to make the most of the break? While it’s tempting to enjoy the opportunity to do nothing, you won’t feel rejuvenated if you waste the day binge watching Netflix. But likewise, don’t fill the day with ‘life admin’ and appointments that feel like chores.
Think about what really makes you tick, what ‘fills your cup’, and plan your day around ensuring you give yourself what you really need mentally. This could be spending time outdoors in nature, a trip to a day spa, or pulling the kids out of school for the day and heading to the beach. If you don’t do so every day at work, 20-30 minutes micro-learning can really refresh your brain. For each person the ideal day will be different but try to find a balance of activities that help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation, such as spending time with loved ones, laughing, squeezing in an outdoor workout, and even a daytime nap if you’ve been exhausted. Try to avoid unhealthy activities that will deplete your mind and body further, including isolating yourself or drinking all day.
After a well spent personal day, you should feel rejuvenated and better able to face the tasks that were challenging yesterday. One day off here and there can be a fantastic reminder of life outside of work. There is always another perspective. You just have to move to see it. So, book yourself a day off, sit back and relax – it’s technically not even wagging!
Tara O’Sullivan, Chief Marketing Officer at Skillsoft.