Protecting my mental health at work

There are many perks to working where I do (in a university), one of them is one which I regret enjoying, but secretly love… it’s currently Easter break, therefore the students are all away having fun (and studying of course) and my colleagues, are all off on family vacations, looking after the kids and all that jazz, which means… a silent office! 

There’s a lot of irony in my life right now, I’ve spent the past few weeks desperately wanting to talk to people, yet I’m currently lapping up the silence in my office like a duck to water. What I find particularly soothing about having a quieter day at work is that it gives me space to acknowledge my mental health. Tuesdays are usually fairly odd for me at work, as I have weekly EMDR / psychology sessions on Tuesday mornings, and then drive straight into the office. Sometimes I give myself time to reflect, and to think, and other times I take advantage of having to work and I dive right into doing things, rather than paying attention to how I’m feeling, or how the psychology session has affected me.

The thing about mental health is that it can be so unpredictable, no matter whether you’re on medication or how many coping strategies you have (or if you actually use these tools…) you can’t always ‘control’ how you’re going to feel or how you react to something. It makes sense that I usually find Tuesdays quite difficult when I’m at work, as my psychology sessions trigger various different emotions and physical responses – these emotions or responses might not always be the same, but I know to prepare myself for a tough day at work. In an ideal world I wouldn’t have to go to work straight after my sessions, but I also think that, at times, being able to go into work actually allows me to distance myself from my mental health – which I feel can be beneficial for me.

Triggers at work

There’s a few weird factors of my role that are very prominent to me needing to protect my own mental health. I know that looking after your mental health in the workplace is such an important aspect for everyone, but for me there are various aspects of my workplace that can trigger certain responses – such as anxiety and low mood.

When I was a student at my university I received incredible support from my university’s ‘Student Services’ – which included counselling, mental health and wellbeing advice and so forth. Without receiving this support I don’t think I would have been able to speak to my GP, and I don’t think I would have been referred to my Community Mental Health Team or psychologist as smoothly as I was (I say smoothly, but what I mean is as urgently and as well organised as my referral was – I was in a pretty crap place).

Now my role has flipped (from student to full time member of staff), in a matter of months, while I’m still struggling quite a bit with my recovery. However, although I’m still able to get support at work, it was all a bit too much in terms of trying to deal with the different levels of professionalism/roles that I needed to adjust too – by this I mean, it’s weird going from being a student and opening up to a member of staff, and then being a member of staff working alongside individuals who have formerly been a huge part of supporting my recovery. I decided that it was best for me to try and distance myself from my former support network. Logically it makes sense to only contact my community mental health team, I have a crisis team there, I can speak to the duty worker and so forth, but it is odd when I’m having a particularly rough day and I end up bumping into someone at work has been so helpful to me in the past – I find myself trying to run from these situations, which isn’t very helpful for me!

I also tend to find myself in situations where I am supporting others in terms of their mental health. I guess because I am so open about my own experience others are able to relate, and they feel able to talk to me and open up about their own issues. I feel incredibly humbled that others feel able to talk to me, and I would never turn them away, but it does mean that I’ve had to figure out ways to cope with this, as admittedly it can sometimes be triggering for me. The one thing that I know and I genuinely believe is that it can be so difficult to open up about mental health, which is why when someone chooses to open up to me I will do everything I can to make them feel comfortable. Hot drinks are my friend in these situations, I know that if I take some time out, with a cuppa and reflect on what’s been happening during my working day then I am able to let go of some things, and I’m able to figure out how to best move forward – it also allows me to acknowledge how, if at all, certain meetings or discussions have impacted upon my own mental health – which is something that I feel is very important to do. 


Knowing when to take time out

One thing which I’m either really good at, or terrible at is knowing when to take time out to look after myself and to protect my mental health. Last week at work there were two instances in which I had to simply leave work and go home. I needed space to figure out what on earth was going on in my mind, and I needed space to just ‘be.’ Sometimes at work I am able to distance myself from feeling overwhelmed by having a cuppa, listening to some music, getting some fresh air, or talking to colleagues about general stuff, but other times I simply cannot control the sense of feeling overwhelmed, and that’s when I know that I need to go and allow myself to have a break. Taking time to look after yourself is so important, you’re not doing anything wrong by looking after yourself, in fact, taking time out might actually boost your work performance, as it allows you to ‘recharge your batteries.’ 

Sometimes I think my mind realises this before I’ve even acknowledged it myself (I know that makes no sense, but it does to me…) There are certainly times where I’ve known that I need to just rest, but I’ve tried to carry on anyway, and it’s just led to a lower mood and more stress. Sometimes it does work to simply ‘carry on’, but I have to remind myself that it’s okay to rest, to take a break and that it’s okay to not be okay.

Brain needs a break

There’s also been days where I haven’t been able to make it into work due to my mental health, and it’s these days that I think I struggle with the most. I struggle trying to articulate to others why I had a day off, or why I need a break, or why I am feeling low – as I feel they are ‘judging me’ for being weak, or not being able to cope with my work, when in reality I’m coping with a lot, and I am definitely strong for even managing to get out of bed, so ten billion points to me.

I’m very fortunate that I am able to (when my mind lets me) open up to others at work about my mental health, but I appreciate that others might not feel as comfortable or able too. I definitely spend a lot of time panicking about how others feel about my own mental health, when I know that at the end of the day my mental health is so important, and I know from my own experience that trying to push things down, or ignore what’s going on in my mind is very unhealthy, and can lead to a very un-fun downward spiral.



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