Mental Health + Work
You can tweak your daily habits all you want to get happier, but if you hate the place you spend 40ish hours a week at (every gd week), your mental health is going to suffer. That’s why today we’re talking about work and how you can make your job a positive part of your mental health recovery.
We’ve got a lot of ground to cover here, so stay tuned for the rest of the Girls Getting Well at Work blog series (coming soon)!
Goal: Stop Hating Mondays
Jobs are definitely not a one-size-fits-all situation, so we’re not going to focus on the “perfect” job for people with depression/anxiety/OCD/etc. (Hint: There isn’t one.)
Your mental health disorder doesn’t determine your interests, strengths, or qualifications, so why would a single job title fit every person with a certain diagnosis?
Instead, we’re going to work through some questions that might pop up on your journey to building a work life you love. Namely:
- Should I quit a job that’s bad for my mental health?
- How do I make my current job suck less?
And next time, we’ll tackle some questions you might have if you decide your current job isn’t working out for you, like:
- What about grad school?
- What should I look for a new job? (and what should I avoid?)
- I’ve never quit a job before (please, someone, help me)
- I can’t get an interview (wtf?)
- I got an interview! What next?
Ready to stop hating Mondays? Let’s go.
Q: Should I quit a job that’s bad for my mental health?
A: Probably, but let’s chat first.
First of all, is your job actually causing problems, or are your problems just following you to the office?
Before you do anything, make sure you’re not confusing the source of your mental health angst. People have a tendency to change their external circumstances when the real problem is internal (think: a clinical mental health disorder). Do you think a superficial change is going to fix a problem rooted deep in your brain chemistry, genetics, and upbringing? Probably not.
Just ask 18-year-old me if moving to California for school fixed her depression. Then, check in with 21-year-old me to see if studying abroad in Europe cured her eating disorder. If 21-year-old me doesn’t pick up the phone (hint: she won’t), call 22-year-old me and ask if her substance abuse issues got better or worse when she moved to work for Disney?
If your work life is actively creating mental health problems in your life – like negative stress, burnout, or sleep issues – then it might be time to move on. But be honest with yourself. Are you chasing an external fix for an internal problem? Or are you genuinely looking to swap a harmful work environment for a positive one?
On my end, I recently left the early education field (don’t get me started on that fucked-up industry) to become a nanny for a cuddly, funny, and razor-sharp little girl. I make twice as much money now, work fewer hours, and successfully cut my work stress by about 10,000%. A thoughtful job change can be life-changing. But quitting your job is a big decision. Make sure to think it through.
Okay, so your motivations for quitting are on-target. Does that mean it’s time to pack up and peace out?
If you’ve been at your current job for 6 months or less, hold off on writing your letter of resignation.
It typically takes at least six months to adjust to a new position, so it’s completely normal to feel unsettled, uncomfortable, or out of place while you’re learning your responsibilities, adjusting to workplace routines, and forming relationships with your new supervisors and co-workers.
That being said, you know yourself and your limits best. If your experience feels more genuinely intolerable than gently uncomfortable, do what you need to do. Your mental health comes first, always, always, always.
I’ve found it helpful to practice distress tolerance skills to get through not-so-great days at work, so you might want to copy down any skills that you think might help you cope at work and whip them out when you need them. (Practice makes progress, friends.)
However, if you’ve been in your current position for a while, and you’re still spending your lunch break crying in the bathroom, let’s be real: You’re probably ready to gtfo.
Yay! Making the decision to quit (or stay) is the first step to making your work life work for you. Word of caution: You want to think more tortoise than hare when it comes to changing jobs. Take the time to think through your decision and make sure it’s the right one for you.
Still feel good about your choice? We’ll get into how you can find a job you love next week!
Not sure yet? Keep reading to find how you can make your current job a better place to be.
Q: So, I decided not to quit. How can I make my job suck less?
A: I’m so happy you asked! So, in every job, you have (1) things you have to do, (2) people you have to work with, and (3) an environment you have to work in.
You can make your job suck less by:
- Maximizing the time you spend doing things you like to do
- Spending more time with people who energize you
- Upgrading your workspace to reduce stress and increase positive feelings
(Ready to unpack all that?)
So, you want to do more things you like (and fewer things you hate) at work?
How you do this is obviously painfully dependent on what your specific job is. But here are some general tips for you. Feel free to pick and choose what might work for you based on your particular position, industry, and company culture!
- Delegate tasks you don’t like to other people
- Volunteer for tasks and projects that excite you
- Become the best at the things you love to do at work (so you get the opportunity to do them more often)
- Pitch ideas and projects that allow you to use your strengths and explore your interests
- Have an honest conversation with your supervisor – let them know what you love about your job and what you don’t enjoy as much (they might be willing to help you out!)
Bonus Tip: Find someone who excels at your least favorite task. They might help you learn to look at a not-so-fun task in a new way (or maybe even swap you for a task you like more)!
You may not work with John Krasinski or Jenna Fischer, but you can still find someone cool to hang out with at work.
Here’s a simple formula: Put more energy toward people who make you feel good and less energy toward people who make you feel like shit.
Cool, nice co-worker you’re collaborating with for the first time? Sure, jump over the moon for them. Invite them to grab coffee. Build up those friend points.
Annoying co-worker who talks shit behind your back to your boss? Not worth your energy. Avoid when you can, or hit her with a tight and polite CEO-style email when silence isn’t an option.
Workplace drama is always going to exist, but you can choose not to be a part of it. Eliminating negative social stress and increasing positive workplace interactions will work wonders when it comes to making your job a better place to be.
Upgrade your workspace like you’re hosting a new show on HGTV.
The right workspace set-up can do fucking wonders to balance your mood and boost your productivity. Here are a few tips (from science!) to help you make desk a better place to be:
1. Prioritize Better Lighting
You can’t control the terrible overhead lighting in your office or your desk’s proximity to natural light (which is, naturally, the best source of light.) But you can buy a desk lamp that simulates daylight to help improve your mood, increase your concentration, and boost your energy levels while you’re working.
As a PNW native, I’m a huge advocate for light therapy, especially during the Dark Months of fall and winter. I personally own and use the Circadian Optics Lumos 2.0 Light Therapy Lamp at home, which works like a dream for this girl with both regular old depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder, but there are tons of models available if you want to upgrade your desk lamp. (This is all totally non-spon, by the way. I just love this lamp.)
Ideally, you should position your banging new desk lamp about a foot away from you with the base of the light source hitting you around chin level in order to maximize effectiveness and minimize eye strain.
2. Adopt a Plant (or Two)
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a plant killer, through and through. But research suggests that plants can reduce tension and fatigue in the workplace while increasing productivity and creativity by 15% a piece! Plus, you benefit from nature’s OG air purifiers and sound absorbers. Never a bad thing in a shared space.
PS. If you’re plant-challenged too, I’ve heard great things about peace lilies, bamboo, and succulents.
3. Pay Attention to Color
You’ve probably heard some chatter about the psychological effects of color through the grapevine. Color theorists argue that yellow can cause feelings of anxiety, blue is soothing, red is stimulating, etc. While existing research doesn’t fully support color theory, you still want to work to achieve a balance in colors in your workspace. Here are some tips to help you play nicely with color:
White can feel clean and fresh, but too much white can be perceived as harsh and sterile.
(Dude, let me tell you how often I heard that complaint in my preschool-teaching days. Parents love a good wall covered floor to ceiling in children’s scribble drawings.) When it comes to your space, you definitely want to add touches of color to avoid that whole hospital aesthetic.
Black is classy AF, but can feel heavy.
It’s fine to anchor your space with black accents (I mean, there’s a good chance your desk is black already, so, hey, what else can you do?) But, again, touches of color will help you lighten up your space (and hopefully your mood).
You probably want to avoid red, but small doses of pink can be soothing.
People act with greater speed and force (read: less restraint) when exposed to the color red. Red is also associated with poorer test performance in students. So, probably not the color you want dominating your space while you’re trying to get things done effectively. Pink is a good alternative if you’re partial to colors on the warmer side of things.
Predictably, blue and green are probably still your best bet when it comes to dressing up your desk.
The psychological effects of color may not be as significant or long-lasting as color theorists would like you to believe. However, research does suggest that blue environments can increase productivity, while certain shades of green can promote relaxation. (And if you follow through on adopting a desk plant, your job is already halfway done when it comes to adding soothing shades to your space.)
No matter what color theorists say, your individual preferences are actually the most important factor at play here.
Your relationship with color is, above all, shaped by your personal experiences. If you had a traumatic experience while watching Blue’s Clues as a child, you might not find blue so soothing. On the flip side, maybe the color white reminds you of daisies and you thrive in an all-white room.
Use the research to inform your interior decorating choices if it helps you. But if it doesn’t? You do you, dude.
4. Cut Clutter
If you’re like most people, you spend about 4.3 hours every week searching for papers and muttering under your breath, I know it’s here somewhere – I just had it yesterday. (Did it grow fucking legs and walk off?) Yeah, not the best use of your time. Do yourself a favor and give your workspace a good spring cleaning. It will reduce your stress levels (which we could all use, tbh) and increase your productivity.
5. …But Own Your Space
Don’t get confused: The opposite of clutter is not a bare desk. Infusing your workspace with a few personal touches (like plants, photos, and art) can boost your productivity by 17%. If you’re coming up short on ideas to help you decorate your space, this list from Bustle has you covered.
So, let’s check in.
- You’re starting to do more stuff you like at work ✓
- You’re putting more energy into people you like being around ✓
- You’re optimizing your workspace so it’s brighter, cleaner, and more you ✓
Basically, you’re killing it. Now, give it a few weeks. See how things go. And then feel free to reassess. You spend the majority of your waking life at work, so make sure your work life is, you know, actually working for you.
PS. You totally got this.
Still not feeling Mondays?
Don’t get stuck working a job that fucks with your mental health. If you’re ready to move on from your current workplace, let’s chat next time. We’ll cover:
- How to decide if you should go back to school
- How to find a job that you love
- How to quit your job gracefully
- How to apply for jobs more effectively
- How to interview like a champ
See you then!