Maintaining mental health in today’s age can be tough for employees. Business moves fast, and those who aren’t quick enough can end up being left behind, resulting in feelings of stress and overwhelming anxiety. This situation can be exasperated for people who are employed by business owners and managers who don’t understand or empathize with mental health stressors.
But what exactly is mental health, and how can organizations help employees who are suffering? This question will be answered here today. In addition, we’ll be exploring the stress response, tips for how to identify stress reactions, how to build a tool kit to help employees cope with stress better, and some effective breathing and long-term exercises to maintain mental health.
What Is Mental Health?
Mental health is a broad term that refers to any and all issues that affect a person’s mind. The World Health Organization (WHO), describes mental health as, “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to their community.”
Mental health and physical health are similar, and in many ways, they’re linked. Like physical health, mental health is ever-changing. One day, a person can feel mentally healthy and the next, they can feel like they’re going crazy. The times we live in feel chaotic at times. Social media constantly alerts us with upsetting news, and it’s common for people to feel uncertain about many things like violence, war, racism and much more.
Why Is It Important for Organizations to Be Aware of Mental Health?
Imagine that an employee is going through a tough time. They’ve recently lost a close relative or friend, and they’ve fallen into rumination and a negative mindset. Without proper coping skills, they could lose track of their own health, ultimately resulting in lower productivity. This a only one example of how mental health can impact a workplace.
What Is Stress?
Stress and mental health go hand in hand. But what exactly is stress? Like mental health, it’s a broad term. WHO describes stress as, “the reaction people may have when presented with demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope.”
The fact is that adults feel stress all the time, whether they have a name for it or not. However, there are two types of stress: healthy and unhealthy. Let’s first talk about healthy stress.
Human beings thrive and feel most comfortable sticking to routines. So, when something disrupts a person’s routine, they tend to feel stress. A person stepping out of their comfort zone, for example, causes stress, but it’s a healthy kind of stress. Healthy stress doesn’t feel too overwhelming.
On the other hand, unhealthy stress is when an individual feels like there is nothing that can be done. It’s general hopelessness. This happens more often when a person doesn’t have sufficient coping skills, or when their coping skills don’t work well with the adversity they’re facing.
The Stress Response and Its Importance in the Workplace
Stress response refers to how we, as individuals, respond to stress. Stress response takes on many forms, but the most common is fight or flight. If you’ve ever been in a frightening position when the uncertainty of something important was overwhelming, then chances are you felt this fight or flight response.
Let’s break it down. ‘Fight,’ in fight or flight, means to remain and fight whatever it is you’re up against. ‘Flight,’ on the other hand, means to run away and evade. This response doesn’t have to be to something physical. It also applies to emotional issues, too. The stressors (things that trigger a fight or flight response) are not always life-threatening. For example, if you have a fear of public speaking, then that could be a simple stressor.
This is important in the workplace because a stress response could be unpleasant. An employee that is feeling too stressed, could cause a scene by yelling, cursing or breaking things. Another employee could shut down and lose motivation for work productivity. The point is, every employee may have a different response, so it’s good to check-in.
Strategies to Help Your Employees Lessen and Cope With Stress
Your employees must understand how stress affects them, but it’s even more important that they have strategies to cope with stress. This toolkit should help. When you meet with employees, see if they have long-term and short-term coping skills and if they don’t, then provide them with some or all of the following strategies.
Some techniques in the toolkit go well with journaling, so whether employees would like to write on their phone or paper, have them consider journaling their progress. It can help them find patterns and make adjustments.
Breathing and Mindfulness
Breathing exercises are the first in the toolkit. These exercises work to reduce stress because they help people focus on the present moment and disengage them from their limbic system, also known as the emotional brain.
One idea is to suggest a short regular group “breathwork session” to your leaders. Perhaps 3-5 minutes after lunch is a good place to start. Use one or all of the following breathing techniques:
- Square Breathing: Breathe in slowly counting to four. Pause and count to four. Breathe out counting to four. Once the air is out hold for four seconds before beginning the process again. Try it: Breathe in (4)… Pause (4)… Breathe out (4)… Pause (4)… Then start back at the beginning.
- Four-Seven-Eight Breathing: This one is similar to the last. First, you will breathe slowly for four second. You’ll then pause for seven seconds. Then you’ll breathe out for eight seconds. Last you’ll start back over, breathing into the count of four. Try it: Breath in (4)… Pause (7)… Breathe out (8)… Then start back at the beginning.
- Coherent Breathing: For this breathing exercise, you’ll breath into the count of six. Then, you’ll exhale to the count of six with no pausing. Try it: Breath in (6)… Breath out (6)… then repeat breathing in six seconds again.
Have leaders and employees note how they feel afterwards to discover which breathing exercise best works for them.
Encourage Work-Life Balance
Providing helpful tools for work-life balance will most likely bring you the employee of the year award. One way to make a huge impact on the mental health of your employees is to help them keep their bodies healthy through exercise and healthy dieting. Mental health affects the body, but it goes the other way. too. The way we treat our bodies can be reflected in our mental health.
One awesome idea is to hire a yoga teacher to teach yoga in or around the office once or twice a month. Make self-care a fun group activity! Another idea is to treat the office to a healthy meal. And finally, encourage managers and employees to take their allotted vacation time.
Cultivate a Workplace Culture Where Judgement Doesn’t Fly
One of the most important things to take away from the toolkit is having the workplace be more open to hearing out others’ concerns without judgment. Allow workers to open up about issues they face in a private setting. Have an open-door policy for employees to come to HR when they need help.
If an employee performs well, reward them, whether it be through applause or a gift. Employees will be happier to work when they see that their hard work is recognized.
Making Work A Safer, Healthier Place
Finding better ways to cope with mental health in the 21st century may be hard, but it’s not impossible. By teaching your employees short-term strategies, like breathing techniques, and long-term coping skills, like taking time to take care of themselves, you can help your employees live better lives – both personally and professionally.