Today’s disability rehab and insurance world, stuffed with heavy caseloads, time pressures, and all-consuming client needs, often stretches rehab professionals and disability case managers to their breaking point. Some days, getting out of bed to drag yourself into the office or clinic can seem overwhelming. One in five Canadians will experience a mental illness at some point in their lifetime.¹ The annual cost of loss of productivity due to mental illness in the workplace in Canada was estimated to be over $6.4 billion in 2011.² Let's switch our focus from clients to self, for a moment. We all know there are several things we should be doing for our own health and wellness, such as exercising and eating well, but there are also many small steps we can take to improve our mental health and productivity so we are better able to cope with our stressors and support those clients who need us at our best.
1. Take frequent breaks. A recent study found that people who worked for 52 minutes and then took a 17-minute break were the most productive.³ Set a timer, stretch, go to the bathroom, chat with a co-worker, get a drink of water, or go retrieve something from the printer. This will also help discomfort related to static sitting or standing at your desk.
2. Start drinking peppermint tea. Caffeine consumption is often under-recognized as a contributor to the development of anxiety disorders and panic attacks. Peppermint tea can help you feel more alert and improve your memory, but will not contribute to anxiety as both coffee and black can.
3. Spend time with positive, supportive people. This seems like common sense, but we often end up having lunch with whoever happens to be in the lunchroom. Find people whose company you truly enjoy, and who lift you up. Arrange lunch and coffee dates with them. Having strong social supports is an essential part of resilience, so they will help you be able to weather your workplace and home stressors.
4. Shut off your screens (T.V., tablet, phone, etc.) at least an hour before bedtime. Sleep deprivation has so many negative effects on our mental health. Often, we feel like we are resting when we do these activities, but our bodies are actually alert. The blue light from the screens makes us more alert and interferes with our ability to fall asleep. We become distracted by what we are doing and end up staying up way too late, which we regret the next morning.
5. Practice mindful relaxation for 2-5 minutes, twice daily. Relaxation techniques can help boost your mood and find a feeling of calmness when everything feels chaotic. You can do them anywhere and anytime, and they do not have to be difficult or time-consuming. Start by sitting comfortably and closing your eyes. Take several deep breaths and pay attention to the feel and sound of the breath coming in and out of your body. Keep doing this for a couple minutes. When thoughts come into your head (and they will!), let them pass through and re-focus on your breath.
6. Surround yourself with pictures of green spaces. We know that spending time in nature helps relieve depression and anxiety and increase productivity, but working in an office or clinic can be about as far away from nature as possible. Ideally, we would all be out walking in a park on our lunch breaks, but having a plant at our desk and/or pictures of green spaces (e.g. as your computer background picture) can help lower our stress levels.
7. Choose cues to link your habit changes. If you are trying to change a habit, such as exercising more, link it to something you already do. For example, if you want to start meditating, decide to do it when you get your first cup of coffee in the morning (or peppermint tea!), you will be a lot more successful than if you just decide to do it every morning. You can also choose cues to replace an old bad habit with new ones. If you usually use your afternoon break (which is the cue) to go get a donut, you could change that behavior pattern to going for a short walk in a nearby green space with a friend.
8. Take your vacation. When we get busy, it is easy to feel like we need to keep plowing through the work to get it done. However, vacation time decreases our errors and increases our productivity. Shifting focus from work to fun does the body and mind, good!
9. Choose your environment carefully. Just as a shade plant will never thrive in the sun, no matter how often you water or fertilize it, there are some work environments you may never thrive in, no matter how much yoga or deep breathing you do. If you are in this situation, think through your options carefully. Can you do a different job with the same employer? Can you do your same job at a different employer? Is there flexibility available to do your job part-time? You are much better to think through your options now when you are not on stress leave, than to wait until you are no longer able to work. It is much harder to find a new job when you are not working.
10. Do not be afraid to seek help. Talk to your doctor about your mental health. Many employers have an Employee Assistance Plan where you can access free counseling sessions. You do not have to wait to be in a crisis situation to use these. In fact, it is totally fine to do “preventive counseling”.
1.Linda Harrison, Occupational Therapist with Enabling Access Inc. specializes in mental health screenings, activation therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, is a certified BrainFX 360 cognitive evaluator and leads our Mental Health and Cognitive OT services.
2. Marnie Courage, Occupational Therapist and Director at Enabling Access Inc.
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