For Mental Health Awareness Week last week I was invited to speak at Huffer and FCB Media about managing stress and anxiety in the workplace. Speaking from experience, as someone who had to navigate the turbulent seas of dealing with a mental illness in the workplace (without wanting to tell anyone) and trying to stay afloat as executive assistant to the CEO of a busy media agency, here are the top tips I shared. If you know someone who could benefit from these, or you’d like to send them around your team at work, please do so. The more people that realise that stress and overwhelm is not a desirable place to operate from, and that busyness is not a badge of honour, the better.
Minimise browser tabs in your head to avoid decision fatigue
Take your lunch to work 4 days per week so you only have to choose what to buy (and where to buy it from, and what route to take there) for one day per week
Schedule your workouts in on Sunday night for the week ahead so you don't need to think about it again (and whether you’re actually going to go, what you’re going to wear etc)
Work on one task to completion before starting another.
Chunk your workday. One chunk for checking emails. One chunk for planning. One chunk for making phone calls. One chunk for personal admin. This will stop your mind from darting all over the show all day.
Wear a “uniform” to work. for example, the black dress on a Monday, jeans and a white top on Tuesday and so on. Then it becomes routine. There’s a reason that heavyweights like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg wear the same thing err’day. Read more about that here.
Change your state to inspire creativity
Switch up where you are working during the course of the day. (This generally only works if you have a laptop, but if you don’t, you can always move to another location and do planning or paperwork.)
Go out and grab a coffee or have a 10 minute walk if feeling stagnant. Better yet, make your next meeting a walking or stand-up meeting.
have a shower when you get home from work (or at least change your outfit) so you mentally switch into 'home mode'. I particularly recommend this for the ladies who are in masculine mode all day while at work and want to slip into their feminine energy for hubby and kids when they get home
Practice self mastery. What are your non-negotiables?
Sleep good, drink good, eat good, breathe good, be social and get out in nature. If you master that every day you master life.
At the end of each day write a journal of the following 3 questions: 1. What excited me today? 2. What drained me of energy today? 3. What did I learn about myself today? Do this for 30 days and see what starts to shift.
Create healthy boundaries
Super bloody simple but super hard to do for some people: say no to shit you hate. If it doesn't feel right, it's probably not. Trust your intuition. And if something isn't a hell yes it's a no. AND, don't apologise when you say no! Say "thank you for the invite but it's not for me."
Allocate one day per week that is complete white space. No chores, no plans—just you and your body.
Stop spending time with people who energetically drain you. If it’s a family member, you can tell them - I love you but your energy is draining me right now and until you get out of your victimhood, we can’t spend time together.
We all have that one friend who we can totally catch up with in a group-setting but not one on one. That’s a boundary.
Keep your "house" clean
And by house I mean everything in your physical environment: your house, car, desk, food, thoughts and interactions. Cluttered desk = cluttered mind. The more we can do to minimise our sensory overload, the better.
We are what we consume, so remove anything that is toxic in your life (toxic skincare, perfumes, food, people, thought patterns) and stop watching the news, and watching shitty reality TV if it’s making you feel depressed.
Practice mindfulness and single-pointed focus
Do one task at a time to completion. Context-switching has to be one of the biggest triggers for overwhelm.
Use all of your senses when driving, brushing your teeth etc.
When you are interacting with someone, really be there. Don't be on your phone or thinking about what to eat for dinner, or wondering when they last washed their hair.
Enjoy your meal with no other sensory-input. So no TV, no conversation, no driving, no walking.. Just sitting and eating.
Practice empowered time management
Practice the 4 D’s: discard, delegate, do or diarise. If the email is irrelevant to you, you’ve been cc’d and doesn't require a response--discard it. If it's not within your remit or it you can easily do so--delegate it. If you can do it in under 2 mins, do it, otherwise diarise to do at an allotted time.
Manage expectations with people. If you're asked to do a task and you're snowed under, explain that and set an expectation as to when you will have time for it. Or, ask when it is due and negotiate a timeline.
Be one time, always, and don’t go overtime. Nothing stresses an anxious person out more than running late! Real talk.
And finally, remember, that unless you’re a heart surgeon, you’re not in the business of saving lives. You’re a guy or a gal spinning through space on this big lump of dirt trying to have as much fun as you can and trying to figure out what your legacy will be. Go easy on yourself; you’re doing great.
Other mental health resources:
The Low Down - https://thelowdown.co.nz/. Free 24/7 helpline (NZ): 0800 111 757
Changing Minds - https://changingminds.org.nz/resources/
Health Promotion Agency - https://www.hpa.org.nz/what-we-do/support-for-schools-and-students/help-for-the-tough-times
MHERC - http://mherc.org.nz/