Over the last few years in Ireland, there has been a growing feeling that people need to care more for their mental health. We spend most of our waking lives at work, so it’s no surprise that our jobs can significantly impact our mental well-being.
Adding to this, the unprecedented challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have further emphasised the need for robust mental health strategies, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.
The lasting impact of COVID-19 on employee well-being
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak has raised several concerns regarding its mental health effect on employees.
According to a landmark study of mental health and well-being promotion in Irish workplaces published by University College Cork, there has been a notable lack of investment in workplace mental health in Ireland, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. This aligns with stark increases in new prescriptions of antidepressant, anti-anxiety, and anti-insomnia medications.
The need for employer-supported programs
The survey also states “that employers need to make mental health support a critical aspect of that plan, or risk a dramatic impact on employee health and productivity”.
Implementing mental health workshops benefits employees and positively impacts the company’s bottom line. Reduced stress levels lead to higher productivity, lower turnover, and a more engaged workforce.
What is the relationship between mental health and stress?
Understanding the relationship between mental health and stress is crucial for individuals and employers. Stress is not just a state of mind – it has far-reaching implications on our emotional health, physical fitness, and overall mental well-being.
Stress from work, daily life, or difficult situations can lead to various mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Let’s explore how stress affects our brain and the role hormones play in our mental health.
Understanding the brain’s response to stress
When we encounter stressful situations, our brain immediately triggers the “fight or flight” mechanism. This physiological reaction releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, preparing the body to either confront or flee from the threat.
However, prolonged exposure to these stress hormones can lead to negative emotions and symptoms of depression, affecting our mental health in the long run. A Longitudinal Study on Mental Health Symptoms and Hormone Treatment corroborates this, emphasising the long-term impact of chronic stress on neural pathways and mental health.
Note: It’s essential to consult a health professional for proper diagnosis and mental health advice if you cannot manage stress effectively.
The role of hormones in mental health
Hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are often called “stress hormones” because they significantly impact our emotional health and mental well-being.
A study published in Reproductive Hormones and Female Mental Well-being supports this claim, highlighting the intricate relationship between hormonal imbalances and mental health concerns.
Moreover, hormones also play a role in mood regulation. Imbalanced levels can lead to feelings of anxiety, negative thinking, and even mental disorders in severe cases. Therefore, maintaining hormonal balance through regular exercise, a well-balanced diet, and stress management techniques is crucial for optimal mental health.
How do lifestyle choices affect mental health?
The choices we make in our daily lives, from what we eat to the people we surround ourselves with, can either uplift our mental state or add to our stress and mental health challenges. Let’s delve into how dietary habits and social interactions can shape our mental well-being.
The impact of diet on mental well-being
What you put on your plate can significantly impact your emotional and mental health. Foods rich in essential nutrients like leafy greens and omega-3 fatty acids can boost mental clarity and emotional stability.
Conversely, diets high in sugar and processed foods can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depressive symptoms. Nutrition experts often highlight the mental health benefits of a balanced diet. Scientific studies corroborate that certain foods can stimulate the production of endorphins, improving your life outlook and reducing stress.
Discover how dietary habits and social interactions can shape your mental health with our balanced employee well-being platform.
The correlation between social interactions and mental well-being
Human beings are inherently social, and the quality of our interpersonal relationships can profoundly affect our mental state. Supportive and positive social bonds can offer emotional sustenance, leading to a more fulfilling life and reduced anxiety levels.
In contrast, negative social experiences or lack of social engagement can exacerbate emotional distress and contribute to mental health issues.
Multiple studies indicate that robust social networks can mitigate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Engaging in meaningful interactions, whether quality time with family or participating in workplace fitness programs, can significantly enhance your mental well-being.
Debunking the stigma around mental health
In society, there’s often a cloud of misunderstanding and stigma surrounding mental well-being. These misconceptions can perpetuate negative thinking and even discourage people from seeking the help they need.
A Systematic Review on Psychosocial Functioning Changes After Gender-Affirming Hormone Therapy addresses some common myths, such as the idea that seeking help is a sign of weakness or that mental health issues are rare.
Let’s address and correct some of these common myths in the list below:
- Seeking help is a sign of weakness: Asking for mental health support is a proactive step towards emotional wellness and a sign of strength. Acknowledging the need for use is the first step in healing.
- Mental health issues are rare: Conditions like anxiety and depression are increasingly common, affecting millions worldwide. Awareness and early intervention are crucial.
- Stress is always wrong: Stress can serve as both a motivator and a detriment. Effective stress management is vital. Knowing when to take a break can make all the difference.
Mental and physical health are separate: Mental and physical health are closely interconnected. Chronic stress can lead to physical issues, and physical activity can improve mental well-being. A balanced lifestyle benefits both.
5 tips to start prioritising your mental health
Prioritising our mental well-being has never been more crucial, especially in our fast-paced, stressful world. Taking small but impactful steps can significantly impact our mental well-being. Below are some simple yet effective tips to help you take control of your mental health.
Importance of sleep
Many people do not realise the importance of sleep, and being severely sleep-deprived can increase stress levels. We need seven-and-a-half to eight hours of sleep a night and keep devices out of the bedroom because the blue wavelength light instructs the brain’s pineal gland to shut down melatonin production.
Melatonin is crucial to help us get to sleep and enjoy good quality restful sleep. For more on this, a JAMA Network study on Mental Health Symptoms in Oral Contraceptive Users provides valuable insights.
Try avoiding sitting at your desk for 8 whole hours. Moving around during the workday is as important as exercise. Whether standing up for a couple of minutes or walking to get a glass of water, be sure to get up from your desk every half an hour to 50 minutes. Short stretching exercises can also improve blood circulation and help you stay focused.
Start your day off right
Starting your day off correctly contributes to how stressful your day can be. An excellent nutritional breakfast, a planned morning, and a positive attitude can make your day go more smoothly and help you feel less stressed. Consider adding a quick morning meditation or gratitude exercise to set a positive tone for the day.
The importance of exercise
Exercise is good for your overall health and also helps reduce stress. It has a positive effect on your mental health. Exercise pumps up your endorphins, which makes your brain feel good.
Exercise improves your mood, resulting in lower symptoms associated with anxiety and stress levels. A balanced corporate health and wellness program in your workplace can further enhance these benefits. Start your day with some yoga, or get a walk-in at lunch to get those endorphins running.
Listen to meditations or music
Listening to meditations or music has many benefits, including relieving stress after work. It can relax you after a stressful day and help you unwind and switch off from work. Creating a playlist of your favourite calming songs or guided meditations can quickly relieve stress.
Prioritising mental health and stress management at work
Looking after your mental health and stress levels at work is essential and something we should all try to do. Taking these small, simple steps can help reduce your stress levels at work and positively affect your mental health.
If you want to gain more knowledge about mental health, Zevo Health’s Mental Health Champion Training course is based on providing psychological first aid.
“What is Psychological first aid?” you ask – It’s a process of offering help and support to individuals suffering from mental health difficulties or experiencing mental health crises.
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