Life is busy, work is busy. It’s the end of another year… and the beginning of a new one. A transitional time. It’s a natural end point, and a natural new beginning. It’s time to think about what you’ve achieved and what you might want to do differently in the future.
And you’re busy. Its dark, it’s (usually) cold. You’re under pressure trying to get things wrapped up or preparing for a new start in 2014.
Taking care of yourself and meeting your needs is a key component of minding your mental health. This is a challenge when you’re busy. When we’re busy the tendency we all have is to focus on our immediate activity levels and forget about resourcing ourselves for the future.
There is a good way to visualise this: think about your body and mind as a fuel tank. The more demands you are placing on yourself the more fuel you use. Similar to a fuel tank in a car, our bodies will eventually run out of fuel if we don’t manage to take care of ourselves and refuel regularly.
So how can a busy worker refuel?
The first step to refuelling: recognise how much fuel you have.
Sounds obvious, but you can’t take a car on a long demanding trip without looking at the fuel gage. Your body and mind are the exact same.
So how can you check your level?
This is often the biggest challenge when you’re busy. You’ll need to take time out to tune into what your body and your mind are telling you. There are many ways to do this. Do a quick body scan, are you tense? Do a quick check on your thoughts, can you focus and think clearly? a quick energy check, can you relax? Are you tired?
If you’re not used to listening to your body and your mind this process can take a little practice, but persist with it. Awareness is the first part of making a change.
The next step is to refuel.
Most of these methods will require you to take a break or switching around your activities.
The most obvious fuel for our body and mind is the food we eat; try to follow the healthiest diet you can. Another way our bodies refuel is through sleep. Take some simple steps to improve your sleep hygiene. If you’re busy you might have a tendency to stay up late. Try to give yourself an opportunity to sleep as much as you can. Make sure to “wind down” before bedtime.
What else can you do?
Well in the workplace every employee faces this challenge. You’re being paid to fulfill a role and responsibilities, but how can you make sure you’re meeting your needs when demands are high?
Try these simple techniques to refuel in the workplace:
- Do a task that you like. Start your day with it if you can get off to a good start.
- Make a short list of tasks to be completed each day. Maybe 2 or 3 tasks. Long lists don’t help your mind.
- When you complete a task, acknowledge to yourself that it is done. It is finished.
- When you’ve completed a task you’ve done well, make sure to reward yourself. Even if you just tell yourself well done!
- Make a plan for your lunchtime; you’ll be more likely to take the break if you’ve arranged to meet someone or go somewhere and get some air.
- Take on a small short term challenge to re-energise yourself.
- Take time to chat to your colleagues and connect with them.
- Move around, move your body and take a few deep breaths.
- Plan your working year as a series of short phases, apply for your holidays in advance, and use all the leave your employer gives you.
- Talk to someone. People you work closely with will have noticed how busy you are. Can they help?
- Delegate, if there is a task on your list that can be completed by someone else, ask them to help.
- Learn how and when to say “no” when you are asked to do something unreasonable.
- Buy some time! If a task can wait, let it wait.
- Keep your boundaries. Try to leave work at work.
- Relax. Find a technique you like and practice it. Some examples that are proven to be effective are mindfulness techniques, progressive muscular relaxation, yoga and deep breathing exercises.
- Have fun. Having a leisure interest is revitalising and fun. Prioritise these times. Leave work when you should and try to engage in hobbies & fun in your personal time.
Almost every job that exists will have different levels of activity at different times of the day or the year. That’s a reality that you’re aware of, but by taking care of yourself and refueling you’ll be more likely to survive these busy times with your health intact.
Why not make a resolution for 2014… Let this be the year that you make your mental wellbeing in the workplace a priority.
Sarah Carter is an Occupational Therapist, with over 13 years’ experience working in mental health. Sarah specialises in working with people who have depression and other mood disorders. She also has a special interest in how people perceive and function in work environments and the management of work related stress.