From difficulty focusing to anxiety to chronic fatigue — if you’re struggling with mental health at work, you’re not alone. And it doesn’t have to be this way.
Have you ever thought to yourself, “man I suck.”
How about “why am I so bad at everything!” Or “I’m just not good enough.”
If you’ve ever found yourself thinking these thoughts, trust me — you are very much NOT alone.
Especially in high-pressure fields like tech, I’ve met more than my fair share of people who hold themselves to incredibly high standards and deal with boat-loads of stress daily. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that overwhelm, anxiety, and stress are more the norm than not in my industry, unfortunately.
Whenever I see a coworker overwhelmed or talk with one of my mentees who’s struggling, I can’t help but hurt with and for them. Having been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder when I was 21, I experienced my fair share of struggles with mental health in the workplace.
The truth is, taking care of our mental health doesn’t have to be something shameful. We all struggle with stress, and dealing with our stress and listening to what our bodies need only makes us more resilient, inspired, and productive at work.
So in this article, I wanted to share a little about my experience and help break down some of the stigmas surrounding mental health. Ultimately, my goal is for anyone reading this to feel empowered to take care of and prioritize themselves. Doing this will help you create the conditions to feel better, which can help you deliver high-quality work and begin flourishing in your career.
What is Mental Health?
I’ve found that when people hear the words “mental health,” often, their minds immediately leap to images of white padded walls. This is far from the full picture of mental health though.
First, I want to make something very clear: If you’re struggling with mental health, it does not mean you are sick. It does not mean there is something wrong with you. It means you’re human.
Think of yourself like a car running on fumes. If you don’t get more gas to refuel your energy reserves, other systems can be run ragged. The solution — fill up your tank!
And although mental health and the human brain is obviously a bit more complex than the car metaphor, the parallel stands true.
If you’re burned out and keep pushing yourself, it’s going to take a toll on you.
The Cost of Ignoring our Mental Health
That toll won’t just show up in how you feel. It’ll show up in the quality of work you produce, in your ability to focus and be productive, and in your ability to communicate effectively. That’s not even including the range of physical health effects that can result from ignoring our mental health!
The American Psychological Association reports that long-term stress can lead to:
- Migraines, headaches, and muscle pain 🤕
- Higher risk of heart attacks
- Increased blood cholesterol
- Heightened blood pressure
- Increased inflammation
- Decreased immune function
- Increased risk of getting sick 🤒
- Chronic fatigue
- Metabolic disorders
- Immune disorders
- Issues with digestion
- Difficulty conceiving or getting pregnant 🤰
It’s fair to say that Mental Health IS Health.
Learning to Prioritize Mental Health, The Hard Way…
For me, I learned I needed to prioritize my mental health the hard way. As mentioned above, I have a chronic diagnosed anxiety disorder. This has never stopped me from achieving anything I set my mind to, but it does mean I’ve had to take special care to safeguard my mental resources.
I remember earlier in my career, I would get so overwhelmed.
I stressed about the fact that I felt I was underperforming. (A quick reality check with my manager showed me I wasn’t.)
I had these warped perceptions that none of my work was good enough.
I would get hit with waves of tears that I just couldn’t hold back.
I remember one particular day. My manager had just told me that in no uncertain terms the project I was working on needed to get done by a certain time. It was the first project where I knew we just weren’t going to meet the deadline. I called my then boyfriend who met me for lunch, and I sobbed the entire time. (Happy ending though — I ultimately did finish the project, my manager was happy, and everything ended well.)
Long story short — I was an anxious mess earlier in my career. It didn’t stop me from getting high-quality work done, but it made me feel terrible inside and made it harder to continue delivering the standard of work I was proud of.
Nowadays, I’ve learned the signals of my body, so I can pay attention and do what I need to in order to feel good. I take breaks before I burn out, and practice tactics to calm my nervous system when I can feel my anxiety flaring up.
If you’re struggling with mental health, I want you to know that while stress and anxiety might feel normal, you don’t have to live that way. You can succeed without the pressure, and may even soar higher than you thought you were capable of.
Signs Your Mental Health Could Use Some TLC
Sometimes, it can be hard to spot the signs of stress. Especially in an industry where stress is considered the norm!
Do any of these sound familiar?
- A persistent feeling of dread
- Negative thoughts
- A busy mind that feels impossible to stop
- Feeling like you’re unable to relax and unwind after work
- Difficulty with sleep
- Trouble taking deep breaths
- Stomach issues
- Headaches and muscle tension
- Blurry vision
If so, you’re not alone. Many of these are common signs of anxiety, which the CDC estimates affects roughly 11.3% of adults.
A Few Tips…
If you find yourself struggling with anxiety, chronic fatigue, or overwhelm — don’t despair! There are plenty of ways you can approach mental health to help you get back on track. Take a read below for some of my favorites.
Think of yourself as a plant. 🪴
You need water, food, and rest. Consider what else nourishes you. Talking walks, meditating, chatting with a friend, relaxing with music — all can be great ways to decompress. Make sure you’re prioritizing the basics of wellbeing!
Take the time to figure out what you need, so you can produce your best work.
Do you do best with short breaks? Block out 20-30 minutes for a walk every day, or set aside 10-minute breaks throughout your schedule to get some fresh air. Create clear boundaries so you can feel and do your best.
*Fun fact — breaks actually make us more productive! The people who say they work the most hours typically take breaks, which can help them clear their minds and re-energize.
Communicate with your manager. 🗣️
If you have a good relationship, you can let them know that you’re not having a great week and that your productivity may be a bit lower. We all have those weeks, and your employer should understand this.
Use your sick days!
Plus — no one has to know. You can say “I’m not feeling well” and just leave it at that. No other explanation is needed. Your sick days are there for when you’re not feeling well, so use them!
If you’re really struggling, you can take medical leave.
Again, this can be totally anonymous to everyone aside from your manager. Mental health can and does contribute to our physical health, and is a valid reason for medical leave. Also, it’s important to remember that your employer wants you at your best! While it can be challenging, taking this time to care for your well-being will help you come back even stronger.
Remember that above all else, mental health is health. It’s easier to take care of yourself for a little bit every day than to have to drop everything when your body can’t handle it anymore.
I’m sending you all my love and support. And if you ever want an open ear and a shoulder to lean on from someone who’s been through it all, don’t hesitate to send me a message.