4 Ways Your Job Is Good for Your Mental Health
Yes, you read that title correctly! During the pandemic we’ve all seen, heard, read about and experienced changes in our work lives that have been trying to say the least. You may have found yourself tossing and turning some nights, thinking about particular difficulties the “new normal” posed in your job or workplace. Perhaps you’ve felt like you barely had time to adapt to one major change before another was thrown in to the mix. It’s been tough to keep up and feeling overwhelmed and uncertain has unfortunately become part of daily work life for many Canadians.
Today we’re taking a glass-half-full approach.
While the transition back to the physical work environment and/or coping with seemingly never-ending changes isn’t without its challenges, your work absolutely has the potential to positively impact your mental wellbeing. Here are a few ways your job contributes to good mental health:
1. You’re part of a team
If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s the importance of social connection. Losing the ability to interact with those outside of our immediate family members highlighted, for many of us, how much we value even things like idle chit-chat. Sharing a joke with a friend while you walk your dogs together, making small talk with a co-worker about their kid’s soccer team is doing this year, talking about the weather with the barista who makes your coffee each morning – when these sorts of interactions were suddenly eliminated from our day-to-day lives, many of us were left feeling isolated and disconnected which fuels the flame during stressful times. Your work likely gives you the opportunity for social interaction and feeling you’re part of a team gives us a sense of belonging.
2. You get opportunities to exercise your “stress muscles”
Not all stress is bad! In fact, if we’re never exposed to stress our coping strategies get rusty – if you don’t use them, you lose them. Most people encounter mild to moderate levels of stress as part of their work lives and ideally those periods of stress are interspersed with stretches of time where things are rolling along predictably. Working on a tight deadline, for example, might be stressful as I work on the assignment but I’m rewarded with a sense of relief when I finally finish it and turn it in. This experience trains my brain to accept a degree of stress and I learn that I can anticipate positive feelings upon completion of the task, which helps me to manage higher stress levels during the process. Work gives us opportunities to flex our “stress muscles”, navigate manageable challenges and problem-solve: all important coping skills that take practice to develop.
3. It supports a sense of routine
Was your routine thrown out of whack at the onset of the pandemic? If you’re like me, you may have found yourself in pyjamas at noon time on more occasions than you’d care to admit. Routine is essential for most of us because it gives a sense of predictability, which is even more vital in circumstances like the pandemic when there was much uncertainty and we suddenly had no control over many aspects of our lives. Funny enough, I talked to a number of folks during the pandemic who said they actually missed what they used to see as the mundane aspects of their work roles – what was once seen as boring came to be seen as having value for its predictability. The sense of routine we get from our work supports a sense of stability and agency.
4. You feel rewarded
In a mentally healthy workplace every worker is able to feel a sense of satisfaction from their role. If you’re in a leadership role, ensure your team members understand the organization’s mission and how the work they do serves that mission. The sense of accomplishment we get from our work can help to carry us through challenging times. If I feel connected to the organization I work for and genuinely believe in its mission and goals, I likely feel a sense of pride for being able to contribute to a larger goal or the greater good. Even in job positions where tasks are rote and the work is formulaic (for example, working on an assembly line), if I feel engaged and like my work is valued by my employer I can enjoy the sense of achievement that goes with hitting production targets and the like. Work can add meaning and satisfaction to our lives, no matter our role.
With so much unpredictability in the world right now, focusing on the things we’re able to control can help us to feel a little calmer when our mind is reeling. Your perception is something you can, with some effort, absolutely control. Make it a point to remind yourself of the positive things your work brings to your life, especially when things feel chaotic. Your mental health will be all the better for it.
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to keynote speaking and corporate training on workplace mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.