Work can make us feel good about ourselves and give us a sense of purpose; it's an important way to help us to protect and improve our mental health and wellbeing. However, sometimes work and life stress can negatively affect our mental health and our ability to do our jobs.
Mental health is not fixed or static. It is sometimes talked about as a continuum or a range, where good mental health is at one end of the spectrum – characterised by feeling and functioning well. At the other end, mental health conditions, particularly when they are not managed well, are represented by symptoms that negatively affect people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour. We can move back and forth along this continuum at different times during our lives.
To cope with the stresses of work and overcome life’s daily challenges, it is important we stay as mentally well as possible. This can help us better overcome challenges, build healthy relationships and work more productively.
Stress is part of everyday life, and it is not always a problem. A little bit of stress – like the stress you feel during a job interview – can sometimes help you perform better. It is usually temporary and can help you to focus and do your best under pressure.
Workplace stress is something we all experience, whether it's in the form of heavy workloads, tight deadlines or just workplace culture, it can all contribute to us feeling pressured at work. Like stress in general, when workplace stress starts to become intense, comes from multiple sources, or is drawn out for long periods of time, it can increase risks to physical and mental health or cause an existing condition to worsen.
Taking care of your mental health
It’s important to recognise that mental health can be affected in multiple ways. While there is stress relating to our work environments that need to be managed, we must also remember to monitor the stresses in our personal life as well. Learning to identify when you're stressed – so that you can avoid or manage stressful situations – is an important way to stay well.
Everyone is different, with different roles – at home and at work – and there is no single best approach to staying mentally well, but there are several things you can do every day to improve your wellbeing.
The points in each of the four segments of this ‘Taking care of yourself and staying well’ section can all contribute to getting the balance right so you continue to contribute in your work role and nurture your career and allow time for important people and interests in your personal life.
If you notice any persistent changes in your thoughts, feelings or behaviour that are starting to interfere with your work performance or quality of life, see your GP or health professional for assessment and advice. Intense or prolonged stress can lead to depression and anxiety. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you can recover.