Looking after your mental health at work

Expert reviewer, Bianca Clarke, Cognitive Behavioural Therapist at Bupa
Next review due September 2023

When we think about the phrase ‘mental health’, we often think about mental health problems. We think of symptoms like low mood and diagnoses such as depression or anxiety. In fact, everyone has mental health. You’ll have times when your mental health is good – and times when it’s not so good.

Looking after your mental health doesn’t always mean you can avoid problems entirely. But you still need to look after your mental health in the same way that you look after our physical health.

person on a laptop

Why look after your mental health?

Actively being aware of and looking after your mental health, both at home and work, is important.

  • It can make you feel better. Doing things that you know improves your wellbeing can help you feel good and function well.
  • It can help you notice when things aren’t quite right. Staying aware of your moods, feelings and thoughts can help you notice when things start to change, and you take action earlier.
  • It can help you manage pressure and prevent it becoming stress.
  • It may help you manage a mental health problem and make it easier to live with.

If you need help right now, or don’t feel you can keep yourself safe, make an emergency GP appointment or call 999. Mind has a ‘Need urgent help’ tool, which might be useful.

You can also call the Samaritans on 116 123 (UK and ROI).

Taking care of yourself at work

Don’t exceed your working hours

Working long hours may affect your performance, make you less productive and can even increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Try not to work or check your emails outside working hours.

Take regular breaks and make a point of getting away from your desk or work environment at lunchtime. Do some exercise, go for a brisk walk or read a book.

Keep work and home life separate

  • At the end of your working day, write down a list of completed tasks and a to-do list for your next working day. This will help you switch off.
  • Do something to relax when you finish work. Go for a walk, do some yoga or cook a healthy dinner.
  • If you work at home, have a clear area for homeworking that you can walk away from at the end of the day.
  • Take a look at our features on digital detoxing and how to get a better work-life balance.
  • Think about the five ways to wellbeing. How could you include them in your working day? Our information on mindfulness at work and exercise for mental health might help.
  • Try to improve your sleep health. Have a look at our information on how to get enough sleep.

Get to know yourself

It isn’t always easy to recognise when things are starting to get on top of you. Take a look at our information on the signs of poor mental health.

Think about how you behave when you’re feeling stressed, tired or unhappy. If you’re aware of these behaviours and feelings, you can take action earlier to prevent things getting worse. It might also help to look at our information on work-related stress and working through worry.

Try not to let these tips slide completely when you’re busy – that’s when they’re most useful.

Asking for help and talking to others

If things feel too much at work, it’s important to talk about it and seek support.

  • Talk to your colleagues. Ask them how things are for them. Share when things are difficult for you. Be a little more honest when someone asks, ‘How are you?’
  • Seek help from your GP or another source (for example, your Employee Assistance Programme) if most days are feeling difficult.
  • Telling your manager about a mental health problem may help you to get additional support. If you have a mental health problem that’s considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010, then you have a right to adjustments at work.
  • Have a look at information from Time to Change about your rights at work and talking to your manager. You might also find it helpful to look at our information on how organisations can support employees’ mental health and wellbeing.
  • Be as honest as possible with your manager. If you have too much work or your deadlines are too tight, let them know. Ask them what they’d like you to prioritise or how they suggest you approach a busy time.
  • Ask for a Wellness Action Plan. Whether you have a diagnosed mental health problem or not, these can be a useful way of helping you think about what helps you stay well and work effectively.
  • Get involved in things your organisation offers and give feedback. The more employees engage with mental health initiatives, the more likely they are to continue and improve.
  • Read any policies or information provided so you know where you stand.

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Related information

    • Five ways to wellbeing: the evidence. New Economics Foundation., published October 2008
    • Jenkins R, Meltzer H, Jones PB, et al. Mental health: future challenges. The Government Office for Science, London, published 2008
    • Stress: management standards. Health and Safety Executive., reviewed March 2017
    • Kodz J, Davis S, Lain D, et al. Working long hours: a review of the evidence. Employment Relations Research Series 2003; volume 1. doi: 10.13140/2.1.4808.3527
    • Kivimaki M, Jokela M, Nyberg ST, et al. Long working hours and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: a systematic review and meta-analysis of published and unpublished data for 603 838 individuals. The Lancet 2015; 386(10005):1739–46
    • Equality Act 2010. GOV.UK., published 2010, accessed May 2020
  • Reviewed by Clare Foster, Freelance Health Editor, and Alice Windsor, Specialist Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, September 2020
    Expert reviewer, Bianca Clarke, Cognitive Behavioural Therapist at Bupa
    Next review due September 2023

Did our information help you?

We’d love to hear what you think. Our short survey takes just a few minutes to complete and helps us to keep improving our health information.