Working Long Hours? Maintain Your Mental Health With These Small Changes
In an ‘always on’ world, our ‘always on’ careers are burning us out. Here’s how to preserve your mind when you don’t have the time.
Tell any 20- or 30-something professional that they live in the 24 hour, ‘always on’ global economy and they’ll probably laugh (or cry). We embody the ‘always on’ life. Between work emails on our phones, mobile numbers on our email signatures, long hours at the office, side jobs, networking events, keeping up with friends and family and fitting in some travel where we can, we pride ourselves on being able to work hard, play hard and ‘have it all’.
Yet we are the most stressed out generation. Mental illness is most prevalent amongst 18 to 24 year olds, which is when many of us are in the formative years of our careers and have to put in the hard yards. Whole articles have been written on why so many of us burn out by 30.
That being said, you don’t have to permanently relocate to a yoga retreat in rural India to look after yourself.
There are countless small things you can do to keep your mind healthy and avoid professional and emotional burn out – and they don’t require major life change.
For every second you feel like shit, there are fifty billion other people in the world feeling exactly the way you are. Chances are there’s someone in your office who gets what you’re going through – if you’re in a fast-paced industry with lots of young people working ridiculously long hours, your colleagues definitely know your pain.
Research actually tells us that you function best, stay motivated and can avoid depression when your social needs are met. So text a friend or walk past your co-worker’s desk for a quick chat. Science says so.
You knew this was coming. Regular exercise elevates your mood and mental stamina, makes you more creative, helps you concentrate, lowers stress and helps you learn faster.
The Harvard Review goes as far as to argue that exercise is so crucial to your professional performance and overall wellbeing that you should treat it as part of your job, not just an extra-curricular indulgence. Whether you walk around the park or take up powerlifting, exercising is like giving your mind a big, warm hug and the permission to scream into a pillow all at once. It’s hard not to feel at least a little better after it.
#3 Make time for something unrelated to your career
Recent studies have shown that those who value their time over money are happier. Essentially, making time for hobbies that have no correlation to financial gain or your career are key to self-preservation in a world where we’re taught, from a very young age, that everything we do must be ‘productive’.
But we get it, you don’t have time for hobbies. Nobody does. Yet even if it’s half an hour of reading as a lunch break, crocheting on the train to work or ten minutes of downward dog, taking even the smallest amount of time to do something for you is a breath of fresh air for your brain.
#4 Learn to sleep (better)
Have you ever been so exhausted you couldn’t fall asleep for hours? Do you check your phone before bed or in the middle of the night? You may be getting some sleep, but you may not be getting your best sleep.
Poor sleep and depression are heavily linked and there’s a growing amount of research pointing the finger at our tech devices. The more you use technology before bed, the less your body produces of the hormone linked to sleepiness. So, even when you do sleep, you won’t have the same quality of sleep that someone who turned their phone off has had.
Put aside an hour before bed to let your mind wind down and prepare to rest or make your bedroom a ‘tech free’ zone. You’ll notice a difference in both your energy and your mood.
#5 Practice mindfulness
Many think that practicing mindfulness strictly means going into a quiet room for half an hour and meditating. While this sounds good in theory, meditation is something many people struggle to do in practice. Mindfulness, in its basic form, is awareness of your self, your emotions and your surroundings. It’s the belief that you have control over your perspective and your reactions to situations.
Practicing mindfulness can be as simple as feeling a negative emotion, accepting it (rather than pushing it away or judging it) and then assessing the best approach and outcome to the problem emotion. Your solution could be as simple as getting a cup of tea or as extreme as finding a new job.
Rather than feeling hopelessly out of control and letting your thoughts catapult from one negative to the next, mindfulness is shown to reduce stress, increase your focus, decrease emotional reactivity and boost your memory. It’s so good for your mind and career that innovative companies such as Google and Apple have even implemented mindfulness programs for their employees.
#6 Say ‘no’
You can’t do everything. If you are doing everything, you probably aren’t doing anything very well.
When you say ‘yes’ to things all the time, you don’t leave enough room for what you truly love. Trying to be everything for everyone is a great way to run yourself into the ground.
So identify what your focus is and what makes you happy. For example, maybe it’s your career, your family and your partner. If you put those three things first and say no to other commitments that aren’t in line with these goals, you’ll find your time and energy easier to manage.
Three things are much simpler a commitment than 20. Also, these are the three things that make you the happiest and most fulfilled version of you, so they won’t make you tired and resentful.
Evie Kennedy is a media professional, writer and literature junkie. She likes to punch, kick and lift things in the name of health and is trying to write a novel.