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Dublin: 9 °C Tuesday 16 October, 2018

8 simple changes to make to your work day that can boost your mental health

From breaking out of bed in the morning to your night-time rituals.

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WHETHER YOU’RE ONE of the 52% who knows someone with mental health issues, or one of the 22% who are affected directly by them - mental health can require a little TLC.

If you struggle with your mental health, work can become a difficult place to deal with it in – symptoms of depression for example, can include lack of motivation, lack of energy and disturbed sleep patterns and these don’t exactly make excelling at work easy.

Additionally, poor mental health can have an impact on your working performance, but isn’t a reflection of how you good you are as an employee.

If you are going through a tough time, colleagues might notice your poor concentration, lack of motivation, inability to meet deadlines or withdrawal from a team. But a patient, supportive, respectful and understanding work environment, will make all the difference.

In the meantime, there are dozens of professionals available at the end of the phone or email if you’re not feeling good right now, and also a few simple changes you can start making to your own routine to give your mental health a boost.

1. Craft the ultimate ‘happy’ playlist to wake up to

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Struggle to get up in the morning? Well here’s something to entice you and to get you into the right frame of mind for the day ahead – gather all of your favourite songs and blast them while getting ready for work (or try this pre-made Happy Days playlist).

According to Music Therapy Ireland, music can “notably reduce stress and anxiety, promote relaxation and diminish negative symptoms”. The power of music for positive mental health has been recognised since Plato’s time, who said:”[Music] gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” So, get that Van Morrison on stat.

2. Get the right breakfast into you

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Whether you consider porridge to be tasteless stodge or absolutely delicious, research shows that eating fruits, vegetables, wholegrain cereals, nuts and seeds can help protect your mental health. And porridge is a great way to combine these.

That’s not the only advantage however – according to the HSE, people who eat breakfast are actually less likely to experience mental health difficulties. By eating things like porridge, wholegrain breads or cereal, dairy and fruit, we boost essential brain nutrients like glucose, B vitamins and protein.

3. Spend some time in greenery during your break

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Although it can be the last thing you feel like doing, fitting in a walk at lunch time can be so beneficial not only in terms of extra exercise, but being surrounded by grass, leaves and trees can actually improve your mental health.

According to the World Health Organisation, this works in two ways. Firstly, it shifts us into a more positive emotional state (i.e. relaxes us). Secondly, stimuli in natural settings improves our concentration by forcing us into a state of ‘fascination or involuntary attention’. This saves energy for our limited ‘directed attention’, used to complete tasks.

4. Try some new activities with work

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Finding the time and the energy after work to break a sweat in the gym can be difficult for anyone, especially those who may be suffering the effects of mental health difficulties. However, the motivation of doing it with others can really help you stick to fitness plans.

Whether it’s doing a run as a group, joining a simple five-a-side or even starting a work book club, a study by Sheffield Hallam University found that ‘low-key groupwork’ built confidence, supported the natural development of social relationships, facilitated the exploration of cultural diversity, increased self-worth and reduced social isolation.

5. Try out a new hobby

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The benefits that exercise brings your mental health are almost endless – it increases production of endorphins to boost your brain chemistry, it adds structure to your day and social contact at classes or group activities can also positively impact your mood.

Whether it’s a hobby you’ve always wanted to try or it’s something you loved for years but left aside, activities like yoga, photography, dancing, hiking, baking, colouring and reading have all been found to boost our mood.

6. Try not to use your phone after 9pm

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Mental health is something that can both suffer due to a lack of sleep, and in itself lead to disturbed sleep patterns. And our not-so-healthy habits of using our phones in bed, often right before we go to sleep, can take its toll.

According to Sleep.org, gadgets cut into our sleep in three ways – they suppress melatonin – the hormone that controls your sleep cycle, they keep your brain alert, making it difficult to drift off, and their lights and sound can keep you awake. Place that phone face-down and on silent the moment you get into bed for the best possible sleep.

7. Feeling overwhelmed? Have a chat with your manager

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Stigma reduction campaign See Change has identified the workplace as a very important place to change people’s attitudes in relation to mental health. In fact the direct annual cost of poor mental health in Ireland has been estimated to be €3 billion, many of these from work-related costs like absenteeism, loss of labour supply. and unemployment.

Luckily, mental health issues are covered by equality law, meaning that you are entitled to a number of rights from your employer. Along with the rights not to be discriminated against for these issues, you’re entitled to ‘reasonable accommodation’ for your needs, which can include time to attend appointments and the ability to work from home. If that makes you uncomfortable, chat to a colleague – they may be a wonderful help.

8. Reach out to a professional

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As difficult as it can be to take the step of initially contacting a professional, there are options available to you no matter what your budget or level of free time. Pieta House offer free counselling to those who cannot afford it, while some counsellors offer appointments outside work hours for those who cannot regularly take time off work.

For whatever reason if you can’t make it in person, Samaritans and Childline operate a 24/7 support service by phone (and Childline by text), while Aware operates a 10am to 10pm phone line. For students of  ITT, ITB, MU, NCAD, NCI, RCSI and TCD , Niteline is a student listening service operated by students. See a full list of resources available here.

For more information about ways you can protect your mental health, visit yourmentalhealth.ie.

If you need to talk, contact for free:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org (available 24/7)
  • Aware 1800 804848 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 1800 247247 or email mary@pieta.ie – (available 24/7)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 666666 (for under 18s)
  • HSE Counselling in primary care (for medical card holders 18 or over)

Little Things is a positive mental health campaign created by the HSE Mental Health Division and supported by over 32 partner organisations to promote positive mental health and to reduce the loss of life through suicide.

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