On Mental Health: Do These 4 Things When You're Feeling Low at Work

It’s mental health awareness month and I wouldn’t be who I am if I didn’t talk about it. Mental health has been on the top of my mind for the past 16 years, since I was diagnosed with Bi Polar disorder at 10 years old. Through my childhood and teen years, it was a struggle for me to manage my moods and get through the week without losing my temper or becoming dangerously high or low. Through therapy, through coaching by my parents, and through learning about my own habits, over time, I was able to develop strategies that worked for me to stay stable, sane, and even with my mood. Balance has become my theme, because when things are balanced, I can be a productive and effective person, and that’s the way I can accomplish everything I’ve set out to do.

Now, years later I am in my mid twenties, working at a fun job in New York, with friends and co-workers I admire, and getting to work on things I actually care about. At work, it’s obviously important that I can continue to be effective and productive, and that I can stay above the thrash of ever changing moods. It’s uncommon for people to be diagnosed with Bi Polar at such a young age, but for me, my young diagnosis was a gift. It allowed me to grow up learning about how to manage my moods, rather than having to learn these lessons in my twenties or thirties. Because of this, I feel like I have some great strategies for getting through my days and weeks without getting behind because of my changing moods. The following are some moves that make sense for me when I feel like I’m low and need to get back on top of my week.

1. Tell people about your mood.

Contrary to historical norms, you don’t have to keep your mental health journey to yourself. People know that not every day is the best, and everyone has highs and lows. If you’re feeling off, it’s okay to tell someone that you’re not feeling up to speaking in the meeting because you’re feeling a little anxious, or that you don’t want to work on the group project until later because you’re feeling overwhelmed at the moment. Reasonable people understand that we can’t be “on” all the time. On the same note, if you’re feeling particularly excited about your mood, you can share that too! It can help bring others up with you.

2. Decide if you want to lean into your mood or change it.

It’s false that people should always be in a “good” mood. Humans are not wired that way- we can’t always be in the same mood, or feel up to taking on the same work all the time. When I am feeling low, or feeling off, I always rate my mood from 1-10. If I’m 8 or above, I know I can take on anything. If I’m 5-7, I know that it might make sense to lay low and get work done on my own. If I’m 4 or below, I know there’s not much I’m going to be able to do to get myself up to a 10. Once I know my score, I make a conscious decision on if I want to make an effort to change my mood that day. Usually if I’m a 6 or 7, I feel like it’s worth it to take actions that could bump me into an 8 or 9. But it doesn’t always make sense to try to change our moods. Our moods make-up who we are. They inform our perceptions, our ideas. There is strength in allowing yourself to lean into a mood that might be less presentable and exciting. Sometimes I will be at a 3 or a 4, and I make the decision to “round down.” This means that I am going to allow myself to spend the day in this mood, and lower my expectations for my day. There are plenty of tasks that I can complete when I’m not at a 7+, and I spend the day handling those. It doesn’t always make sense to try to manipulate my mood.

3. Take action on your physical health.

Regardless of my mood rating, my mental health is always impacted by the food I eat, my movement, my hydration, and the quality of sleep I get. When I’m feeling low at work, I do my best to stay on top of making sure that I’m taking care of my physical body- because I know that will have an effect on my mental health as well. Even if it’s not immediate, I always know that eating healthy, drinking lots of water, and exercising, will make me feel in control, and more accomplished than I would if I ate junk and sat around all day. I like to make the goal on low days that I will cook a balanced dinner, and drink one Britta pitcher worth of water, then go to sleep an hour early.

4. Give yourself what you need.

If there is ever a reason to be selfish, it’s when you are protecting your own mental health. You have to give yourself whatever you truly need to feel more on top of things. This could mean small things like listening to your favorite music or allowing yourself to take a 15 minute walk outside of the office, or larger things like allowing yourself to leave work early or even take an official mental health day. For me, if I’m not feeling up to all of my daily tasks in the office, it’s helpful to hide out in an available conference room for 30 minutes just to get away. Whatever that is for you, take it.

Staying on top of your mental health is so important, and it’s the only way you can be the badass professional you were born to be. Lots of people disregard the importance of mental health maintenance, but those people are wrong. When we are feeling low or off for a day, we should all make sure to protect ourselves, and take whatever actions we need in order to come back swinging.

Thank you for reading! For more Ben, you can follow me on Twitter or Instagram @therealbenhawes.