Wellness at work. For some, wellness is work and work is wellness. For others, wellness and work rarely enter the same sentence. As a Holistic Psychologist, I am a strong advocate of creating wellness in all parts of life.
The average person spends the majority of their life at work, and about half of the population cites work as their most significant stressor. Bringing wellness into the workplace has become more important than ever as workplaces become increasingly demanding and the line between work and home become blurred. We spend much of our time at places of work, engaging in work tasks, and thinking about work, so a large portion of our mental wellness is wrapped up in our work lives.
In contrast, most wellness tips, tricks, trends, and routines are geared towards the time we spend outside of work. Our healthy breakfast nutrition, our morning workout class, our evening fun with loved ones, our post-work yoga class, our morning meditation, and our skincare routine all get more attention than the important topic of how we cultivate wellness at work. I’m a supporter of all of those healthy choices we make outside of work, as I believe that every part of our health is inherently connected. And, to be truly holistically healthy and thriving, we have to intentionally integrate mental wellness into our work day as well.
While there can be many uncontrollable aspects of one’s work life, we all have many access points for enhancing our own mental wellness that exist within our power.
In honor of World Mental Health Day, here are five scientifically-backed strategies that are always accessible to us to boost mental wellness in the work day.
Let’s start with ways to enhance mood and mental wellness even before getting to work:
Thankful Route to Work
Each day many of us embark on a commute to work. Some of us drive long distances, some cram into bustling subways, some have short strolls, and some simply move rooms in their home. Whatever our journey to our work day entails, there’s an incredible opening of opportunity to make it meaningful part of our day. If we intentionally note three things we are thankful for along the path to work, we are choosing to set up our work day mindset in a positive tone. It could be your coffee in hand, the smile on a fellow commuter's face, or simply your own body for getting you where you need to go. Research shows that bringing thankfulness into awareness in the moment releases feel-good chemicals in the brain, setting you up for a happier work day.
Here are some top tips for how to maintain, sustain, or rejuvenate mental wellness throughout the work day:
Mindfulness has become a popular workplace wellness strategy, and for good reason. Taking a moment to intentionally bring awareness to the breath actually deactivates our stress response and activates our emotional and cognitive processing center. Even just becoming aware of what it feels like in the body to take four long deep breaths is associated with increased joy and productivity and decreased stress.
Our brain and body need fuel to function optimally. If we want to feel well during our work day, we need to fuel well. While nutrition plays a crucial role in our mental wellness, hydration is the first step. When we are dehydrated, our brains become anxious and stressed. Drinking water plentifully throughout the day makes for an easy and impactful wellness boost.
Our brains thrive off connection. When we feel connected, the same parts of our brain that register physical safety light up. If work entails being around others, take a moment to smile at someone, or exchange a friendly conversation with eye contact. These little moments of connectivity actually activate the reward circuitry in the brain. If there’s no one around to connect with, turn to the surroundings. Creating a connection with nature daily comes with documented mental health benefits, such as calming our nervous system. Try smelling the plants in the work space or taking a quick break to walk outside and simply look up at the sky (that’s my personal NYC nature connection).
While many don’t have a distinct end point to the work day anymore, it’s important to mark the work day at some point in the evening to honor the efforts of the day and set intentions for the next day:
Attend to Good
Attention is like a spotlight in the brain - whatever we shine it on becomes brighter. By intentionally noticing the good in the day, the brain is being trained to see more good in the future. Even on a challenging day, noting a few small glimmers of gold in the day allows the brain to calm it’s stress response and makes the brain more likely to look for goodness in the next day.
When we integrate mental wellness strategies into work life, we not only enhance our overall life satisfaction and mental health, we also enhance our functioning, productivity, and creativity at work.
By: Ellie Cobb, Ph.D., Holistic Psychologist, Grounded & Gold
Ellie Cobb, Ph.D. is a Holistic Psychologist, Mindfulness & Meditation Teacher, Director of Psychology for Thankful, and Founder of Wellness Company *Grounded & Gold.* She is a published researcher and author, and she teaches, writes, & gives talks and workshops around the country to spread her passion for empowering others to improve their own wellbeing through scientifically-back mental wellness & holistic health.