In a year full of challenges, those who count themselves lucky to still be employed often feel like they shouldn't complain about the toll work is taking on their well‑being. But the truth is, a lot of us are struggling, as we juggle work and worry, to stay focused and motivated while we feel disconnected from our colleagues and company. Finding ways to boost your mental well‑being at work—even if you're currently working from home—is essential now. Here are some self-care suggestions that can help—during the pandemic and after.

Picture a Perfect Day

According to Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali, a family therapist at The Zinnia Practicein California, its important to mentally prepare yourself before stepping into your office, whether it's in your company's building or at a desk set up in your living room. Before going into your workspace, take a few minutes to visualize your work day, take a few deep breaths and imagine things going smoothly," she says. "Visualization is very common with athletes and high-performing people. It's a great way to get the body feeling relaxed and ready for the day.”

Accentuate the Positive

Its easy to get caught in a cycle of negative thoughts. We may often find ourselves replaying mistakes we've made in the past or creating totally new scenarios in our minds that end with us dropping the ball over and over again. This loop of negativity not only affects our mood, but also our job performance, by sapping our motivation, causing us to question our abilities, or worse, isolate ourselves from our team.

One strategy for combating these negative thoughts is to use positive affirmations. Osibodu-Onyali recommends writing out three affirmations that are absolutely true, then putting them in a visible spot wherever you’re working so you can say them out loud as often as needed.

Create Structure

Even in the best of times, staying on task can be difficult. In this especially trying year, staying focused has been more challenging than ever. Here's where actually writing out a daily to-do list before walking into your workspace can make a huge difference, says Osibodu-Onyali. It will help you stay focused, even if you don't feel like completing your tasks. And seeing them laid out visually also helps to relieve your brain of worry.

Maintain Boundaries

As humans, we tend to feel burned out or anxious when we take on more than we can handle, which is why it's important to set boundaries. Sure, it can be hard to say no when a co-worker asks for help on a project or our boss drops a last-minute assignment in our lap, but for the sake of our well‑being, sticking up for our health is worth it. Osibodu-Onyali suggests periodically taking a moment to self-reflect and decide if we're working too hard. If we are, we should take some work off our plate, delegate to others, and request extensions.

Take Your Time (Off)

Setting boundaries for your well‑being also includes taking your vacation and paid time off. Even if you've been working from home, and actually going away for vacation isn't an option right now, giving yourself time away from thinking about work can help prevent burnout and exhaustion, which can help you stay more positive about your work, and ultimately improve your mental health and overall mood.

Take Advantage of Your Benefits

There's no shame in having trouble coping with all that's going on. With the added burdens of worrying about elderly and vulnerable relatives, keeping the kids focused on remote schooling, and facing unexpected demands of working from home (longer hours, Zoom fatigue, endless Slack messages), stress can take its toll. In a recent survey, nearly 70 percent of employees said the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most stressful time of their entire career.

Fortunately, an increasing number of employers are providing mental health services to their employees as part of their benefits package. Yet it's estimated that less than 7 percent of employees actually use these services. One reason may be a fear that the information they reveal may be used against them by their company in the future. The truth is, theres nothing to fear. Mental health counseling, like all medical care, is strictly confidential. Besides, says Anthony Freire, the clinical director and founder of The Soho Center for Mental Health Counseling in New York City, If an employer has set up mental health services, its because they understand how prevalent mental health issues are and how they impact their business. They know that the healthier you are, the better you will be as an employee.”

Anthony Freire, LMHC, NCC, CCMHC Anthony Freire is an Adjunct Professor of Applied Psychology (Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness) at New York University and is the Founder and Clinical Director of The Soho Center for Mental Health Counseling. He is the author of "Sexual non-minority and sexual minority youth: Identity development, mental, health, and risky recreation sex behaviors. Annals of Leisure and Recreation Research, 5(1), 1-37. Grossman, A.H., Frank, J.A., & Freire, A. (2010). Anthony is also a trained group-relations consultant and a member of the New York Center for the Study of Groups. His main interests include understanding the complex relationship between biological/psychological disorders, anxiety, panic, and trauma and it's impact on human development and interpersonal relationships. Previously, Anthony was a daytime Emmy-nominated television producer where he often tackled and incorporated mental health awareness and education through the over 400 episodes of television he produced.

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