Your Mental Health at Work

Your Mental Health at Work

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.

BLOG - Mental Health at Work IIA silly saying, and these days a common meme many of us grew up hearing. Work and fun, we often think of them as opposites. However, having fun at work is linked to job satisfaction, performance, productivity, reduced stress and healthy co-worker relationships. By working on increasing self care and fun at work, we can improve our mental health and overall satisfaction in life.


Self Care

We live in a fast-paced and outcome-based society, and often we sacrifice our self care in the workplace. Here are some ideas of how to increase your self care (or your staff’s):

Take care of your basic needs

Drink water consistently, eat a healthy breakfast and lunch, and listen to your body when you need to use the restroom. These factors seem obvious but it is amazing how many people forget or feel pressure to not care for these basics.

Check in with yourself throughout the day regarding your breathing

That’s right – your breathing. Are you breathing shallow or holding your breath without realizing? Both are common when we are under stress.

Get away from your desk/work station periodically

For lunches and/or breaks, make an effort to socialize or have some quiet time. Most important don’t work through lunch. By allowing yourself break and down time you are investing in and valuing yourself.

Create a relaxation station

Depending on your workplace culture, create for yourself – or for the whole work team – a “relaxation station”. This could be an unused cubical, office, or even a box under your desk. Fill it with relaxation tools such as: lotions, music, beautiful rocks, fidget toys, acupressure tools, candy, and healthy snacks. My relaxation station consists of my favorite essential oil roller, an acupressure ring for hand massages, scented chapstick, candy, rocks, coloring books, extreme dot-to-dot books, family photos and magnets with inspirational quotes.

Set aside some time throughout the day to practice mindfulness

Many smart phone apps are available for mindfulness practice and can help us build accountability and consistency. A few popular ones are Headspace, Pause and Mindfulness Coach.


Creating Fun

BLOG - Mental Health at WorkWith our focus on deadlines, outcomes and productivity we can often find ourselves thinking of work as “the rat race”. Developing a culture of fun in the work environment helps balance the real pressures of work today and helps us look forward to work rather than just tolerate it. It is wonderful if this comes from a top down approach, but here are some ideas for creating a culture of fun whether you are a manager or the average employee:

  • Create something fun to look forward to – Whether it’s a holiday party, monthly potluck, after work outing, or team retreat.
  • Create a culture of celebrating life events in the workplace – Such as birthdays, anniversary of hire, weddings, new babies, etc.
  • Create a competition – These can be related to work tasks and deadlines or completely unrelated. A common competition in the past few years is to have a “Biggest Loser” group. However, it is important to be sensitive to allowing others to participate as desired and not creating any pressure. We never know what battles others may be fighting, such as an eating disorder. In the past year my office has had a salsa making contest and an appetizer contest.
  • Coordinate a group of coworkers who have a common interest – Such as walking or running during lunch breaks
  • Reward yourself and others – Working in a land of negative feedback can be discouraging. Identify ways you can give yourself positive reinforcement and rewards for accomplishing goals or tasks. If you are a manager, identify ways you can motivate your staff with positive reinforcement and rewards rather than punishment. (My teammates and I have used this method in our mental health treatment groups with teens. For example, when one teen group was struggling to complete homework assignments for their treatment program,  group leaders challenged the teens to sustain six weeks of 100% participation in homework for the chance to throw a pie in the face of one of the group leaders. Although this was used to create positive change in our group, it also was enjoyable for my team and added to our fun work environment.)

Creating Balance

Lastly, work to balance socializing and productivity at work. The workplace of closed doors, email communication and quiet hallways can feel very isolating. By taking the time to say hello, checking in face to face with a teammate, or engaging in the typical “water cooler” conversation, we are investing in each other and therefore working on team relationships and our own joy at work.

Work and fun do not need to be separate concepts! Both employees, managers and organizations benefit when work and fun come together. What areas are you already successful in? What areas do you think you could add to your work life?


Katherine DeVries, LMSWKathy DeVries, LMSW, CAAC, is a Licensed Master Social Worker and Certified Advanced Addictions Counselor with over 10 years of experience in human services. She is the Program Coordinator for the Pine Rest Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Program treatment team.

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