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How to stay mentally healthy at work

05 October, 2014

Many of us will spend one third of our lives at work, and depending on the working environment and how well we take care of ourselves, this can have a positive or negative impact on our health. With so much of our time spent at work, it’s important that we take the necessary steps to look after our physical and mental wellbeing.

Looking after your body

Eating well

One of the best ways to maintain your energy levels throughout the day is to eat a healthy diet. Eating well can also boost your mood and help you think clearly and have more resilience against stress. The diet seen as most beneficial for brain and mental health is the Mediterranean diet which is high in fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, wholegrains, fish and extra virgin olive oil. It’s also a good idea to reduce the amounts of high added sugar foods and sources of saturated fat in your diet.

Snack smarter

If you notice your energy levels are dipping throughout the day, try to be mindful of how frequently and how much you’re eating. Some of us may be more inclined to be snackers but it might not be the best for us, depending on what you choose. You might find eating more at your meal times staves off those cravings for muffins and chocolates in between meals, but you’re much better off choosing fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and wholegrains.

You can find healthy meal and snack ideas at Eat for Health. 

Bring your own lunch

While it’s convenient to pop out of the office at lunch and grab a sandwich, shop-bought meals are often higher in salt, added sugars and saturated fats. Planning is key for a healthy packed lunch. It’s best to aim for lean protein, a small amount of wholegrains and plenty of fresh vegetables. Aim for half of your lunchbox to be filled with non-starchy vegetables.

To find out more about the best foods to include your lunch, read the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.

Exercising regularly

Regular exercise can boost your energy levels and the benefits increase the more frequently you exercise. Taking a brisk 15-minute walk outside can help to clear your head and leave you feeling refreshed. According to the Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for adults, you should aim to be active on most if not all days of the week and try to accumulate 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity each week.

Getting enough sleep

Getting enough good quality sleep will help you stay alert throughout the day. You can read our article on tips for getting a good night’s sleep for help.

Limiting your caffeine

While it can be tempting to reach for a coffee if your energy levels are starting to slump, drinking too much caffeine can have may negative effects on your body. Too much caffeine throughout the day can end up making you feel anxious, agitated and restless.

To find out more, read our article on drinking coffee.

Drinking enough water

It’s important to make sure you’re drinking enough water as dehydration can cause tiredness and irritability as well as many other symptoms. As a general rule, adult men will need 10 cups of fluids every day and women need about eight cups.

You can find out more about drinking water and your health at Healthdirect Australia.

Improving your posture

It can be hard to maintain good posture if you’re sitting at a desk all day, but sitting tall that can prevent back pain and even reduce fatigue.

Maintaining good posture doesn’t mean that your body is rigid, it should be flexible and loose. When you’re sitting down, you should try to keep your back straight and keep your knees and hip level. Your feet should be flat on the ground. It’s best to avoid sitting in a hunched position for a long time. You should try to get up and move around regularly to change your body position.

If you’re on the phone a lot at work, you might want to consider getting a headset to avoid twisting your neck to keep the phone in place. If you do a lot of lifting or carrying heavy objects, make sure you know how to life them in a way that is safe for your body.

Looking after your mental wellbeing

Dealing with stress at work

Workplace stress is thought to cost Australian businesses $10 billion a year in sick days and loss of productivity. If you’re spending too much time at work or if you have too much on your plate it can make you feel tense, upset and angry. It’s also possible to experience panic attacks or feel that you can’t concentrate or complete your work on time. You can find out more about the best ways to deal with work related stress at Healthdirect Australia.

You can also try This Way Up’s free stress management online course. The course will teach you skill to help you effectively manage stress and cope in difficult times.

Dealing with bullying or harassment

Workplace bullying

According to Healthdirect Australia, workplace bullying happens when a worker is repeatedly unreasonable to colleague, creating a risk to health and safety. It can be physical or mental and can include intimidating behaviour, spreading hurtful rumours, sexual harassment, humiliating or belittling comments or excluding someone from workplace events. You have a right to feel safe at work and to work in an environment that’s free from harassment and bullying.

If you’re experiencing bullying, ReachOut Australia has five steps you can take to deal with workplace bullying.  

Sexual harassment

According to ReachOut Australia, sexual harassment is any form of unwelcome sexual behaviour that’s offensive, humiliating or intimidating. It can be written, verbal or physical. It can include touching, making sexual comments, leering and staring, making sexual gestures or suggestive body movements. It can also include questioning you about your sex life and of course, asking you for sex.

The Australian Human Rights Commission reports that sexual harassment is common in many workplaces in Australia. One in four women have experienced sexual harassment at work and men’s harassment of other men is also on the rise. Sexual harassment is against the law in Australia. You have the right to work in an environment that’s free from harassment and bullying.

If you’re experiencing harassment at work, it can be hard to know where to turn. A good place to start is with ReachOut Australia’s steps for dealing with sexual harassment. It’s also always a good idea to save any evidence of the harassment including emails and text messages and to keep a diary noting when it occurs.

Where to get more help

If you or someone close to you needs support now, there are phonelines and websites available.

For immediate help in a crisis:

For general mental health support:

Seeing your GP

If you have concerns about your stress levels, it’s best to see your GP.

When you see your GP, they can:

  • assess your mental health
  • prescribe some medications or advise on behaviour treatment for anxiety or depression
  • refer you to a mental health professional if necessary
  • refer you to other support services

They can also put you on a mental health plan, and this means Medicare may help subsidise up to 10 sessions with a mental health professional. You can learn more about the different types of mental health professionals at Healthdirect Australia.


All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.


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