Expert tips to help you protect your mental wellbeing.

how to cope with stressA parent’s life is rarely straightforward, particularly if you work.

We face daily challenges such as trying to convince our children that vegetables are tasty and good for them and dealing with tantrums and tears.

Of course, there is also the overall juggling act of balancing work demands with family life.

Yes, life as a working parent can be challenging. And stressful.

Working full-time with 2 young children, I certainly feel stressed out a lot of the time. It’s mainly either from the demands of my job, the impact that my working hours can have on my family, or from trying to balance work and home commitments.

Some stress can be good for us – it has been shown to help us perform better in challenging situations, such as job interviews – but too much stress over a prolonged period of time can lead to more serious health problems.

I know from experience what can happen when stress gets serious and Dr Eva Cyhlarova, Head of Research for the Mental Health Foundation, acknowledges that left unchecked, stress can cause long-term damage to both our bodies and minds.

“If it’s not addressed, it can lead to serious physical health problems such as headaches, stomach problems and heart disease, and mental health problems like anxiety and depression,” says Dr Cyhlarova.

“It’s worrying that even relatively mild symptoms of stress may lead to long-term disability and to an increase in people receiving disability benefits.”

While I think most people shrug off stress as a natural and inevitable part of life, it is definitely something we shouldn’t be blasé about.

Tips to cope with stress and look after your mental health

While we can’t eliminate stress completely from our lives – wouldn’t that be amazing?! – there are certain things we can do to help protect our mental wellbeing.

  1. Eat regularly and healthily: Research has shown that diet affects brain chemistry so ensure you eat a good, balanced diet.
  2. Exercise regularly: When you exercise, your body releases endorphins which boost your mood.
  3. Avoid too much alcohol: Booze is a depressant so try not to overdo it.  Keep your drinking to within recommended limits.
  4. Keep up with friends: A good social ne2rk is important because loneliness can be another trigger for depression, so make sure you keep in touch with friends regularly.
  5. Make more time for things you enjoy doing: Doing things you enjoy can be a real boost to your self-esteem so make sure you don’t forget to set some time aside now and again to indulge your hobbies.

Mental wellbeing at work

It’s thought around 13 million working days are lost each year through anxiety and stress-related conditions. Stress can also impact negatively on an employee’s performance in the workplace.

Our mental wellbeing should therefore be an issue all employers take seriously. We need to be kind to ourselves, but our employers and line managers have a duty of care towards us too.

Dr Cyhlarova agrees. It’s essential that senior management and line-managers encourage employees to talk about their concerns by maintaining open, trusting and supportive relationships with them, so that any issues of stress or anxiety can be appropriately addressed. Not doing so risks the long-term mental wellbeing of staff and this in turn could increase rates of absenteeism, or impair productivity amongst those who remain at work.

“Also, many people with mental health problems have experienced a huge amount of stigma and discrimination within the workplace, and may be reluctant to disclose their condition. The Disability Discrimination Act makes it incumbent on employers not to discriminate against people with disabilities and to allow for flexible working arrangements.”

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has produced guidance to help employers promote good mental wellbeing in the workplace.  The recommendations for employers include:

  • Ensuring systems are in place for assessing and monitoring the mental wellbeing of employees so that areas for improvement can be identified and addressed (for example, through the use of employee attitude survey).
  • Promoting a culture within the organisation that supports flexible working and addresses employees’ concerns.
  • Strengthening the role of line managers in promoting the mental wellbeing of employees through supportive leadership style and management practices.
  • Offering employees a range of services and support such as access to occupational health services.  This can include counselling support and stress management training.

Although these guidelines are only advisory, if your employer doesn’t seem to following these recommendations, I’d advise enquiring what systems they have in place to look after yours and others’ mental wellbeing.