Mental Health at Work

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Oct2015MentalHealthAtWorkYour overall health can get stressed by stress

By Lana Barth, RN-BC, BSN, at Cole Memorial

Life can cause many forms of stress.  Stress can be either good stress or bad stress.  Good stress motivates and energizes a person.  This is what spurs us on to improve ourselves and to be happy in our lives.  It helps us to set goals for ourselves and our families.   Holidays, vacations, weddings, promotions, and romance produce good stress.  Sickness, pain, grief, financial struggles and conflict produce bad stress. 

Stress is actually a physical reaction in our body.  Some physical signs of stress are a faster heartbeat, tightening of muscles, heightened sensation, sweating, and faster breathing.  The normal stress reaction starts slow and rises to a peak.  This is when your heart rate, breathing, and nerves are at their high alert state. It then has a slowing down phase where those physical symptoms begin to go back to a normal state.  When there are many different stressors at the same time, or if they occur too soon to allow for the cooling off period, the body will begin to wear down.  An overload of stress can result in chronic pain, migraines, diarrhea, constipation, tremors, depression, anxiety, heart attack, stroke, or even death. 

Why do some people cope with stress while others do not?  There can be many different reasons.   Personality style plays a big role in this, as does past life experience such as trauma or abuse.   A person’s cultural or religious beliefs may play a part in the way they react to stressors as well.  Age and life stage also certainly impact the way we handle stress. Fatigue and physical illness make coping with stress more difficult.  In addition, mental illness can cause either a heightened reaction to stress or a very subdued reaction to stress.  This is because of changes in the chemical balance in the brain. 

To relieve some stress, there are some ways for people to ensure that balance between home life and work.  Begin by writing down your needs for a job, and your needs outside your job.  Include benefits, take home pay, noise level, space, flexibility and work hours.  Also consider overtime.  Some jobs may ask you to stay after normal hours to complete a job or to come in on your usual scheduled day off.  

Consider all of your personal needs, including medical appointments, housing, relationship needs, exercise, diet, convenience and access to places of business such as stores, banks, schools, gyms, and your work.  There are many different factors to consider when deciding whether or not to disclose your condition to your employer.  Many employers have an Employee Assistance Program where you may confidentially receive counseling services.  This type of program has been mutually beneficial to employers and employees.  You may want to see your Human Resource Director about this service.  It is also important to avoid negative talk.  Remember that your health is at stake.  Take your break times as recommended.  Get plenty of rest, exercise daily and eat right.  Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol as they can disrupt the normal function of your heart, muscles, and nerves. 

People who live with mental illness often struggle with how to manage their medical needs at work.   This presents the question about telling your employer about your mental illness.  For some people, the environment may be healthy enough that they can talk about their illness and their needs in their job.  For others, the work environment may not be healthy enough that employees can disclose even vague information about medical needs such as time for doctor visits or medications at certain times.  

This type of environment combined with high stress jobs, makes for a dangerous combination.  By neglecting our mental health needs, we also damage our physical health.  If you find yourself unable to cope with the stress in your life, please find help.  Some examples of local resources include Potter County Human Services, Dickinson Center or Cole Memorial Care Management for assistance.